Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bear Creek Waterfalls, Ozarks south of Fort Douglas, Arkansas

3/12/2017 - Sidewinder Falls (aka Mama Bear Falls), Swamp Falls, V-Slot Falls (aka Papa Bear Falls), Baby Bear Falls, and Slot Pool Falls

GPS Coordinates:  (Latitude, Longitude, Elevation)
  Parking location #1(NON-4WD):  35.68462   -93.17372, 1781 ft.
  Parking location #2 and Trail Head:  35.68639   -93.17600, 1768 ft.
  Upper and Lower Halfway Falls:  35.68703   -93.18121, 1443 ft.
  Sidewinder Falls:  35.68935   -93.18483, 1190 ft.
  Baby Bear Falls:  35.69030   -93.18350, 1227 ft.
  V-Slot Falls:  35.68917   -93.18723, 1143 ft.
  Bluff break:  35.68926   -93.18840
  Slot Pool Falls:  35.68927   -93.18794, 1135 ft.
  Unnamed Falls #1:  35.68936   -93.16894, 1124 ft.

Pet-Friendly: Somewhat.  Free Roaming pets off leash, like Boomer, should be okay if they can do some climbing and scrambling.  I would not take pets that need to stay on leash.

Motorcycle Friendly: No.  The road is definitely too rough.  I would never take my Harley on it.

Hiking Statistics:  Today's hike was 3.2 miles round trip, and that includes quite a bit of moving around the spectacular waterfalls here.  The highest-to-lowest elevation difference is 756 feet.  It doesn't seem like it while you are hiking down but is apparent on the climb back out.  This is technically a bushwhack, but there are good volunteer trails in the area.  The hiking is fairly easy, especially this time of year, but I would still rate this as a difficult hike just because of the steep climb out.

GPS files (.gpx format) - Map with these routes is at bottom of this post:
  Bear Creek GPS track

Swamp Falls
We didn't set out this morning with the intent of going to Bear Creek.  I set out with my hiking companions today, friends Dan Frew and David Dedman, to hike the waterfalls in Wye Hollow.  We had finally got a little rain, even some snow last night, and thought the waterfalls in this remote hollow would be starting to flow well.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature blocked us as we tried to get into Wye Hollow.  As soon as we started dropping down to the parking location, we came to a large tree across the logging road.  We managed to get around the first one but soon ran into many more that we could not.  Wye Hollow is a huge drainage system that requires either driving a good 4WD down to a couple of locations or hiking for a couple of days, and we didn't have that kind of time.  The answer to the "Well, what else is close?" was, of course, Bear Creek.  This is on everyone's list of favorite waterfall areas, for good reason.  Best of all for us, it was only about three miles north from where we were on Meadows Knob Road.
Getting there is fairly straightforward but does involve a bit of backcountry
 Forest Service roads.  To get there, from Dover, go north on Highway 7 for 28.7 miles to Pelsor/Sand Gap.  Turn left (west) on Highway 123 for 4.7 miles, then turn left (south) onto Meadows Knob Road (aka FR-1802, CR-
Sidewinder Falls
5991, or Treat Road).  If you are coming from Hagerville, from the junction of Highways 164 and 123, go north for 22.6 miles, then turn right onto Meadows Knob Road.  
Go 2.2 miles on Meadows Knob Road, then turn left onto a Jeep road.  If you don't have a good 4WD vehicle with good ground clearance, you should just park here off Meadows Knob Road.  This is Parking Location #1.  This is an old Forest Service logging road, one of the few they have put a road marker on; this is 93179A and has a vertical sign at ground level.  The Jeep road has some long, mudholes that have a solid bottom but can get pretty deep.  If you have a 4WD vehicle with decent ground clearance, you can drive down this Jeep Road to a food plot, and park at the far side of the clearing.  This is Parking Location #2 and is the trailhead for our hike today.  If you parked on Meadows Knob Road, hoof it down the Jeep road to this trailhead.

Upper Halfway Falls
Parking Location #2 is at the top of a drainage feeding into Bear Creek.  It is, in fact, the creek that forms Swamp Falls when it spills over the bluff into Bear Creek.  In Tim Ernst's guidebook, Arkansas Waterfalls, he mentions an "upland swamp" at the north end of this clearing.  The swamp drains into the drainage that we will follow down to Bear Creek.  There are no maintained trails here, but enough folks have visited to make volunteer trails that are not too hard to pick up, at least this time of year.  A volunteer trail goes into the woods on the far (west) side of the food plot and leads down the drainage.  Make sure you are on the right side of the creek as you start hiking down.  There is a minimal amount of underbrush and briars in this area, so it is a very pleasant hike down to Bear Creek.  It is a little over a half mile from the trailhead to Bear Creek, and along the way, there are a couple of nice waterfalls in the creek you are hiking alongside.  These are Upper and Lower Halfway Falls; when you pass them, you'll know you are about halfway to Bear Creek.

