Smith Creek Nature Preserve

Smith Creek Preserve Hiking Trails - Lower Trail Loop

Smith Creek Nature Preserve is a beautiful hiking area managed by the Nature Conservancy. The preserve sits atop Sherfield Cave -- which houses the largest colony of endangered Indiana Bats in the state. But above ground, there is beautiful scenery.

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Smith Creek

This is an area that we've hiked many times and just keep coming back to due to the peaceful charm and beauty. I've previously covered the Main Trail through the preserve (that post also includes a longer overview of the area) and the hike to Elise Falls, but today I want to talk about a loop hike that has become my preferred route exploring the area. 

IMG_8075Getting there

The parking area for the Smith Creek Nature Preserve is on Highway 21 south of the community of Boxley -- it's 3 miles south of the Boxley Baptist Church and 1.2 miles south of the Boxley Trailhead to the Buffalo River Trail. Parking is on the east side of the road and there is a large sign indicating the spot. The trail starts off beyond the gate at the back of the parking area. There is trail signage here with a map of the area and usually paper maps as well. 

The Hike

Start off by hiking the main trail beyond the gate. The trail follows an old road and heads somewhat steeply down the hill. 

At .2, the trail splits. The Main Trail curves off to the right, but for this loop hike, we will take the trail that breaks off to the LEFT toward Elise Falls (there is a sign here noting the direction). 

Elise Falls Trail - March, 2019

The trail to Elise Falls continues steeply down a different old road. This is a nicely wooded area and it's a steep but nice stroll. The trail then turns to the left (there are a few places where the trail has washed out pretty badly) and remain heading down the hill. 

Eventually, at .8, the trail reaches Smith Creek. The creek is almost always dry here as it runs underground in this spot. There are nice little bluff areas both up and down stream at this crossing.

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Bluff along Smith Creek, March 2019

From here, we'll take a short detour to Elise Falls. 

To get to Elise Falls, head downstream (to your left) and follow the creek bed a couple of hundred yards past a bluff and there will be a small creek on the left that flows into Smith Creek from the left. Follow this creek upstream another 100 yards or so and you'll reach Elise Falls (sometimes calls QueVaLa Elise Falls). This is a nice, 21 foot tall waterfall in a slot canyon and worth the visit during the wet season).

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Elise Falls - March, 2019

When done here, return to when the trail first crossed Smith Creek.  From here, cross Smith Creek and continue on downstream a bit.

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Shale Flat

At 1.1, the trail then turns right and proceeds STEEPLY up the hillside. It's a bit of a climb but doesn't last too long. Eventually the trail passes through a shale flat and at 1.5 miles the there is a fork in the trail that is very well marked. To the left is the upper trail, and to the right is the lower trail. I usually take the Lower Trail here and turn RIGHT (although both eventually end up in the same place). 

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Fork in the trail, March, 2019

The Lower Trail stays out on level for awhile and then starts dropping down the hill at 1.75 in and area called "BAD" on the map. This area was hit pretty badly by an ice storm several years ago so there are a lot of downed trees in the area. The trail workers have done a nice job of reworking the trail to make it passable.

At 2.1 the trail turns right into a valley and then at 2.2 turns left and crosses a small creek. Smith Creek is now visible down on your right. 

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Smith Creek, December 2020

The trail then goes through a ravine and then up the hill. At 2.4 there are a couple of large boulders on the right. Just down the hill from this spot is a canyon area that is incredibly scenic. I definitely recommend going down and checking this area out. It will be dry during dry season, but will have water during the wetter months.

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Canyon area along Smith Creek, December 2020

Back on the lower trail, at 2.5 there is a trail intersection -- this is the upper trail connecting back with the lower trail. Stay right. 

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Canyon area along Smith Creek, December 2020

The trail crosses a small creek bed (during wet season there is a small waterfall just upstream here) and then at 2.7 the trail reaches Smith Creek. It is beautiful both up and down stream from this spot. 

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Smith Creek, December 2020

You'll have to find a way across Smith Creek here. During wet season, this will be a wet crossing but will be dry during dry months. 

On the other side of the creek, you will hit the Main Trail -- essentially at the picnic area and small footbridge. From here, you can either turn right -- and go one mile up the hill back to your car. Or, I highly recommend turning left and exploring Smith Creek along the main trail and the wonderful emerald pools, rock jumbles and cascades it has to offer. You can find more details on the Main Trail here.

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A rocky Smith Creek, December, 2020

This is about a 4 mile loop - counting going to Elise Falls but not including exploring further up the Main Trail. If you explore all the way up the Main Trail, you can add about 2.5 miles to the total distance.

Trail Details

Distance - 4 - 6.5 miles in mostly a loop

Footwear - hiking boots recommended

Difficulty - Moderate+. There are a couple of climbs of 250 feet or more and potentially a wet water crossing. 

Kid Friendly - Yes, as long as they can handle the distance and the climbing

Trail Guide - Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails Volume 5 (not in early volumes)

Rating - 4 stars out of 5

Most of the pictures on this post are from hikes in March, 2019 or December 2020.

Other Trails Nearby:

Buffalo River Trail - Boxley to Ponca

Hedges Historical Hike

Paradise Falls

The Glory Hole





Arkansas State Parks & more.
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