I was lucky enough to get out to one of my favorite places in Arkansas this past weekend– the Richland Creek Wilderness. If you’re okay with a little bushwhacking and probably getting wet, Richland Creek holds countless hidden gems! On Saturday I met up with new friends Dara and Brennen (aka @ozarkditchhiker — she is a fellow photographer and her work is stunning!) to tackle the 5-mile round trip hike to Richland Falls.
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The hike to Richland Falls begins at Richland Creek Recreation Area, a primitive campground near the teensy-tiny town of Ben Hur, Arkansas. From Ben Hur, continue driving east along Highway 16 for about 4.5 miles, then turn left onto Falling Water Road. Google Maps has this road marked alternatively as 1313, 1205, and 1. Just look for the big sign on the left for Garrison or Falling Water Horse Camp. This is a dirt road, but it’s in good shape and I regularly take my Nissan hatchback along it with no problems. Falling Water Road follows (what else?) Falling Water Creek, passing several waterfalls and a low-water bridge, coming to the campground after about 10 miles. The road continues on from here, but becomes a lot rougher– I don’t recommend it unless you’re in a 4×4.
Park in the grass at the intersection between the upper and lower campgrounds. If the gate is open to the lower campground, park there at your own risk– it is vulnerable to flash flood. We actually started our hike at a slightly different location, further up the road, so I recommend checking out Takahik’s page on Richland Creek or Rick Henry’s invaluable blog for details on starting at the campground. Apparently it can be a little tricky getting on the correct trail. Another note: though this trail already requires getting wet up to your knees or thighs in Richland Creek (in the summer), when you start at the campground, you must also cross Falling Water Creek which can be a lot deeper. Use your best judgment!
HIKING ALONG RICHLAND CREEK
There isn’t much elevation change along the trail, so you’re never out of breath. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not tricky at times! The Richland Creek trail is not officially marked (though I did see a few pieces of day-glo trail tape) and there are volunteer trails branching off at times, sometimes making it unclear where to go. There are plenty of rocks and tree roots to keep you on your toes, and a few places where we had to pick our way around fallen trees. You will want to make sure you stay on the route closest to the south side of the creek. This is another hike that I highly recommend Keens for– these are my favorites. You want closed-toe footwear that can get wet and will dry quickly.
Remain on the south side until you reach the confluence with Long Devil’s Fork, about 1.75 miles into your hike. Hiking up Long Devil’s Fork will bring you to the Twin Falls of Richland, one of the most scenic waterfalls in the state, but this time the creek was completely dry. At the confluence of Richland and Long Devil’s Fork, we crossed Richland Creek and hiked the last half-ish mile to Richland Falls on the north side of the creek.
It was such a relief to finally arrive at Richland Falls! The waterfall itself isn’t very tall, but is very wide, spanning the width of Richland Creek like a natural dam and falling into a deep pool below. I couldn’t believe my eyes– no one else was there! I understand not wanting to brave the Arkansas jungle in July, but what a reward we received for persevering.
The water was actually relatively low. Sometimes in the spring and fall, the water is so high it completely obscures the rock face. I was just glad there was enough water to swim! The three of us had a blast lounging in the shade with snacks, taking photos, and playing in the water.
After a while, we knew it was time to head back. I’m not sure why, but I feel like the hike back always goes faster than the way in! Maybe it’s because there’s no more anticipation, and I’m just focusing on getting back to the trailhead. We stopped a few more times for photos and snacks, but were back at the vehicle before too long.
This hike took us about 5 hours to complete, which is probably a little faster than the average hiker, even with our snack and photo breaks. I would allow at least 6 hours to complete this hike, and more if you can, just so you don’t have to rush. It is about 5 miles round trip to hike to Richland Falls from the campground and back. This area is very remote and has no cell service. I recommend you hike with a buddy, bring emergency supplies and always pack your first aid kit. This is the one I always bring– I have never needed it, but I’d rather have it and not need it than the alternative!
If you want to stay overnight, there are plenty of camping options, either in the campground or along Falling Water Road. You are allowed to pitch a tent or hammock pretty much anywhere in the Ozark National Forest. Just don’t block a road and use common sense. One of the best things about the Richland Creek Wilderness is that it is extremely dark– perfect for stargazing! That is exactly what we did to finish up our amazing day.
Check out some of my photos from this Milky Way session and others over in my Arkansas gallery!