As of lately, Arkansas has been one hell of a dry state. Here it is almost New Years and we are just now getting enough rain to produce waterfalls again! But wait, there’s a catch. Its only been enough rain for one specific area – the Caney Creek Wilderness in the Southwestern Ouachitas. I can’t complain, but still anxiously awaiting for the Ozarks to get enough rain. There are quite a few big, significant hikes I’d like to get in this season. But this little trip was nice to get out again and enjoy, no matter how many times I’ve visited this gorgeous area.
Spent my time hiking with Jacob, Jon, Corie and Mark while out here. Half of the trip was met with a lengthy hike on the Caney Creek and Buckeye trails. Plenty of sunshine which made things challenging to shoot. The other half was much more up my alley, foggy and overcast with a light mist. All in all, a good trip with a nice hike to get me back in the groove for the season. Lots of waterfalls, rock formations, overlooks and good times with friends who are all like minded.
I’ve done a blog of this area before that has plenty of other photographs, gps coordinates, more details, etc. So for this one, I’d like to keep it short and sweet, you can always refer back to the other blog for directions if need be.
The way I come in to this area I pass by Shady Lake Recreation area that has the Shady Lake Spillway + Cascade. It’s a nice little roadside attraction. We stopped, but I opted out of shooting this area. It is however in a previous blog.
Last time I was here however, I did not manage to get a shot of Trailhead Falls, as Blaylock Creek (that runs through the area) really needs to be seen directly after a rainfall otherwise the water recedes very fast. So, the last time I was here I didn’t have enough flow – but this time was different. I was able to get to it early enough in the morning, but you can see that the sun is beginning to show itself and starts to make water difficult to photograph. But, all in all that’s okay, because it was really nice to get out after so long and explore. The holidays have had me pretty busy, so this was a nice break.
After a brief visit at Trailhead Falls (you can see it from the road) we went just .1 mile further to the Caney Creek trailhead. This trail would lead you to Katy Falls and then up the Buckeye trail and back to the road ultimately creating a giant 10 mile loop. Nothing to strenuous but the distance and elevation gains can have you feeling it in your calves just a little over halfway through.
It’s roughly a little over 4 miles downstream the Caney Creek trail to where Katy Creek comes in from the side and meets with it. As stated before, a previous blog has more pictures of that specific trail.
A different composition for this fall than I had taken last time. Last time I visited was in early spring under better weather conditions. The trees were all still lime green in new growth before they turn dark green for the summer time. It was absolutely gorgeous and after having visited this area in every season, I’ve got to say that spring is definitely my favorite. It makes the distance and effort to get into it and out of more rewarding and worthwhile.
Seeing how Katy Falls is a good halfway point, we spent a good minute taking a break here and soaking the scene in. It is a really pretty area even in the winter time. As you can see though, that sunlight was ever so troublesome. All’s well that ends well.
Now the last time I was here, I started the hike at the Buckeye down to Katy Falls and then Caney Creek upstream to do the loop. This time I did things the opposite (for a reason).
Last time I did the Buckeye trail I started roughly around 6:30 in the morning and the fog was overwhelming. There are multiple scenic vistas all along this trail and last time I didn’t see one. I only knew I was at a vista by the noticeable change in wind and temperature in the open area. This time was much different and the views were impressive!
Like mentioned before, more information on this trail in other blog. I will say though you hike along the top of a ridge the majority of the whole trail that meanders up and down.
If you’re coming from Katy Falls up the Buckeye this would be the second of four prominent overlooks you’d come across. This is looking west towards the Arkansas / Oklahoma border.
Again, if coming from Katy Falls up the Buckeye trail this would be the third of the four prominent vistas. This particular one was my favorite, looking east towards central Arkansas. My friend Jacob enjoying the view also offers scale.
Incredible view, we soaked it in for quite some time. After this vista we had one more ridge to go along before we made a good descent down to the gravel road and to the Buckeye parking. But, here’s the thing…there’s another mile to hike down the gravel road and back to the Caney Creek trailhead where WE parked.
You remember me talking about the previous visit of taking the Buckeye to Katy and then Caney back to the road? Well after 9 miles of hiking my 10th and final mile was spent hiking UP a very steep gravel road and I was cursing the whole time, haha. So, that’s why I did it opposite this time, to head down the gravel road after the 9 miles instead of up.
Truthfully, next time I might park at the Buckeye first and head down to the Caney Creek trailhead (get the road part out of the way first) and then make the loop that way. It makes more sense.
Took a quick snapshot of Jacob, his dog Lily and Jon as they made their way through the golden hour.
Blaylock Creek Falls (Oops, Nevermind)
All the waterfalls along Blaylock Creek can be easily accessed from the road.
I turned into what I thought was the usual turnoff for Blaylock Creek Falls. I saw water flowing but as I got closer realized – wait, that’s a waterfall, but certainly not Blaylock. Stopped anyway, why wouldn’t we? It was a nice surprise to run up on this, turns out the turnoff for Blaylock Creek Falls was just .2 mile up the road, so no harm done really. I especially liked how the creek was in this area. A huge portion running sideways into the waterfalls pool before continuing downstream. This is one that should be visited directly after a fresh rain.
Blaylock Creek Falls (For Real)
Another waterfall I didn’t include in last blog, but was glad to do so with this one.
