I was lucky enough to get to join the Arkansas Nature Lovers’ group (find them on Facebook!) on May 5th this year on a hike up Indian Creek to the Eye of the Needle. (Most of the photos below from the hike were taken by the group leader, Jeff Johnson. Thanks again, Jeff!) I absolutely love this area, but it is particularly remote and rough, so I jumped at the chance to hike it with an experienced group.
The trailhead is accessible at Kyle’s Landing campground on the Buffalo River, not too far outside of Jasper. No dogs allowed, and you should probably leave your kids at home for this one too. We have gotten a ton of rain this spring, and I reeeeally wanted to catch the Eye of the Needle with a waterfall flowing through. This is a fairly rare occurrence that only happens after prolonged rain. When the upper Buffalo is at flood stage, that’s usually a good sign that the Eye will be flowing; however, that much water makes the hike up Indian Creek that much harder!
There are two distinct routes up the canyon — the high route, which takes you high above the creek level, and the low route, which is basically just up the creek itself. The creek route is the more scenic, but also the more treacherous — there are many areas where you’re inching along a slippery ledge, or crossing a log over swift water, or using your hands to maneuver. It’s a lot of fun, but a real challenge, even for experienced hikers. Closed toe hiking sandals or trail runners that can get wet would be my recommendation for footwear– Keen makes some really great closed-toe water sandals I’d highly recommend. I wore my big Vasque boots and that was a mistake on this hike.
As someone who hikes solo a lot, I was surprised how much I enjoyed hiking with a group. Not only does this trail really demand safety in numbers, but it was fun being around so many different personalities and hiking styles. If you’re trying to meet people and you like to hike, I highly recommend joining one of the many groups on Facebook dedicated to group hikes! It’s a lot more fun than any other ‘networking’ events I’ve been to!
Besides all the slippery rock surfaces, boot swallowing mud, and creek crossings, most people would probably agree that the hardest part of this hike is the rope-aided climb above the creek towards the end, necessary to reach the Eye of the Needle. The first time I hiked Indian Creek I didn’t even attempt it– but it’s really not so bad, especially with a few people around to lend a hand if needed. It’s a big part of what makes this hike so rewarding. At the top of the climb, you skirt around the edge of a cavernous recess in the bluff, and crawl through a hole in it to the other side of the creek. Once there you have to maneuver through some car-sized boulders, and then all of a sudden, the Eye appears. Photos really don’t do it justice; it may just be the most beautiful place in Arkansas. The feeling there is truly magical.
We took the high route on the way back, which I think is the best way to do it. It’s fun to go up the creek, which is more technically challenging but much more scenic. When you head back you’re tired, muddy, and ready to just get back to the car! Everything I’ve read says this hike is only about 5-6 miles round trip, but on this occasion one of my hiking buddies had a GPS tracker on and said we had hiked over ten miles. I’m not sure if that’s right, but it definitely feels like it. (In a good way!)
Sunshine is the waterfall photographer’s mortal enemy. Even though it was partly sunny that day, I got lucky with a combination of a few intermittent clouds and the fact that the best water features in the canyon are always tucked back into the shadows. It also didn’t hurt that I’d brought along my new (cheapo) ND filter. Lugging around a tripod, a DSLR, and two lenses feels like a stupid move when you’re doing it, but in the end I couldn’t have been more pleased with my results. Some of my favorite shots in my Arkansas gallery are from this hike!