The Boxley Valley is one of those amazing place that is a spectacular drive/bike ride through while surrounded by big hills, open valleys, wildflowers, historic sites and wildlife.
After a good rain, the Buffalo River area is filled with fog, low-hanging clouds and just a mystical feel.
If you marry the two, you get a beautiful scenic drive in the Boxley Valley with a low-lying fog.
One of the great things about hiking and playing in the wilderness in Arkansas is that each time you visit an area, it takes on a bit of a different feel depending on the time of year you go. Different weather and water levels make a big impact, as do leaf color, what flowers are in bloom and who you are sharing the trail with.
Maybe no area represents this more than the Kings River Falls area.
The Kings River Falls Trail is a great hiking trail -- only about 1.2 miles round trip, and filled with beautiful scenery. It's a relatively flat, easy hike, so it's good for kids too.
At the end of the trail is a 10 foot high waterfall -- and during warm weather, the area can become a (justifiably) popular swimming hole. It's definitely worth the time to check out.
To get there, go to the community of Boston (just a few homes there now) -- which is on Highway 16 between Pettigrew and Red Star -- and about 19 miles west of Fallsville.
From Boston, turn North onto CR #3175 (gravel, but a good road) for 2 miles and then turn RIGHT onto CR #3415. Stay on this for 2.3 miles and the road stops at a "T" intersection.
Turn LEFT at the T, and afer a few hundred yards you'll cross a small stream and there is a decent-sized parking area on your right. The sign will mark the spot.
The trail takes off just to the left of the sign, and runs along a fence and an open field (to your left) and a creek (to your right).
After a bit, the trail reaches the Kings River and turns to the left and then runs downstream along the river. After a bit, the trail crosses over a nice footbridge.
The trail continues and is level the entire time so it makes for great hiking. It's a wide trail that is really easy to navigate.
There are a lot of great little areas to check out along the river so plan to go slow and enjoy the trail and the river a bit.
We hiked this trail on Memorial Day weekend and the trail had an extra special surprise for us. The Azaleas were in full bloom and the bright pink flowers were a wonderful sight along the river.
After about a mile, you eventually get to main event -- Kings River Falls. This is a great, 10 foot high waterfall that is set in just an amazing area. Plan to spend a little bit of time enjoying this fantastic waterfall.
During warm weather, the swimming hole below the falls becomes a VERY popular swimming hole....so if you are planning to come to this area and want some peace and quiet, then early mornings or during the week are probably best. If hanging out with people who are all having a great time is more your game, a weekend afternoon will work.
Getting to the Overlook
While the hike to Kings River Falls is great, and most people are perfectly fine enjoying the falls itself, there is a bit more to see here. Just upstream from the falls there is a creek that comes in from the trail-side of the river. If you follow this little creek upstream a bit there are also a series of waterfalls that come down off the top of the hill.
There is a volunteer trail that heads up along these falls that is pretty easy to follow and when the water is high, they're definitely worth checking out.
Then, to your right, there is another trail that leads back toward the river.
From this trail, you can get an amazing view of Kings River Falls from high above the Falls on the Bluff and well worth checking out.
Distance: 1.2 miles round trip
Kid Friendly: Yes
Footwear: Trail shoes or Keen water shoes
Guide Book: Covered in a lot of places: Tim Ernst's Waterfall Book or Arkansas Hiking Trails.
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 (This is also FR 1224/CR 59 if using guidebooks or maps. 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
Fern Falls is a quick hike just off of Highway 7 South of Jasper. There is not an official trail here, but the trail generally follows some old road traces to it tends to be fairly easy to follow. The hike is a little bit of a mess after a lot of trees and branches fell during the 2009 ice storm, but we found our way without problem and got to view a nice waterfall as our reward.
The trailhead begins 11.4 miles south of the Jasper square on Highway 7. At 11.4 miles, there will be "Historic Highway 7" sign on the west side of the highway. There is no official parking area, but if you can pull off the side of the highway here and make a pace to park, that's the spot. The trail begins just behind the sign.
The trail starts off along an old road and heads down the hill a bit. It's a fairly well-defined road, so easy enough to follow.
