Picture the Ozarks
This story is part of an ongoing series about photo-worthy destinations in and around Springfield. We’re calling it “Picture the Ozarks.”
Waterfalls in the wild have a special kind of magic. They inspire people to clamber over rocks and bushwhack along creeks just to be near the roar of rushing waters, the peace of a secluded spot and the wonder of nature’s handiwork.
That’s why the Richland Creek Wilderness Area is a must-do for anyone who loves waterfall hunting. Located in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas, more than 30 falls have been noted in the 11,000+ acre watershed area.
This third guide in our “Picture the Ozarks” series focuses on five of those falls in close proximity that can be experienced in one day (with a caveat) around Falling Water Creek, a tributary of Richland Creek in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest.
Two waterfalls are just steps from the Falling Water Creek Road (FR 1205), and three are found on short nearby out-and-back trails. All are photogenic, whether you enjoy shooting with a cell phone or camera.
This adventure can be done as a day trip from Springfield — yours truly has gone three times that way — but plan to leave early and get home after dinner: It’s more than two and half hours away.
We’ve listed these five falls in order of trail length, from the shortest to the longest. We suggest visiting the easiest two first (Falling Water Falls and Six Finger Falls) before embarking on the trails.
Do note: None of these trails or falls are marked and there is no cell service, so have maps and information downloaded on your phone or printed out. Oh, and that caveat? You may not get to all five if you linger to explore with your camera. If so, choose three or four and plan to come back. We guarantee you’ll want to!
Need to know: Falling Water Creek in Richland Wilderness
Distance to each: the longest trail (Fuzzy Butt) is 2 miles out and back, but many of these waterfalls are just off the road
Difficulty: Easy to low-moderate: the trails have elevation and are rocky and uneven in some places; some areas may have mud, wet rocks or small creeks to cross
Dogs: Yes, on a leash
Visual reward: Five gorgeous waterfalls!
Photo-worthy: In addition to the waterfalls, Falling Water Creek is a place to explore. Photographers will find many opportunities for capturing beautiful cascades, blue pools, spring flowers or fall color. This is a good area for long exposure water photography without hauling gear very far.
More information: Tim Ernst’s Arkansas Waterfalls book; Arkansas.com; multiple blogs including this one
Reminder: Bugs, snakes, ticks, slippery rocks and other hazards may be encountered in any wilderness area. Outdoor areas in this series are described from the firsthand experience of an average-ability hiker, however, readers must determine their own abilities.
Your guide to Falling Water Creek
This may be the easiest-to-reach waterfall you’ll ever visit: You can see it from your car! Start your Richland Creek adventure here because it’s easy to map from Springfield (find GPS and travel directions in a side box with this guide). Park along the road for a short sweet stop or plan time to explore the creek area.
These falls are picture-perfection, flowing into a mineral-rich turquoise pool. After rains when the creek level is up, a stretch of water rushes over a roughly 10-foot drop in a beautiful wide fan. When the level is low, there may only be a single stream — it’s beautiful either way. Like Kings River Falls (featured in our second guide), a pool at the base of this waterfall is a popular summer swimming hole.
To capture eye-level photos, look for a steep short spot leading down to the base of the falls where you can scramble over roots and rocks for interesting angles. If you like to explore, pick your way farther downstream to find some nice cascades and another pool. There are more cascades along the creek upstream from the falls.
Trail tip: You’ll drive back by these falls heading out so you could visit twice and save exploring for later.
Six Finger Falls
Prepare to be wowed at Six Finger Falls (GPS: 35.76193, -92.93753), one of the most unique waterfalls in Arkansas. And like Falling Water Falls, it’s just off the road! Here, six stair-stepping rock formations drop roughly six or seven feet to the creek below, forming a wide swath of individual falls that span from one bank to the other. (Photographers: You will need your wide-angle lens to capture this one.)
This is a great place to bring a picnic and to explore up and down the creek around the falls — or simply to sit and soak it all in. On nice warm weekends, expect to see families and kids at play.
To get there: Six Fingers is just off Falling Water Road (FR 1205), roughly 3.6 miles after Falling Water Falls. From here, continue down the road nearly three miles to a concrete bridge. After crossing the bridge, it’s about .7 miles to Six Fingers (the creek is on your left). Look for a small parking area on the creek side of the road or park where you can. Once leaving your car, you can see the falls from the roadside. A steep short trail gets you down to the falls. Hiking sticks can be helpful here.
Trail tip: You can see another view of these falls from the other side of the creek along the trail to Fuzzy Butt Falls (see that section for details).
Intersection Falls and cascades
The trail to this waterfall is tricky to find, but it doesn’t take long to hike – you can barely call it a hike — and it’s worth the effort. The waterfall (GPS: 35.75821, -92.93647), which flows down a bluff to Falling Water Creek, is cool enough, but it’s the gorgeous creek cascade area that makes this trek worth doing.
To get there: Intersection Falls was so named because the waterfall and trail are a bit past an intersection (while driving north) where Forest Service Road 1219 intersects with Falling Water Road (FR 1205). After the intersection, the road curves right then left, and as it straightens, look for a narrow, unmarked trail on the creek side of the road. (A GPS for the unmarked trailhead via this blogger: 35.758880,-92.936450). It can be hard to see but could be marked by pink ribbons or a stack of rocks that other hikers may have left.
