Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls, and others, Upper Buffalo Wilderness, Arkansas Ozarks

12/1/2015 - Whitaker Creek waterfalls; Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, Owl Falls, and other waterfalls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude,  Longitude,  Elevation)
  Parking Location:  35.88759,  -93.46965,  2180 ft.
  Amber Falls:  35.88395,  -93.47017,  1942 ft.
  Compton's Double Falls:  35.87930,  -93.46257,  1830 ft.
  Owl Falls:  35.87734,  -93.46185,  1839 ft.
  Falls #1:  35.88386,  -93.46781,  1991 ft.
  Falls #2:  35.88360,  -93.46582,  1974 ft.
  Falls #3:  35.87842,  -93.45906,  1850 ft.
  Falls #4:  35.87817,  -93.45826,  1839 ft.
  Falls #5:  35.87971,  -93.46338,  1920 ft.

Pet Friendly:  Boomer did fine off leash today, but there are some areas they may have difficulty getting into and out of.  This is what I would call a moderate bushwhack.  If you think your dog needs to be on leash, it will probably be okay; there isn't a lot of undergrowth to get tangled up in.

Motorcycle Friendly:  Hahahaha!  Oh, you were serious?  Then no.  Cave Mountain Road is pretty rough.  Not the place for your street bike.

Hiking Statistics:  Boomer and I hiked 4.36 miles today, with an overall elevation difference of 501 feet.  There were only a few climbs of any significance since most of the hiking was done at creek level or on the bench above Whitaker Creek.  We took a pretty leisurely pace today and still were only out for three and a half hours.  There are no trails; this is entirely a bushwhack, but I would call it a very moderate one.  Anyone used to hiking the Ozarks should have no problems here.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Maps of the GPS track are at the bottom of this post.

Compton's Double Falls (39')
with the photo Boomer
There are so many great waterfalls in Arkansas that look their best right after a 
good rain that I had a little internal conflict trying to pick one for today's hike.  I can't count the number of times I have seen a nice waterfall without good flow and said to myself "I have got to come back to this one after a good rain".  I finally settled on Compton's Double Falls along Whitaker Creek.  We had received a good amount of rain over the previous weekend, and there were a couple of other waterfalls along this creek that really look great at full flow.  Unfortunately, Boomer (our German Shepherd) and I got off to a somewhat late start today.  Bethany was doing her annual Christmas photos tomorrow, something she does as a gift for the Dover elementary school kids.  Before setting out, I had committed to helping her set up the photo setting.  That didn't take much of our day, and before long Boomer and I were loaded up in the Cruiser and on our way north.

Amber Falls (18')
There are a couple of ways to get there, and when I travel through the Ozarks I like to maximize the Natural State scenery I get to see.  So I drove to the parking location from Highway 16 and drove home from Highway 21 a totally different route each way.  I'll describe both ways of driving to the parking location coordinates listed above:
   (1) If coming from the south, from the intersection of Highway 21 and 16, turn west onto Highway 16 and go 10 miles.  Then turn right onto MC-3595 (Madison County road).  Go 2.9 miles and turn right onto CR-5, also known as Cave Mountain Road.  Go another 2.8 miles and park on the right.  
   (2)  If coming from the north, from the intersection of highways 43 and 21, go south on Highway 21 for 1.2 miles and turn right onto Cave Mountain Road (CR-5).  Go 7.2 miles on Cave Mountain Road and park on the left.  This is 1.1 miles past the Hawksbill Crag trail head. 

Parking Location
Either of these routes will get you there.  Route (2) is the one Tim Ernst describes in his excellent book, Arkansas Waterfalls (HIGHLY recommended!).  And if coming from Boxley or Ponca, this will be your shorter route.  But Cave Mountain Road is very steep from the juncture of Highway 21, and when wet can be very slippery.  MC-3595, like Cave Mountain Road, is just a one lane plus dirt road.  However, it is a shorter distance on dirt roads, is generally about the same condition, and does not have the long, very steep stretch that Cave Mountain Road does.  It also does not show up on most maps, but I can assure you it is there. If driving from the south, this would be my recommendation.

Owl Falls
There is a lot of private land right along Cave Mountain Road, but for this short straight stretch of the road near the parking location, the wilderness area comes right up to and borders the road.  There is not really a good place to pull completely off the road without a good 4WD, so you have to just pull off as much as you can and make sure you don't block traffic.

Amber Falls (18')
From the parking location, head south straight downhill toward Whitaker Creek.  There will be a small creek to your right, and if you keep it to your right and stay up on the bluff above it, it will take you to Whitaker Creek right about where Amber Falls is.  From the top of Amber Falls, you can go downstream about 30 yards and find a break in the bluff that cuts back in toward the waterfall, allowing access to the base of Amber Falls.  This waterfall was named after the daughter of the aforementioned Tim Ernst.  I have never met her, but if her namesake waterfall takes after her, she must be a very beautiful young lady.  