At approximately .25 miles, the trail leaves this road trace to follow another -- turning sharply to your right (there is pink tape tied to trees here to note the spot). Turn onto this old road trace (definitely less defined than the one that continues straight, and continue down the hill. After a few hundred feet, this trace becomes impassable due to about a dozen trees that have fallen over the trail, but the trail turns left and heads steeply down the hill.
Eventually you hit the old road trace again and continue down the hill. When you get to the bottom of the hill (roughly .5), you'll see a small stream in front of you, turn right here and follow the road trace along the side of the creek. After about another .25, you'll get to the top of the waterfall.
To make your way to the bottom of the falls, cross the creek upstream from the falls and follow the ridge around until there is a gap in the rock line and head down to the falls. To get the best photos, follow the ridge around behind the falls to the other size for a great view of the falls, and the water hole down below.
Fern Falls (named for the Ferns that grow up around it in late April and May) is a 42 foot waterfall with two streams that fall and hit a rock bed below to spread into a nice secondary falls.
When you are done exploring, you can head back the way you came -- this time back UP the hill you came down.
Total Distance: 1.5 miles
Footwear: Hiking Boots preferred
Children: Older children would be ok
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
I've mentioned it several times before, but one of my favorite things about the area around Erbie is the sense of history you get when you visit the area. While the "town" is now uninhabited, there still is an old church, several in-tact homesteads, old cemeteries, and the remains of old roads, old houses and a life that used to be. And because the area is unpopulated, you get a good sense for how it must have felt to be alive back at the turn of the century out in the wilderness, relatively isolated from your neighbors except for a long walk or ride by horseback down a road or at church on Sunday morning.
Another such place is the JW Farmer Homestead.
As best I can tell (and the history of this area is not terribly well docemented online), this old homestead dates back to 1911, and has many original buildings that are mostly fairly well preserved.
To get to the spot, we generally take the Old Erbie Loop Trail. (directions at the link). The trail starts at Erbie Church heading along the road South toward the River. You turn right at the old homestead, past a barn, and then up the hill to Goat Bluff (details at the link).
At the top of Goat Bluff, at 1.2 miles, you hit a 4 way intersection. To get to the JW Farmer Homestead, take the route that continues straight ahead along the bluff (the road to the harsh right takes you to the horse camp, the soft right continues on to the Old Erbie Trail).
If you take the left-most trail (straight), you'll begin to decend down the fairly steep trail. This section of trail is very nice, as it has a lot of nice flat rocks that form natural stairs and there are usually quite an array of wildflowers.
As you head down you'll be veering to your right and a small creek will be below to your left. The trail then crosses over the creek (not a wet crossing) and then turns back left. At about .4 from the intersection (1.6 from the start of the Old Erbie Trail), the trail will connect with the Old River Trail. To the left heads down to the river, to the right is to the homestead. Shortly after taking the right you arrive at the homestead.
While the Homestead appears to be out in the middle of nowhere, it really is sitting right along the Old River Trail which was the old road through the area that connected all of the homesteads along the river bottom. If you think about the Old River Trail as the old road, it makes perfect sense.
Take some time to explore the area. Most of the buildings are open to walk into. Just be smart and safe and respectful to this piece of history.
After taking the time to explore, it's back out on the Old River Trail. Immediately across from the homestead is a trail that enters the woods. This is where the Cecil Cove Loop would joins the rest of the trails in the area. Going straight on the Old River Trail continues on the trail toward Kyles Landing.
We followed the Old River Trail another about .3 miles to the next Buffalo River Crossing before heading back.
Hike to JW Farmer Homestead
Distance: 4 miles round trip (if you come in from the Old Erbie Trail -- it's at the 6.2 mile mark of the Cecil Cove Loop)
Footwear: Trail shoes or hiking boots are best
Star rating: 3.5 of 5
These two waterfalls quickly became two of my favorite waterfalls in the Buffalo Rivera area and are definitely worth checking out.
There is a short way to get there from near the community of Compton that at some point I'll take. However, today, we're heading back to them from the Cecil Cove Loop Trail. To get on the Cecil Cove Loop, check out this post. At 2.2 miles into the hike, there is an intersection (and a sign). While the Cecil Cove Loop heads straight at this interestion, there is a trail to your right and the sign points that direction and says "waterfall". This trail is mostly unmarked, but this is the way to these two great waterfalls.
