Visit the Waterfalls of the Ozarks in Arkansas
“I remember one winter morning we hiked out to Twin Falls really early, and we got there just as the sun was rising,” said Jack Moyer. “Snow was still on the ground, but it had just rained so a thick mist hovered over the falls.
Jack Moyer has been hiking in Arkansas’s Ozark Mountains for 15 years, and by this time he’s grown used to the often-surreal scenery.
The Ozarks is a very mountainous region spanning portions of Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas, that has helped shape dozens of small southern towns into hubs for outdoor adventure.
“I would much rather hike in the winter than the summer,” says Moyer. “November and December are my favorite months; after the leaves have all fallen but there’s still a ton of wildlife around. We see deer, elk, Trumpet Swans, you name it.”
Frequently overshadowed by the Rocky Mountains to the West and the Appalachian Mountains to the East, the Ozark Mountains are an often-underappreciated natural treasure. Home to deep caves, gushing rivers and uniquely translucent amphibians, this 1.2 million acre park is a meca for boaters, backpackers, fishermen, rock climbers and mountain bikers.
Home to the tallest mountain between the Rockies and Appalachia (Dewey Bald Mountain), the Ozarks also lay claim to dozens of spectacular waterfalls.
Hiking to Hemmed-In Hollow
Among the most noteworthy cataracts are plummeting Hemmed-In Hollow, picturesque Eden Falls and tranquil Twin Falls. The hiking trails that weave through the region’s deep valleys and rocky canyons range from easy to difficult, and accommodate everyone from day hikers to avid backpackers.
“There’s places on the trail to Hemmed-In Hollow where you literally have to pull yourself up by the roots of trees,” says Terry Cook, Director of The Harrison Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It’s one of the most challenging trails around; a lot of people will hike in, camp at the falls, and then hike out the next day.”
Cook has lived in nearby Harrison for seven years, but he tells me he grew up hiking and canoeing in the Buffalo River area with his family. Now, he plays an integral role in facilitating tourism to the region.
Hemmed-In Hollow is formed by a tributary of the Buffalo River, which empties into a deep channel, picks up speed, and then careens over the side of a craggy granite bluff.
The falls tumble down 200 feet of sheer cliff face, making for an awe-inspiring spectacle. Along the way, the torrent is tossed and torn by the wind, which dissects the rushing water into a million sparkling droplets.
“You walk into a boxed-in canyon, and suddenly Hemmed-In Hollow opens up right in front of you,” says Cook. “The stream runs over a flat rock at the top of the bluff, and then just drops off. There’s a great view from the river, where it’s really visible from a long way off.”
There are three established hiking trails that will deposit you at Hemmed-In Hollow, but Centerpoint Trailhead and Compton Trailhead are the best known and most recognized. The falls are also accessible from the Buffalo River, just half a mile from the river trailhead.
The Magic of Falling Water
Although Hemmed-In Hollow is easily the regions largest and steepest waterfall, the prize for beauty and tranquility is awarded elsewhere. Triple Falls is a short and easy hike from the Camp Orr Boyscout Camp. As with most of the falls in the Ozarks, try to plan your trek in respect to recent rainfall, as it will make for a more dramatic spectacle.
“My favorite waterfall to visit is Triple Falls in the early spring, once the snow has started melting and the falls are really gushing. It reminds me of one of those waterfalls you see on commercials for the Caribbean. There’s just a gorgeous deep blue lagoon with three distinct falls coming down. It appears almost tropical. It’s accessible too, only a quarter of a mile hike from the road.
“The falls themselves are only about four feet high, so people will jump in the lagoon during the summer and float around. The falls form a wading pool at the bottom. It’s sort of a family oriented destination, it’s easy to take the kids in the summer.”
Triple Falls is located in the Buffalo National River Wilderness Area and accessible by dirt road. When it rains the stream gushes over the rocks, making three distinct and picturesque cascades.
Another notable waterfall is Eden Falls, which combines a unique natural design with fascinating history and beauty. It’s in fairly close proximity to Triple Falls, and tumbles from tall, mossy rocky into a narrow crevasse.
“It’s about a mile hike into Eden Falls, and well worth the trip,” said Cook. “There’s several different levels, and on the top right-hand side of the falls is actually an old Indian camp. You can still see signs that people had once lived there.
The water has carved deep into the rock, and created a cave near the top. If you crawl into the cave, there’s another little waterfall as well. It’s a really great area to explore, whether you’re with your family or hiking solo.”
Eden Falls sits in a section of the park known as the lost valley, and is a relatively easy hike from the trailhead.
For many, the path to the Ozark’s hiking trails, rivers, and waterfalls passes through the bustling town of Harrison. Located in the heart of the Ozarks, Harrison offers visitors everything they need to capture the inspiring essence of the surrounding environment.
Beset on all sides by the Ozark forest, the surrounding mountains have helped to shape Harrison’s unique culture and identity. Here, positivism runs high and adventure is always in the air. During the late spring and summer, Harrison caters to aspiring adventurers with a slew of dining and lodging options, including cabins, bed and breakfasts, and RV parks.
Each summer, a group of locals convene to organize and unofficially ‘guide’ a hike of the Buffalo River Mouth. There are also a number of outfitters in town that specialize in canoeing and kayaking the Buffalo River.
“Harrison reminds me of a high-strung Colorado town,” says Moyer. “The vibe is all about outdoor adventure and there’s a great energy about the place. Its really grown into a hiking-oriented town, and it caters to all sorts of visitors.”
The trails to which Harrison serves as the gateway have kept families and locals happy for decades.
“My wife is a far more aggressive hiker than I,” says Moyer. “My favorite hikes are the shorter ones, when we get the kids and the dog out with us. We have a Great Dane that just lives for those woods. The kids never want to come, they’re teenagers, but when we do manage to drag them out they always have a great time.”
If you’re looking to experience something new on vacation this year, consider the Ozarks. This piece of wilderness is both beautiful and largely unspoiled. The hiking trails rival those across the US, the waterfalls are stunning, and the vibe inviting.
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