Tales From the Punchbowl & Green Grotto

This was a big day for me in a lot of ways. When the waterfall season first began in late autumn last year, I set a personal goal for myself to work towards. There were certain waterfalls I picked to see in either winter or spring and I’d patiently wait for the right moments. Usually this would work out, but sometimes not as well! When it is working out, it develops into a more wonderful experience when everything tends to fall in your lap.

I was uncertain if another waterfall hike was in my near future due to iffy rain, work schedules and things of the sorts. So when it rains really heavy overnight all of a sudden and I so happen to be off work the next day, I want to grab the opportunity while it’s there. The forecast calls for cloudy, 30-50% chances of rain. This is my kind of weather! I’ve also got two more hikes that I wanted to see for the spring (now early Summer) and I believe I can pull it off. The day plays out exactly how it should.

. I went into this knowing after it’s all said and done, my goals would be complete. And it’s really getting to be that time of the year where bushwhacking is no longer fun. So with my schedule, this will be the last waterfall hike for me until next season. With that in mind, I really put a lot of effort into the photo’s at both locations. This was a perfect day to end the incredible journey this season has brought me through.

Tales From the Punchbowl

First stop of the day was to a remote area near Richland Creek. Mostly a hike along the OHT (Ozark Highlands Trail), stopping to see a nice waterfall on your way down to Dry Creek. From Dry Creek it’s all bushwhacking to an incredibly scenic waterfall that has a wonderful swimming pool below!

I turned onto Highway 123 North from Highway 7 North of Pelsor. A few miles down and turning right onto County Road #5070 for 6.8 miles. The directions felt like a maze of gravel roads to the middle of nowhere. Anyway, at that point, another right onto County Road #5080 for 3.4 Left on County Road #5085 for 3, and finally the trailhead parking is to the left.

Ozark Highlands Trail

If you’re unfamiliar, the OHT (Ozark Highlands Trail) is a 218 mile trail that runs east to west / west to east throughout the Ozark Mountains. A volunteer organization built and maintains this trail. A wonderful backpacking experience!

What I covered was only a small portion of it. From the parking spot, I head north onto the OHT, which is marked by white blazes on the trees. Not far along I somehow managed to get off of the trail and down an overgrown jeep road that ran along the right side of a drainage. The OHT runs along the left side of the drainage. Once I noticed my mistake I just kept going as I knew it would lead me to the same location as the OHT would – Stack Rock Homestead Falls (1 mile away)

Stack Rock Homestead Falls

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I was glad to have followed along the wrong way to this waterfall. Coming in on the right side of it offered the best view of the waterfall and a neat shelter carved out by the bluff.

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Truthfully, viewing this waterfall from the opposite side (along the OHT) would seem rather difficult. It was a wonderful view of the waterfall from the cool cave like shelter on this side. This was all fresh rain from the previous day and with the rising temperatures the place soon felt like walking through the sauna like amazon rainforest. Humid. So this cool shelter felt especially nice.

Moving on from here, I found a way down into the drainage, crossed it, bushwhacked shortly up hill and met back up with the OHT trail. Well marked with the white blazes on the trees, no idea how I got sidetracked in the beginning. I headed gradually down hill through some pretty open forest with assorted and scattered rock outcrops. Walking through here was really silent and felt very remote. The trail was somewhat hard to make out in spots, and there was very little evidence of recent foot traffic. Once at the bottom of the hill I will have made it to Dry Creek.

(The last few waterfall hikes were challenging from the photography aspect due to the sunlight. The forecast would say cloudy and then I find the sun to be out and not a cloud in the sky! The sun was out and about for the first part of the day, throughout this entire hike, but it wasn’t too bad to work with as there were long periods of cloud coverage, and chances of rain on the way.)

Dry Creek

 Not sure where the name Dry Creek came from because it is quite the opposite. The OHT splits off near Dry Creek where a jeep road will take you the rest of the way down. From here on it’s a lot of one of my least favorite aspects of bushwhacking – boulder scrambling. You follow down the right side of the creek heading downstream getting in a good mix of boulder scrambling, occasional beach type gravel banks, and of course having to get up and above the creek in spots. This entire place is super slippery, but the many water features that gradually get more dramatic along the way to the top of Punchbowl Falls make up for the physicality.

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Now as I’m headed downstream, these many features look better upstream, so keep in mind I’m heading downstream right now but turning around briefly to look upstream. This is why you follow the right side of the creek, otherwise you’d be way up above the creek on this bluff (pictured here) and along a much more difficult and unnecessary route.