Unnamed Falls #1
We set off downstream, and I decided to take the high route on the way downstream.  So we kept to the north side of Whitaker Creek and stopped at the first two tributaries feeding the main creek.  Each has a nice little waterfall a short distance from where it flows into Whitaker Creek.  I like to explore every little side creek and water feature when I hike in an area like this, but I did want to get on down to the main attraction, so I decided to hike along Whitaker Creek itself on the way back.  After visiting Unnamed Falls #1 and #2, we hiked back up on the bench above the creek and continued on downstream, well past where Compton's Double Falls was.  

Compton's Double Falls
The top of Compton's is pretty easy to get to, like many Ozark waterfalls.  But there are sheer canyon walls about 40 feet high for almost 200 yards downstream.  If you go downstream from the waterfalls, you will see the box canyon containing Owl Falls entering Whitaker Creek across from you.  There is a break here where you can get below the rock bluffline, then follow along the base of that bluffline as it slopes back upstream toward Compton's Double Falls.  Once at creek level, is is easy to pick your way through the rocks to get to the base of Compton's Double Falls.  Today, there was enough flow for these falls to be absolutely breathtaking.  As soon as I saw it, I was glad I selected this one for our hike today.  Even Boomer seemed to be in awe.

Compton's Double Falls
Compton's Double Falls is a unique "double" waterfall, one that has a single steam feeding two waterfalls.  Most double falls have a big rock or something at the top of the ledge the waterfalls spill off of, causing the flow to split into two stream.  At Compton's, the creek has actually eroded two separate slots in the capstone rock.  This creates two streams that just jet out into space, a beautiful sight.  We spent a good deal of time here.  Boomer had to swim out in the pool and play in the waterfalls, and I had to just soak up the natural beauty of the surroundings.  

Owl Falls
Leaving Compton's, we went downstream to visit Owl Falls, in the tributary on the south side of Whitaker Creek where our bluffline break was.  This is a stair-step type waterfall that also needs a good amount of flow to look good, and this creek is one of the major tributaries to Whitaker Creek.  Leaving Owl Falls, we headed downstream.  My goal had been to go all the way down to Wild Burro Falls and Point Beagle Falls, but I was now unsure about our ability to get there and back before dark.  And if there's one thing worse than a bushwhack, it's a bushwhack in the dark in rugged terrain.  

Unnamed Falls #3
Continuing downstream, we came to Unnamed Falls #3, a pretty little waterfall about six feet tall, right on Whitaker Creek.  Just downstream from that, we found Unnamed Falls #4, a waterfall about 15 feet high on a small tributary coming in from the south side.  Whitaker Creek is full of short waterfalls and cascades, and today the water was crystal clear and flowing well.

Unnamed Falls #4
Whitaker Creek canyon upstream of this point is fairly open and broad, making it easy to hike along the creek itself in most places.  Downstream, it gets more narrow and steep, so hiking with higher water is more difficult.  We picked a good spot and headed up the slope on the left (north) side so we could check out the waterfalls in the next tributary on that side.  It was here that we got caught between two narrowing benches.  I could have climbed out of it, but Boomer could not.  Normally he is better equipped than I am for our hikes. But sometimes, having two opposable thumbs is better than having four legs.  

Compton's Double Falls
At any rate, we had to backtrack a fair distance to get to a better slope upward on the bench.  Taking stock of the time and the fact that I wanted to go to the top of Compton's and hike the creek upstream of it, I decided to call it a day and head back.  We climbed to a point about the same elevation as the top of Compton's Double Falls and hiked back upstream.  For most waterfalls, the view is really not that good from the top.  Due to the way the water jets out above the pool, Compton's Double Falls looks spectacular just about anywhere you can view it.

Unnamed Falls #5 - with Boomer
Upstream of Compton's, Whitaker Creek itself is a nice hiking experience with many smaller cascades and short waterfalls.  Unnamed Falls #5 is another of those small waterfalls, but this one is pretty enough in it's surroundings to definitely be "photo worthy".  Boomer was taking yet another swim, so I figured I might as well snap some photos.  

Hungry tree?  Things you see in the wilderness
 that make you go "huh"!
We hiked upstream until we got into the area we had already seen, then hiked uphill and set a course back to the Cruiser.  It's probably a good thing we turned back when we did.  By the time we climbed out of the Whitaker Creek valley, I was getting a little winded.  I have been hiking only a couple of times the last three months, and I must be a little out of shape (okay, maybe a lot).  Now that we are getting into "waterfall season", hopefully I will correct that quickly.

Compton's Double Falls
This is a great area to hike, and is highly recommended.  The whole area hiked  is in the northwest part of the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area.  Being a wilderness area, that means no logging activity, no roads, and lots of other rules to ensure the area goes back to it's natural state.  So you'll see a lot of huge hardwoods that keep the undergrowth down, making much easier hiking conditions.  It is still somewhat rugged, but no more so than most areas of the Ozarks.  The three major waterfalls, Compton's Double Falls, Amber Falls, and Owl Falls, are only a little over a mile total from the parking spot.  I know many folks avoid any kind of bushwhack, but I'm surprised this one is not visited more often.

Whitaker Creek - GPS Track to Amber Falls,
Compton's Double Falls, Owl Falls, and others

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Rick! Doing this before the end of the year. Just waiting on a bit more rain. Love your blog. Very helpful!