The hike back to Big Creek Cave Falls, and along Big Creek is one of the best surprise hikes in the Ozarks. This is a spectacular area and immediately has become one of our favorite places in Northwest Arkansas. It's surprising that in 12 years of coming to the area I've never heard anyone even mention this great hike and unique waterfall other than pulling it out of Tim Ernst's Waterfall Book and thinking "that looks cool, we should check it out."
The setting is beautiful. The Creek itself has a lot of spectacular water features, and the grand finale does not disappoint.
There is no official trail here. However, 1/2 of the trail is very easy to naviagate. The other 1/2 will require some imagination and bushwacking. The best time to check out the trail is probably in early spring when the water is up, but before the growth in the woods becomes too challenging to navigate.
To get to the trail head, from the intersection of Highway 16 and Highway 7 near Dear, go north on Highway 7 1.3 miles and turn RIGHT on NC 6840 (My guidebook calls this road FR 1224. My map calls it CR 59, but the new sign reads NC 6840). The road sort of looks like the driveway to a 1 story brick house, but take the road past the house and it eventually begins to look more like a road than a driveway.
Take NC 6840 for 2.8 miles. The road is actually not as bad as it seems like it would be when you start, but it is fairly narrow and very steep. If conditions are wet, you may want to have a 4WD to be sure you can navigate out. At about 2.8 miles, l you are nearly at the bottom of the hill and you will see a parking area and a gate on your right of what used to be an old home site. Park here.
The trail begins on the other side of the gate by following the old driveway. The homesite is on your right.
The driveway is very easy to follow and makes for some good hiking. Eventually, the path passes an old barn that has fallen down and then crosses the Right Fork of Big Creek. You'll most likely have to wade the creek (it was about calf deep when we were there. The stones on the bottom were smooth so we were able to take off our boots and wade barefoot, but you may want to bring a pair of watershoes with you for the crossing).
Once on the other side of the creek, you'll follow the big pasture to the left and then turn right up the hill. At the top of the hill at the back of the pasture there will be a couple of trees that are taped that tell you where the trail begins in the woods.
This pasture is beautiful -- with Left Fork of Big Creek to your left, and several several big mountains all around. It would have been a peaceful place to call home.
Once you enter the woods, the trail becomes a little tricky. There are trees marked with tape throughout, and sometimes the trail is easy to follow and sometimes you'll just find your way into some sticker bushes wondering where the trail went. Follow along as best you can in the woods along Big Creek knowing that you can't get lost if you just follow the creek. We were there April 12 -- and there were white, yellow and purple wildflowers everywhere.
It's also worth noting that all along Big Creek, there are a ton of amazing water features, beautiful blue pools. Big Creek (like Richland Creek) that really reminds me of the big mountainous streams in many of our Rocky Mountain national parks.
One of the features here is an 8 foot tall waterfall that I think was pretty amazing in its own right -- and completely understated in the guidebook.
At about 1.3, there is a creek that joins in from the right. Follow this creek up the hill to the bluff line.
Here, you will see a very nice cascade coming right out of the cave in the bluff. This is a very cool place to hang out and watch the water cascading over moss-covered rocks.
Then, cross the creek inside the cave, and follow the bluff line around to your left. After a few hundred yards you'll get to the highlight of the hike - Big Creek Cave Falls. This is a 29 foot tall waterfall that is pretty powerful and flows right out of a cave. It immediately became one of our favorite places in the Ozarks.
When you are done, it's time to head back the way you came.
I really do hope they make an official trail here someday. This is an amazing hike and one I highly recommend.
Distance: 2.9 miles
Footwear: Hiking shoes, and maybe some water shoes for water crossings.
Kids: Older will probably be fine
Trail Guide: Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls
Star Rating: 5 of 5