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One of those moments where the boulders are so big and scattered that it’s best to follow up above the creek. This creates many cascades on the way to Punchbowl.

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Back along the creek looking upstream at the spot I was just up above. Did I mention boulder scrambling here? Please be careful when venturing here, all of this stuff is super slick and this area is way out in the national forest.

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Heading further downstream (steady looking back upstream) at the gorgeous rock strewn creek and all of it’s mini cascades. This is where things start to narrow, creating somewhat of a canyon that creates some nice water slides.

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This is where things start to really get slick as I’m now near the top of Punchbowl. Still turning around to look upstream, directly behind me is a nice sized and very powerful water slide that leads to the top of Punchbowl. On the trees are 6-10 strips of pink flagging tape. I’ve heard of a fellow explorer losing his life on this hike out here and I’m thinking this may be the area. It certainly makes one more aware of the dangers these hikes / bushwhacks bring. It’s a beautiful place, and I give my condolences to the family.

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Finally looking downstream in the direction I’m headed. This is the waterslide that feeds the top of Punchbowl. It’s what gives the waterfalls its characteristics and also it’s power during this great water flow. From here I go around the right side of the bluff to a very steep flood water drainage and carefully make my way down to get a good look at the base of the falls.

Punchbowl Falls

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The first good view of Punchbowl. But, looking to my right, I can see that there’s a better view, the view I’ve seen photos of.

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A quick balanced walk across a downed tree that crosses the creek and I’m sitting on some shelf rock taking in the view while the sun is blaring down on this spot. But, never mind that right now. I’ve been through some good bushwhacking to get here, I’m covered in sweat from the humidity and all I can think about is how enticing that pool of water looks. I’m already way out here, and will highly unlikely come across another soul, so I go for one of the most refreshing and best swims I’ve experienced. Basking in the lushness of this place while the water is at a right temperature (usually the waters are cold!) was one of the best highlights I’ve had hiking. As the clouds began to cover the sun I got out from the pool and snapped the photo above. These clouds looked like rain clouds this time around though.

On my way out, (back the way you came) it starts to rain on me a little, but not enough to be concerned. Still, I push through the bushwhacking back to the OHT trail and gradually make my way back up and to the parking lot. I got out of here in just the knick of time too, just as I was leaving the gravel roads and getting back on Highway 7, headed South, a quick and sudden thunderstorm came rolling in!

Tales From the Punchbowl Details

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This is a topography of the hike I made. Was hard to get a close-up and fit it all in one screen. The bottom right way point indicates the trailhead parking. As you can see I made my way along the right side of the drainage to the middle waypoint (Stack Rock Homestead Falls) and on my way back went the correct way on left side of drainage via the OHT. The waypoint way to the left is Punchbowl Falls. Quite a good bit of ground to cover in between points of interest.

All in all this was a 5.4 mile in and out hike, with a tough boulder scrambling bushwhack portion.

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This chart shows the elevation changes and time spent at elevations. Half the time alone is spent navigating the way through the bushwhacking of Dry Creek!!

The Blue Hole Cascades & Green Grotto Falls

 First let me begin by saying for this being the last waterfall hike of the season for me – this was paradise. Many factors all played into making it so. For one, as I mentioned earlier, a thunderstorm rolled in on my way to this area. I knew it would be passing soon and that this storm would only intensify the already great water flow. Second, it was a return to one last spot I haven’t visited from my absolute favorite waterfall location in all of the Ozarks. It’s the area off of White Oak Mountain Road in Hector, Arkansas. (Now keep in mind I have yet to explore all the areas, but this is my favorite so far.)  And third, the short storm rolled in the evening fog. My favorite weather conditions I was hoping for today finally fell into my lap complete with the added mist!

So, from Highway 27 North in Hector you’ll turn right onto White Oak Mountain Road (one of my favorite gravel roads). It’s a good 11.3 miles to the next turn so enjoy the scenery on the way UP the mountain. Soon, passing overlooks of the Arkansas River Valley to the south and the many valleys of the Ozark Mountains to the north. These overlooks also offer brief cell-phone service! Turning left onto Forest Road #1311 (no longer an easy going gravel road, but not impossible to get down) for 1.4 miles and turning left onto a jeep road and parking.

The first half mile follows along the jeep road until reaching a deer camp / clearing area. From here somebody has been nice enough to put orange flagging tape on the trees and somewhat made a trail down a drainage that feeds into Hurricane Creek / Wolf Den Hollow. Whoever did this, thank you very much.  I followed them 90% of the way down until they disappeared on me. However, it was pretty self explanatory getting down to the creek from there.