Winding Stairs Trail
The Winding Stairs trail is close to where Blaylock Creek drains into the Little Missouri River and near the now abandoned Albert Pike Recreation Area. Multiple trails run through this area as the parking lot has always had a vehicle present no matter what time of year, or what time of day I were there. The double white blazes on the trees that go at a 45 degree angle would be the Winding Stairs trail. A 2.8 mile in and out hike to a scenic area along the Little Missouri River.
I didn’t know it at the time, but there are two river crossings along this trail. We didn’t have a flood or anything but we had good enough moving water for a casual to moderate kayak float. Need I say cold? My friend Mark here braving the river crossing and the swift water.
100+ Foot Cascade
Not far after the first river crossing we got into a muddy bottomland like area. Plenty enough water to saturate the ground, but couldn’t really see where it was coming from. We did manage to hear what sounded like quite a lot of tumbling water to our right and just up the mountain side. Didn’t seem to be too terribly far so we went to investigate.
You wouldn’t be able to view it from the trail – even in the winter, but a short .2-.4 mile bushwhack off the trail and up the mountainside brought us to a really nice waterfallish / cascadeish drainage type thing. Turns out that tumbling water ended up being something really spectacular. This was a really nice view when you finally caught a glimpse of it. As this bottom section of the photo runs out of frame – the water seems to disappear underground and down the mountain which explains why we couldn’t see the water that was saturating the ground so heavily from the trail.
This particular section looked to be 40-50+ feet, already a really nice find to begin with. But it just still happens to sound like way too much water for what we were looking at. We then bushwhacked up the left side (VERY steep and slick ascent) to see if there were more to it and how far up it went. We were in for even more of a nice surprise!
After a steep scramble I get to the tip top of where the water seemed to begin and was just blown away with the scene. Easily over a 100 foot cascade, highly unusual for this area, and right in front of me. Another really cool part about it – this isn’t even the whole thing! Where the water seems to end in this photo – is actually the top portion of the previous photo. It’s impossible to get the whole thing in one shot (perhaps someone with a drone could???)!
A short scramble further up from here and the mountain and small drainage level out, but this was a magnificent find. Getting down was tricky in the mist, prepare to get on your butt and slide. Also using trees to catch your weight.
Little Missouri River on the Winding Stairs
After leaving from that awesome cascade, we continued back to the Winding Stairs trail and treaded on. At what seemed like a good halfway point, there was a nice bend in the river that had multiple campsites scattered around and easy access to river banks.
This little area was really neat. As the creek headed downstream a huge portion was elevated and with a slant enough that all the water rushed to the left before hitting a funnel that carried it downstream. It was very cool and we stayed in this area for quite some time. Directly behind me was a huge, not even bluff line, but rather just huge rock on the side of the mountain. It was hard to see through the fog, but you could make it out. The rocks in this area are grand and incredibly unique. Not what you would see in the Ozarks.
Lily, a gorgeous Australian Shepherd that Jacob has. After playing fetch in the river, she was anticipating the next throw. That got her still long enough to get a slight slow shutter.
When we left that area we followed the bend around to the opposite side of the river and stopped in this area for a while as well. Gorgeous section of the river!
After we left this area we continued on the Winding Stairs trail that took us downstream the Little Missouri River.
A small drainage comes in from the right, and a small fall suddenly reminds me of a mini Copperhead Falls.
The trail seems to end at a certain point right around a small waterfall. I managed to snap another portrait of Lily during this time.
In addition to the double white blazes on the trees there has been orange flagging tape as well. Just across the river from here the orange flagging tape seems to continue indicating a river crossing. Instead, we turned around and headed back not knowing that that last river crossing would lead us right to the Winding Stairs. One day I’ll have to go back and see that, haha.
After getting back to the vehicle from the Winding Stairs, we headed towards the Albert Pike Recreation area and on to the Little Missouri Falls Recreation Area. Instead of going to visit Little Missouri today we opted to explore up Crooked Creek instead. I’ve been out here so many times to know that there’s plenty of interesting sections of creek, and falls throughout. It also holds more water, so if Blaylock Creek is running a little low, this creek will probably still be flowing!
You can stop anywhere along the road, though it is narrow and you should still try to allow room for another vehicle to get by if need be, but there’s plenty to stop off at and see. This is just one of many, I’m sure the kayakers have a name for this one.
The rocks in this little portion of Crooked Creek were awesome!
On our way back up the hill to the road from that little fall, Lily stopped and waited for us. Another opportunity for one last portrait of her!
Driving further just past Crooked Creek Falls (I will come back to that one), is a nice stretch of creek that has a lot of interesting features in a .4-.5 mile stretch. We found a place to pullover and hiked up and down the whole thing.
A neat itty bitty fall that reminds me of a mini Haw Creek. Jon was getting up the right side as I was shooting and unknowingly managed to stay still long enough for me to get a slow shutter.
It may only be a little bitty 2 foot slot drop in the creek, but this is such a neat little scene. The pool that it creates is really what seals the deal.
Crooked Creek Falls
Finally decided to end the day at Crooked Creek Falls.
I acquired a GoPro to film some of the moments throughout hiking. This trip happened to be my first test. I attached it with a clip to my hat for a first person perspective. Sometimes I would hold it and move it around. I’m new to it all, but plan to continue forward with it for some of the really big hikes or explores in the future.
Caney Creek Wilderness (Winter)
More rain is in the forecast for the month of January, my fingers are crossed. I’ve got a couple big hikes I’m really itching to see!