Once you find the trail, follow it down to the creek. It’s level through the forest at first, then goes down more steeply but quickly. (After a rain, it can be muddy. Hiking sticks may be handy.) Before long, you are at the creek! The cascades here are lovely to see (and more photo-worthy than the waterfall in this writer’s opinion). Intersection Falls is just upstream.
Trail tip: The trail to this waterfall is upstream from Six Fingers as you drive north on Falling Water Road, so you will pass it if you visit Six Fingers first.
Terry Keefe Falls
It takes a hike also to see Terry Keefe Falls — a 78-foot tall grotto waterfall that’s best visited in rainy seasons. Regardless of Keefe’s flow, the 1.1 mile out-and-back trail is a scenic hike through hilly woodlands along a small creek (a tributary of Falling Water Creek).
Spring flowers or fall color will enhance this hike for photographers, plus there are cascades in the creek which the trail more or less follows to the grotto.
To get there: Find the unmarked trailhead on Falling Water Road at roughly .4 miles north (downstream) from Six Finger Falls or about one mile past the concrete bridge. Park where you can along the road (you may find the best parking past the trail).
This trail starts on the east side of the road (away from Falling Water Creek), just north of a small tributary that tumbles down the hill and through an under-road culvert. If you see pale blue painted blazes, that’s the start of this trail which travels up the hill on the left (or north) side of the tributary creek. (Don’t follow white metal tags or start on the right side of the tributary.)
Trail Tips: This isn’t a difficult trail but there are elevation changes and some creek crossings along the way. Rocks can be slick near the falls after rain. Also, there are two other waterfalls off this trail (called Calypso and Splashdown) which can be reached via bushwhack not detailed here.
Fuzzy Butt Falls
According to an Arkansas tourism site, the fifth waterfall is officially called Box Canyon Falls — but most hikers know it as Fuzzy Butt, a humorous moniker bestowed by regionally famous waterfall hunter/photographer Tim Ernst. If you think the name describes a bare posterior, you are correct. In his Arkansas Waterfalls guidebook (a.k.a. the Arkansas hiker’s bible), a photo of Ernst climbing sans clothing near the falls was behind the inspiration.
Funny name aside, the setting for this 16-foot waterfall (GPS: 35.76386, -92.93839) is simply enchanting. Tucked inside a lush fairy-like grotto with a pool framed by green moss and ferns, Fuzzy Butt Falls is a photographic treat. Plus, the roughly 2-mile out-and-back trail to get there has several pretty spots along the way, including another view of Six Fingers Falls.
To get there from Falling Water Falls: Continue almost three miles on Falling Water Road until you see a low concrete bridge over the creek. Before crossing, look for an unmarked horse trail to your left: This is the start of the trail (GPS: 35.75327, -92.93891). Park along the road or try a small parking space on the other side of the bridge and walk back.
The trail starts out along the creek but will start to veer away. About a third of the way, you’ll see a small waterfall on your left as you cross over a tributary creek. This is also the spot to bushwhack up to Horsetail Falls which we won’t detail here. Portions of the trail will climb up, away from the creek but eventually returns to creek level. If you want to explore, several side spur trails go down to areas of the creek and to Six Finger Falls.
The horse trail eventually merges with a short trail that comes up from Six Finger Falls. (If water is low enough and temps are warm enough, some people cross the creek from Six Finger and continue to Fuzzy Butt from there.)
Shortly after this, you’ll get to some bluffs and a run-off coming from Fuzzy Butt Falls: Turning left, follow the trail to reach the grotto. Another good description of the trail can be found on this blog.
Trail tips: If there’s been rain (which also means the waterfall will be flowing nicely!) expect mud. Also expect horse dung. The trail is considered easy on AllTrails but expect elevation.
Get there from Springfield
Location: Go to Falling Water Falls first. Directions to the other four waterfalls from here will be with their listings in this guide. To get there, put “Falling Water Falls Arkansas” into your GPS map. It will take you through Jasper and south on Arkansas 7 to Sand Gap where you’ll turn east on Arkansas 16. From here it’s about nine miles to Upper Falling Water Road (FR 1205), a little past the community of Ben Hur. Watch for a gravel road turning left at a sign for Falling Water Horse Camp (the road isn’t well-marked otherwise). Follow this road about 2.3 miles to Falling Water Falls on your right, your first stop. You can’t miss it!
GPS: 35.72508, -92.94802
Distance: Roughly 137 miles
Drive time: Around 2.6 hours
Parking: Along Falling Water Road (FR 1205) at each waterfall or unmarked trailhead; there are no facilities near the waterfalls in this guide but if you continue down the road to Richland Creek Campground, find vault toilets there.
Travel tips: Download or take a screenshot of the map directions and have a paper map; there is no cell service in this remote area; expect a gravel road. Note: The Pedestal Rocks / Kings Bluff trails parking lot (on Arkansas 16) is a good spot for a for a vault toilet bathroom break before you get there.
Nearby: Richland Creek and campground; plus more difficult waterfall trails including Twin Falls
Not far: Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area
Along the way: Pedestal Rocks and Kings Bluff loop trails