Sidewinder Falls
Swamp Falls is visible downstream
The trail winds down the tributary creek (can we just name this Swamp Creek?), and takes you right to Sidewinder Falls on Bear Creek.  When you see it, you'll know why it's named Sidewinder Falls.  There is a little contention on the names of the waterfalls here.  The kayakers that run this creek when it is at flood stage call the first drop in this section Baby Bear Falls, which the waterfall chasers agree with.  However, the next drop at Sidewinder Falls, they refer to as Mama Bear.  The next big drop downstream they call Papa Bear instead of V-Slot.  The kayakers have their own way of doing things and are often the ones that first shoot a wild stream and identify cool water features for the hikers to explore.  You can see their take on the Bear Creek area at this American Whitewater page.  The documentation in Tim's guidebook, as well as my friend Danny Hale's hiking Takahik guidebook, use the nomenclature that makes more sense to waterfall chasers, so I'll use those names for consistency.

Top of V-Slot Falls
From Sidewinder Falls, the trail splits and goes across Swamp Creek (see how easy it is to name something that doesn't have a name?) downstream in one direction, and upstream toward Baby Bear Falls.  From here, all the major waterfalls in the area are within a stone's throw of each other.  Well, if you have a really good arm.  Within a stone's throw for Dak Prescott, let's say.  If you look downstream from Sidewinder Falls, you can see Swamp Falls, where Swamp Creek flows over the south bluff into Bear Creek.  The trail goes along the top of the bluff, but today we carefully climbed down the left side of Sidewinder Falls to get some photos from the base of Sidewinder Falls and Swamp Falls.  From there, we just hiked at creek level down to the next downstream waterfall, V-Slot Falls.  

V-Slot Falls
V-Slot Falls is less than 300 yards downstream from Swamp Falls.  When you see it, you will immediately know why it was given that name.  When Kayakers shoot this creek, it is high enough that it is just a mass of water passing a big rock.  Most times, however, the creek hits a huge boulder in the middle of the creek and splits into two streams going around it.  Below V-Slot Falls, the water falls into a deep slot canyon that runs a few yards more before spilling out into a large pool at Slot Pool Falls.  You can see the top of Slot Pool Falls, but getting to the base means you have to hike a downstream a little ways.

Slot Pool Falls
If you continue downstream on the trail, it will take you well past Slot Pool Falls before there is a bluffline break you can take to get back down to creek level.  It can be a little hard to find, especially when you are at creek level and are trying to get back out of the canyon.  Once down at creek level, you will want to cross the creek and hike up to Slot Pool Falls on the opposite side.  On your way out of this canyon, look a little downstream from the bluffline break.  There is a nice little waterfall tumbling down the edge of the bluff cliff on the opposite (north) side of the creek.  Since it is right off Bear Creek, I'm tempted to call this one Goldilocks Falls.  Let me know what you think of the name.  There are more nice waterfalls in the tributaries to Bear Creek in this area, but they are off Bear Creek itself.

Baby Bear Falls
We went back up Bear Creek the way we came, crossing Swamp Creek and then turned upstream along the right (east) side of Bear Creek.  Baby Bear Falls is only a couple hundred yards upstream of Sidewinder Falls.  Once you are down at the Sidewinder Falls area, all of these cool waterfalls are so close that you really should visit all of them while you are there.  Baby Bear Falls is another waterfall that spills into a large pool, like Slot Pool Falls.  One of the things I like about this area, in addition to its all-around awesomeness, is that the major waterfalls are all uniquely beautiful in their own way.  They all have geometries and configurations very different from the others in the area.  If you are a photographer, there is a lot for you here, and no doubt many perspectives that you can shoot these from that others have not.

Unnamed Falls downstream of Slot Pool Falls
Goldilocks Falls?
Leaving Baby Bear Falls, we hiked back past Sidewinder Falls and started the climb out.  I won't kid you, there are a couple of sections of the hike that are steep enough to wear you out.  It isn't as bad as the hike out of Hemmed-in Hollow to the Compton trailhead, but it's not far behind.  If you have a heart condition or are in generally bad shape, either take your time, a loooong time, or don't go.  There are some steep bluffs and cliffs, and the trails are volunteer trails and go places that are a little iffy.  I'm not sure I would take smaller children to this area.  My advice would be to go the first time without them, then make your own judgment knowing your child's capabilities or lack of them.  But for all that can make a somewhat strenuous hike out, I can't recommend this area enough.  It is nature at its most awesome.

GPS Track - Bear Creek Waterfalls


  1. I visited this for the first time today. It's truly an amazing place. And I'd love to see the kayakers carry their gear out of here...

  2. Looks like that dang tree below sidewinder falls will never rot and wash away. It has been ruining the view there for years. Take yer chainsaw next time.

    1. Should have taken your friend Jim Fitsimones. He would have hacked that thing up with a pocket knife if he had to.

  3. Hi - it looks like the .gpx file is no longer active on this page. Do you still have this file that you could post? Thank you!