Note, this is not an official trail. Someday maybe it will be, but for now it takes a little willingness to bushwack and find your way. Just remember where the creek is, and it will lead you back to the staring point.
At the interestion, follow the trail to the RIGHT. The trail bends around a bluff, and then heads out with Cecil Creek to your right.
The trail quickly goes down the hill and soon you arrive at a great, and popularly used campsite. At this campsite, the creek also forms a nice swimming hole for the folks spending the night there (not appropriate for my December hike though).
Once past the campsite, the trail will turn slightly away from the creek, and then, cross over the creek (this is pretty easy to cross at this point).
Once across the creek you have a couple of options.
Option one involves staying on an old road trace and following it as it turns left and goes UP the hill. This is a steep climb, but somewhat easy to follow. You will lose the trace for awhile, then find it again. But always head UP, and always know that the creek is deep in the valley below to your left. When you get toward the top of the hill you'll start seeing "no tresspassing signs". You've hit private property and are at the National Park Boundary.
No fears though, because this is where you want to be. At the "no tresspassing signs, turn left and following along the boundry and head toward the creek you will start to hear water. Follow the sound of water down the hill and you'll be greeted by the roaring water of the two falls.
The second option, and probably the preferred one, is that as soon as you cross the creek turn LEFT and follow the creek upstream. There is a volunteer trail here. It starts in the valley next to the creek, then goes up the hill in a small ravine and runs along above the creek. But generally, this route always keeps the creek in view.
After going by a series of fallen rocks, you get into Broadwater Hollow and to the inital waterfall -- this is Broadwater Hollow Falls.
Broadwater Hollow Falls is a 21 foot tall waterfall that also offers a small series of cascades. I don't think this picture does it justice - and the water is very powerful coming over the edge.
After spending some time at Broadwater Hollow Falls, follow the trail around to the right of the falls to the top. Just beyond this water fall, literally just 100 yards upstream, is another great waterfall, Paige Falls.
Paige Falls is 8 feet tall, but what it lacks in height it makes up for in beauty as the water tumbles from a V-slot above into a prestine pool of water below. I just love this place.
Again, you can follow a volunteer trail around to the top of the falls, through a cool crack-in-the-rock walkway, and see the sloted water routes above, including another interesting cascade.
When you are done checking out these two waterfalls, you can find your way back to the main trail. Round trip distance is about 2 miles (but it will feel like more).
Distance: 2 miles (roundtrip) from the split at Cecil Cove Loop. The falls are a solid 3.2 miles from the Cecil Cove Loop trailhead (1 way).
Footwear: Hiking boots
Kids: probably no unless everyone is experienced in the backcountry together
Guidebook: Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
The former community of Erbie offers a variety of hiking trails that can often be combined together for larger or shorter loops depending on what you plan for the day. Because it was a community, many of the trails feature a lot of historical sites that tell a story of the early settlers to the area.
The Cecil Cove Loop is the longest of these hikes. And as such, provides a wonderful assortment of spring-fed ponds, creeks, historic stone walls, an historic cemetary, former home sites, and a spur trail that leads to a couple of awesome waterfalls. This is a full day of nature, and historic sites that is well worth the trip. The trail is also shared by horses.
The trailhead is in the community of Erbie -- just North of Erbie Church. The simplest way to get to the Erbie trailhead is by taking the Erbie Campground Road from Highway 7 (just South of Pruitt). This road takes you past the Koen Interpretive Trail, the Ponds Loop, The Erbie Campground (currently closed), the Parker Hickman Homestead and eventually crosses the Buffalo River before heading North to the Erbie Church. However, as a general rule, if the river is floatable from Ponca, the river is going to be too high to cross unless you have a 4-wheel drive -- and even then, it's dependent on the vehicle and the driver.
The other two ways to get here are via the road from Compton that runs past the Compton Trailhead. This is a 4-wheel-drive only road after it gets past the trailheads up there and is VERY rough.
The most consistent route is coming in from Marble Falls off Highway 7, just North of the former Dogpatch location. This route is long, and mostly gravel. But is generally passable with any vehicle.
