To catch most waterfalls at their peak you need to visit them within twenty-four hours after the rain ends, if not while it is still coming down. Since March and April have the highest precipitation of the year, it’s time to pack up your hiking gear and keep an eye on the forecast for the next big deluge!
There are many waterfall viewing opportunities for those living in the River Valley. The selection is only limited by how many miles you are willing to drive and how far you want to hike. If you only have a couple of hours and don’t want to spend a chunk of that time driving, Lee Creek Reservoir Park and Lake Alma have easily accessible falls.
Crack in the Rock Trail at Lee Creek Reservoir has a nice waterfall. Its twelve-foot freefall can be viewed from the rim or, after an easy scramble down the hillside, enjoyed from the bottom. From start to finish, it is about a two-and-a-half-mile hike, with optional loops if you want more miles.
Lake Alma Trail features another good, nearby waterfall. The hike to McWater Falls is less than a mile from the trailhead. The falls are also about twelve feet, but when it is flowing, it is well worth a visit. If you want to continue following the trail around Lake Alma, it will be just over a four-mile hike. The path has also been retooled into an incredible multiuse trail if you want to ride your bike.
For those with enough free time for a road trip, continue east on I-40 to State Highway 23, The Pig Trail. This beautiful drive has been designated as a National Scenic Byway. Following a heavy rain there are several breathtaking waterfalls along this route that, if not just off the highway, are only a short hike away.
Head north for about ten miles after exiting I-40. When the road begins dropping down into the Mulberry River Valley, as you steer through a sharp hairpin turn, keep an eye on your left to view your first waterfall, appropriately named Pig Trail Falls.
The mountainside is steep, so peak runoff from a rain lasts only a few hours before it becomes a mere trickle. If you hit it immediately following heavy rain, you are treated with a gushing, fifteen-foot-wide, curtain of water spraying over the bluff for an eighteen-foot plunge. I visited just after a real toad-choker rain and was gifted with an equally impressive river of water, just twenty feet to the right, cascading through a scattering of large boulders.
Returning to the car, continue north for a couple of miles to the next falls. This unnamed waterfall is just off the southern apron of the Turner Bend Store parking lot. Following a ten-foot drop at the top, it becomes more of a cascade. It is still well worth checking out.
Also worth investigating is one of the store’s almost-famous sandwiches & wraps. Piled high with sliced meat and all the fixings, it makes for a great picnic at the foot of the next waterfall.
Back on Hwy 23, continue north through Cass and turn right on County Road 215. This scenic drive borders the Mulberry River. The route passes several turnouts that offer expansive views into this designated National Wild and Scenic River.
After driving another four miles along the Mulberry, you reach High Bank Canoe Access parking area. Just past the turn into the parking area, there is a short, paved turnout on your right. Park here and cross the highway to the entrance of a hiking trail that will take you to what nature photographer Tim Ernst calls, “one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Arkansas.” It is an easy quarter-mile hike. If the water level is up, you pass a small cascade to the right that deserves a visit as well.
Continue following the trail and it will dead end at the base of High Bank Twin Falls. This, is indeed, a very impressive seventy-one-foot fall. Following heavy rains there are not just one but two streams of water pouring over the rock ledge. It is a great place to unpack those almost-famous sandwiches, kick off your shoes to soak your feet and experience a moment of Zen with nature.
A PATH LESS TRAVELED
Sometimes you must get off the beaten path to reach the best waterfalls The Natural State offers. If you are up for an off-trail adventure, return to The Pig Trail and take a right turn. Continue seven miles north to Ozark Highlands Trail’s Cherry Bend Trailhead. This is the launch site for the next leg of your journey. Warning, this can be a very challenging hike because there are no established trails. Just follow the basic rule of waterfall exploration. When in doubt as to where to go next, keep going down.
Over the years, a well-worn social trail has developed that leads to the first waterfall. It starts behind the kiosk at the north end of the parking lot. Be aware that it is a steep, rocky, root-filled, and often muddy trek down the mountainside.
Continue down the mountainside, you may need to execute what I call “a controlled slide.” A picturesque view of a wide swathe of water flowing over a ledge then crashing onto the jagged rock-strewn canyon floor below will reward your efforts. This is thirty-seven-foot Murray Falls. Beautiful!
If you are able to cross the creek feeding into this fall you can reach another beautiful waterfall pouring in from the left called Senyard Falls. Named after Roy Senyard, who was a fellow hiker, trail worker, and friend.
Round trip from the parking lot is just over one mile at this point. For most visitors, the hike ends here—those who continue to follow the drainage are greeted with more waterfalls and beautiful splashing cascades. A couple of miles further downstream you are gifted with a view of Sixty Foot Falls. A great end to this outdoor adventure.
Tip: To avoid the long hike back to the Cherry Bend Trailhead, you can stop at Mulberry Mount Lodge, and ask for permission to leave a vehicle beside the large music stage. Your hike out will then be a short, steep hike up an old jeep trail to your vehicle.
You can find descriptions and detailed directions for these and other waterfalls in Tim Ernst’s book, Arkansas Waterfalls, available at timernst.com. Another excellent resource for hiking in Arkansas is Jim Warnock, author of Five-Star Trails: The Ozarks. Find his book on Amazon and ozarkmountainhiker.com.