Last weekend, we hiked the Richland Creek Wilderness area back to Richland Falls/Twin Falls. It had been probably 8 years since we'd hiked to this area (it was among the first hikes we did in Arkansas), and loved it then and it was great to go back. This area is a favorite among national publications and locals alike -- but not easy to get to, so probably not as well travelled as many areas. So let's talk a bit about how to get to the trail, and then how to get to the falls.
Now, first of all, let me note something about trail guides to the area. Tim Ernst, who writes all the trail guides to the area, recommends people come into the falls from the Hill Cemetery from the North. He does this because a) it sounds like easier hiking as it mostly follows an old road and b) you can do this trail and prevent having to wade across Richland Creek (which is a large creek with a lot of water). However, Tim notes in more updated versions of his books that the road to Hill Cemetery has been unmaintained of late, and you MAY need 4wd to get there. As someone who was using an old trail book (that noted none of this), the road to Hill Creek cemetery WILL require 4WD, and I also recommend you be good at driving in 4WD. It's narrow, steep and not in good shape. Until I make it down to this trail head, you can read about the hike in from Hill Cemetery here.
So, for greater accessibility to the area let's start from Richland Creek Campground. This campground is a bit hard to get to, but the road is generally in good shape as there is a horse campground not far away that requires the road to be in good enough shape for horse trailers to pass. And, the drive is a really pretty one, as it mostly follows Falling Water Creek down to the campsite.
So, take Highway 7 South from Jasper. At Pelsor, take Highway 16 west past the Pedestal Rocks Hiking trails (we'll cover these trails in a later post) and take a left (north) on Forest Road 1205. This road goes for quite a while, along Falling Water Creek,past Falling Water Creek Falls, then crosses Falling Water Creek and eventually to the Richland Creek Campground (if you cross Richland Creek you've gone too far). There are a lot of great little campsites along this road that are nestled right up against the creek.
Turn into Richland Creek Campground, and take the road to the right to the lower campground. Go to the back of the campsite and park. There is a sign in sheet here. Sign in please. Now, onto the trail.
Now, first off, let me note that this isn't an official, or maintained trail. For some reason they haven't established trails in this wilderness. However, the trail to the falls is fairly well travelled and thus, not too difficult to follow for the most part -- although, the closer to the falls you get, the rougher the trail gets.
The trail heads out into the woods - -and fairly quickly leads to a creek that you need to cross. This is Falling Water Creek, the creek you followed on your way to the trailhead. You'll need to cross this creek (and in relatively high water, you'll probably need to get wet to do so).
Once across the creek, you'll have to find the trail. It is sometimes marked with Orange tape (thanks to "Orange man" as this person became known to us for posting the tape), and sometimes you just have to find it. But once across the creek, look for a path, or a series of rocks leading upward, or some orange tape -- but once you get to the top of the hill the trail will become pretty obvious.
Once you hit the trail, you'll be following along a second creek -- which is Richland Creek. The trail remains up high on the bluff for quite awhile and is pretty easy to follow -- and really, is one of the best hiking trails you could ever hike.
The trail eventually heads back down to the creek, where there is a fantastic little overlook area where there are a lot of big boulders in the creek and small rapids (pictured from each direction here).
The trail follows the creek for awhile and then heads back up the hill. Then back down another hill and follows the creek and along a little bluff line, and then heads STEEPLY back up. It then comes back down and heads out over a small, smooth stream bed that you'll follow for a bit. This is probably the hardest part of the trail to follow as it's hard to see where the trail heads back into the woods, but stick with it and remember, if you just follow the creek, you'll eventually get there.
Finally, the creek makes a 90 degree turn to the left. The trail meets a campsite here. At this point the two falls are close. To the left (upstream) is Richland Falls. Directly across from the 90 degree turn is the Big Devil's Fork Creek -- which is where Twin Falls is (both times I've been here, this creek has looked dry, but there has been plenty of water back in the falls). We'll head first to Richland Falls.
Continue on the trail past the campsite a bit, and then eventually cross Richland Creek. There are some stones to jump across, but it really is easier to just wade the creek. There is a trail on the other side that you'll have to find (this one is marked with pink tape) -- but once you find it it will lead you along the creek. If you can't find the trail, just find the easiest way along the creek and you'll eventually find your spot. At one point the trail splits, take the one to the left, and it will lead down to Richland Falls.
Richland Falls(more pics here) is a short falls, only about 8 feet tall, but magnificent, because it covers the entire width of the creek at nearly 100 feet long. Even when the water is low it's great as it splits into several smaller waterfall areas. And below the falls is one of the most enjoyable swimming holes I've ever encountered. So spend some time here. Have some lunch. Go for a light swim, and just enjoy this special area.
When you're done, head back up the trail North side of the creek and follow it -- it will split and go UP the hill and then back down, this will take you up the Big Devil's Fork Creek to Twin Falls.
Twin Falls (more pics here) is just a short jaunt from the 90 degree bend in Richland Creek, and from Richland Falls - and is one of those special places in the Ozarks. It is actually formed when two creeks -- the Big Devils Fork and the Long Devil's Fork merge into one creek -- so each falls is from a different creek falling into the same watering hole. This too is a great place for a picnic and a swim. In fact, there are just dozens of great swimming holes all along this area, so plan to spend some quality time here.
When all is said and done, head back down the creek to Richland Creek, wade across the creek again, and head back the way you came.
Please plan to spend some time in this great little place. There is far more to see and explore if you have the time to do so and I'll get back there again soon to show some of the other areas.
Distance: About 3 miles to the falls area - -about 6.5 miles round trip including going up to each falls.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars The falls are the highlight of the hike -- but, really, the hike itself is spectacular
Difficulty Level: Difficult. The elevetion changes aren't particularly high, the past isn't particularly rough to follow, but the combination of both, along with multiple creek crossings makes it challenging.
Footwear: Wear hiking books, or possibly trail runners, and bring some water shoes or Keens for the water crossings. The trail is really tough on the knees and ankles for just wearing low-cut shoes, but water shoes of some type are a must for the crossings.
Pants: If you are sensitive to poison ivy or oak, you have to wear long pants or only take the trail in winter. The trail is lined with oak and ivy plants and if you are badly infected by them, don't take the trail during the spring or summer. Zip-offs are preferred so you can zip off the legs for water crossings. And have quick-drying pants or a swim suit with you so you can enjoy a good swim along the way.
Kids: I wouldn't recommend youngsters
Guidebook: In Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails, Arkansas Waterfalls, and Arkansas Nature Lover's Guide
Time of year: Wet season or spring and early summer.