Park at the trailhead just North of the Church. The Cecil Cove Loop starts just north of this parking area by the pit toilet there.
Cecil Cove Loop
The loop starts off on what appears to be an old road trace and heads into the woods and gradually down a hill. At about . 2 the trail gets pretty steep and at .3 you run into a small pond. This area is is formed by Van Dyke Spring (which comes out of the small bluff on your left just upstream a little) and some help from the local beaver population who have damned up this stream. It's a beautiful area -- and also creates the first of two pretty challenging water crossings.
There is not really a good way to cross here (unless you're on horseback), but if you go to the right (downstream) you can often find a combination of rocks and logs to find your way across and keep your feet dry.
Once you cross, and this is IMPORTANT. Don't cross the second stream. You'll need to turn left and cross a few more rocks where the water from the pond area is flowing into the other stream (this should be a fairly easy crossing) and end up in a middle island area between the pond and the creek. You can pick up the trail here.
The trail will stay on the level and run along the edge of the pond you just crossed. The pond and the bluff opposite create a beautiful area to hike along.
At about 1.0 miles, the trail crosses the creek that has been running to your right. When the water is high, this is a tough little crossing (much easier on a horse it appears!).
But, as with the other crossing, if you go downstream a bit, there are a bunch of rocks that make for some possible boulder hopping to get a cross.
Just be careful. The rocks are often smooth from being worn by water over the centuries and sometimes wet and moss covered. If you feel like you need to bring a second pair of shoes or socks (I highly recommend extra socks) in cold weather just in case it may be a good idea.
Once you cross the creek here, things get a little easier for awhile. The trail follows on that side of Cecil Creek for awhile. It is level here and runs through the woods and generally along the creek.
At 1.4 miles, the trail crosses the creek again -- at this point the creek runs underground so this is a dry crossing. Once you cross the creek, the trail turns right and follows along the creekbed for a bit. At 1.8, it crosses the creek again (another dry crossing) and follows on the level again.
At 2.0 the trail passes an old stone wall. This is the first of many historic things you'll see along this trail. It's a well-constructed stone wall and is, in its own right, very scenic.
Just past the wall, the trail crosses the creek one last time and begins to climb the hill on the other side. At 2.2 (just a short walk up the hill), you will get to an intersection. To complete the loop, you will continue straight. However, there is a spur trail to the right that heads back to a great camp site and two amazing waterfalls. You can read about this spur trail here.
To continue on the Cecil Cove Loop continue on the trail that veers to the left and head UP the hill. This part of the trail follows an old road trace and is a pretty steep climb with about 400 feet of elevation gain.
At 2.7 miles, you'll reach Jones Cemetery.
Jones Cemetery is one of many old, abandoned cemeteries that you'll come across on trails along the Buffalo. And like the others, reading the tombstones you get feel for just how difficult life was in this area in at the turn of the last century.
Many of the tombstones are of young women, and infants, that died during child birth. It was a tough time...and really, not all that long ago.
After exploring the cemetery for awhile, continue on the trail and at 2.9 you'll see an old homestead. There isn't much left of it now except for a foundation and an old fireplace and chimney, but this is the former homesite of William Jones -- his tombstone is in the cemetery you just passed.
From here, the trail turns sharply left and continues out on the level. Soon you'll pass a stone wall on your right -- this is the Faddis-Keaton Homesite.
The trail here continues and is following an old road that would have joined the several home sites that you have passed, or will soon pass along the route, to the cemetery, and to the church that once existed at the bottom of the hill. The road follows a bench along the bluffline and is great hiking.
During leaf-off you'll see a lot of scenic views to your left and a lot of areas with large boulders. During wet season, a lot of these rocky areas become really interesting with small waterfalls and water displays.
The trail will pass another homesite -- this one includes a spring that is protected by rocks. This would have been a great source of water for the early settlers.
The trail continues along the bench -- with a steep bluff to your right, and steep-downhill to your left. Enjoy the views, and the trail.
At about 5 miles, a bluffline will begin to form on your right. At the top of that bluff is McFarrin Point. To your left is more views.
At 5.2, the trail connects with the 4WD road that runs from Compton to Erbie. Turn left on this road. If you are continuing the hike, you'll go about 800 feet and turn RIGHT back into the woods and will go down to the JW Farmer Homestead, and then connect with the end of the Goat Bluff Trail and then back to Erbie.