Hurricane Creek / Wolf Den Hollow

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Once creek side I stopped quickly before ever seeing the creek to realize that I was in some truly beautiful forest under misty and foggy conditions. This is my favorite time to shoot photographs. I love the moodiness! I know I need to head downstream from here to check out the Blue Hole Cascades (which I can hear in the distance) and then turn back around and head back upstream to Green Grotto Falls. But first, I really wanted to see what Hurricane Creek / Wolf Den Hollow looked like.

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My first view of the creek was outstanding. Truly feeling at home in my element under these conditions. So incredibly lush and green down here! A good bit of evergreens down here and LOTS of cedar trees that really help the air smell and feel crisp in spite of the mugginess. I can hear rushing water downstream though, and I’m anxious to see what it’s about.

Blue Hole Cascades

Blue Hole Cascades #1

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My first view of the cascade let me know immediately that this was a truly special area. I followed downstream to the right when I caught this view. This is one of the Blue Hole Cascades, which actually looks like a really large and really wide waterfall. I knew that storm would help and the water got a hint of running muddy to it. Powerful! I wanted to see it from the other side. There’s really no way of doing that without crossing the creek. So, if I’m going to be wet from here on out I might as well have fun just sloshing through the creek.

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While crossing the creek, with cascades such as this, there’s just so much going on with the water! It’s easy to stop and single out a certain part of it to focus on. I couldn’t resist this shot, the tippy top of this Blue Hole Cascade.

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Sure was glad to see it from this angle, because this ended up being one of my favorites of the day. This view left me feeling like I was lost in some Mayan rainforest. Truly looked, sounded and felt like a jungle. But, the breathtaking fact is that – this is here in Arkansas!

I crossed the creek at the top again to get back to the other side along the right side of the creek. I followed that down to where a jeep road all of a sudden comes in from the right and crosses the creek here to begin following up another creek that comes in from the south. Following this upstream will lead me to more Blue Hole Cascades!

Blue Hole Cascades #2

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Not far upstream at all is this gorgeous cascade! This whole time I’m just grinning ear to ear, truly blessed to witness a place like this under these conditions.

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I didn’t cross the creek here to check this one out from a different angle. Also I do believe there was another Cascade like the other two that is further upstream from here. (Perhaps someone can clarify that for me.) I was beginning to worry about time and decided to head back to Hurricane Creek / Wolf Den Hollow. From there I would go back upstream to the first Blue Hole Cascade I seen and continue even further to a hollow that comes in from the left.

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Things tend to quiet down and mellow out a bit upstream from the first Blue Hole Cascade. It’s a nice entrance into the hidden hollow that holds Green Grotto Falls. For most of this hike, I haven’t really ever felt like I’ve bushwhacked. The creek crossings seems self explanatory once down there, the brush isn’t really all that thick, and there’s somewhat of a path the whole way. Even the drop down the mountain didn’t seem real steep. I’m genuinely enjoying myself on this hike. I haven’t even reached the end of my journey yet and this place and this moment have become a highlighted memory of an adventure.

Green Grotto Falls

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Walking up the hollow a short ways into Green Grotto is magical. An illusion that you’re in some kind of fantasy world. So green, and so moody in here. Incredibly loud from the water rushing through the overhanging bluff shelter, or the water that’s pouring off of it and also the waterfall itself! Hard to keep dry in this spot, especially now that more rain is starting to trickle down.

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Got pretty wet for this shot, but really wanted to get in this grotto. I can see why it’s called Green Grotto Falls. This waterfall couldn’t have been the more perfect end to the season. I’m super proud of this photo! I feel this image is a good expression of myself as a person and what I enjoy out of nature or photography. I always liked the light in the dark.

Blue Hole & Green Grotto Details

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Topography of the hike. The waypoint at the top is the jeep road parking. (Nevermind that blue bar trailing off to the right of it, that’s just me driving down the road). You head down to the STOP point and that’s where you leave the jeep road and follow the orange markers. The 3 waypoints jumbled at the bottom is the Blue Hole Cascade area and the lonely one on the right is Green Grotto Falls.

All in all a beautiful and moderate 4 mile hike in one of my favorite areas of Arkansas. This area is also home to a few other waterfall favorites of mine like Ladderbucket and Whiskey Chute Falls!

White Oak Mountain Road

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The sun peaked out for a brief moment, highlighting the day on the way out. This is one of those overlooks I was talking about on the side of the road. This one looks north towards the Ozark Mountains valleys, filled with fog in places.

I am truly blessed to live here. Many people don’t know what’s in their own backyard.

* I hope at least one person reading this catches the reference in the blog title*

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