Because both times I've hiked this trail it has been winter with very short days, I've been chasing daylight (and a little tired from the uphill climb) and we've opted instead to follow the the road down the hill directly to the trailhead in Erbie. To do that, it is 1.2 miles back to the trailhead and the road is not often used and is actually a very nice hike. If you complete the route by taking the road, the entire loop is about 6.4 miles.
Cecil Cove Loop Hike Details
Total Distance (if you take the road back to trailhead): 6.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult due to distance, water crossings and elevation change
Footwear: Hiking Boots
Kids: Older would be ok
Guidebook: Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Terry Keefe Falls is a really great waterfall that is a short hike off of Falling Water Road - or as a spur trail off of the Ozark Highlands Trail.
To get there, take the turn on Falling Water Falls Road as described here.
After turning on Falling Water Falls Road, take the road 5.3 miles to the bridge crossing across Falling Water Creek. Continue on this road for another 1 mile to a spot where a creek comes in from the right and flows under the road. This is about 2.8 miles from the Richland Creek Campgroudn if you're coming from that direction. Park where you can here.
The trail starts off on your right and heads up into the woods. It's a well-worn trail and pretty easy to find (there was also pink tape marking the spot). The trail goes up the hill with the creek to your right. The creek here has a lot of large rocks and water features. Before you get to the top of the hill, you'll cross the Ozark Highlands Trail. This is at the 141 mile point of the OHT.
Continue straight at the intersection up the hill. The trail is marked with white circles painted on the trees (not to be confused with actual white blazes that mark the OHT). The trail will go back down the hill and bend to the right, and then back up a hill. As you cross this hill you'll begin to see an amazing bluffline on your left.
The trail will then bend to the left and follow a creek bed and then proceed to cross the creek bed multiple times on the way back to the falls. The creek is mostly dry here, so it's easy crossing.
A little ways up the dry creekbed and you'll get to a huge rock hollow and Terry Keefe Falls in the middle of this hollow.
Terry Keefe Falls is 78 feet tall and had a nice flow to it while we were there. It's definitely one of the taller falls in the area.
Distance: 1 mile round trip
Footwear: Trail shoes or tennis shoes would be fine.
Guidebook: Tim Ernst's Arkansas Waterfalls
Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Intersection Falls is a great, tropical-seeming waterfall that is just a short bushwack from Six Finger Falls. It's a short bushwack that is a bit of a challenge to get to, but it has first class scenery the entire way.
Finding Intersection Falls
Once you get down to Six Finger Falls you'll want to travel upstream to find Intersection Falls. This is probabably about .25 miles upstream.
There is no trail. In the winter, it was easy enough to bushwhack our way upstream along the creek. This was full of thorn bushes, so in warmer weather, having water shoes and go along the edge of the creek. The key here is to the find the easiest and safest way for you to get there given the conditions. It's also important to note that you won't get lost. You follow the creek the entire way, so as long as you're beside the creek, you'll find the falls and be able to find your way back along the creek.
While there is no trail to this area, it is VERY pretty along the creek. You'll find a lot of crisp, clear water, rock formations and swimming holes that just make for first class scenery.
As you get close to the falls, there is a great little cascade area that dumps into a beautiful, clean water area. Be sure to check out the cascade (and note, you can see Intersection Falls behind a tree in the background just left of the top of the cascade in the picture above).
Once past the Cascade area, you can make your way upstream, and get a good look at Intersection Falls. The Falls itself is a 31 foot high falls that tumbles over a ridge and into Falling Water Creek. After an initial fall, the water then hits the rocks below and fans out giving it a very tropical feel.
Once you get your fill, check out the views upstream and then you can head back to Six Finger Falls where you parked your car.
Intersection Falls Info:
Distance: .25 miles
Difficulty: Moderate (no trail)
Footwear: Hiking Boots
Guidebook: Tim Ernst's Waterfall book -- the book actually gives directions from the road to the top of the falls. It's tough to get a good view from the top of the falls, so I recommend coming in from downstream for a better view.
Kids: Older kids fine
Star rating: 4.5 of 5.