‘Tis the season for hiking…at least in my opinion.
When the temperatures dip below 35 degrees, I exchange my typical two-wheeled activities for more methodical, inclusive ones. Lacing up my boots, downloading topo maps and packing up a day pack elicits a surge of excitement that I know will break up the mundaneness that winter ushers in. Traveling at a pace between 2.5-4 mph with a faithful, furry companion by my side and nothing but beautiful scenes to seek out is by far one of the best ways to spend winters in Arkansas: the temperatures waiver in the relatively mild range, adventures are free of ticks, chiggers and other less than desirable creatures, and our precipitation averages can almost guarantee many quality days of flowing waterfalls.
Arkansas’s Ozark National Forest, just directly north of Russellville, is chock full of half-day hike opportunities that will lead you to stunning waterfalls. In fact, our state is home to the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies (keep reading to learn which one). There’s something for every level of outdoor enthusiast on this list: a .2-mile walk just 30 minutes south of town to a 5.7-mile out-and-back two hours away. However, one thing these all have in common – you’ll treasure and remember each and every one of these experiences far more deeply than the last TikTok or Reel that you shared with your best friend.
As a reminder: the criteria for a “best” of anything is fast and loose and 100% subjective. I’ve whittled down this list of my favorite waterfall hikes from one much larger. This contains a fine balance for any level of fitness and enthusiasm:
10. Mount Nebo Falls, Mount Nebo State Park: This .2 mile trail is an out-and-back located within Mount Nebo State Park in Dardanelle. It’s considered an easy trail and averages 8 minutes to complete. It’s best to go shortly after a significant rainfall to enjoy the falls at its best. While you’re there, consider extending your hike to include some mileage on the Rim trail and enjoy the vast views of the River Valley that the Rim trail provides.
9. Longpool Falls, Longpool Recreation Area: This trail is a 1 mile out-and-back located just outside of Dover. It’s considered an easy route and takes about 25 minutes to complete. The trailhead can be a bit tricky to find – walk among the designated campsites until you see a trailhead flanked by cairn on your left. Any trail apps/maps that you may use will lead you to the lower falls, but if you continue on any of the faint social trails (informal trails created by hikers) upwards, you’ll be rewarded with the grand upper falls as well.
8. Hobo Falls, Ozark Highlands Trail: This 2.9 mile out-and-back trail is located outside of Hagarville and is considered a moderately challenging route with a bit over 500 feet of elevation gain. Taking an average of 1.5 hours to complete, it’s unlikely that you’ll encounter other people while hiking, making it ideal for some moments of peace and solitude. To get to this waterfall, you’ll hike along the Ozark Highlands Trail which is maintained by passionate local volunteers. This is a sight after a lot of precipitation and when temperatures dip below freezing.
7. Magnolia Falls, Upper Buffalo Wilderness: Magnolia Falls is a 2.1 mile out-and-back trail outside of Pettigrew in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness. Taking about an hour to complete, this trail boasts a moderate 200 feet of elevation gain making it ideal for novice hikers who’d like a great waterfall payoff at the end. For those looking to extend this adventure, add on Woods Boys Falls and the Gulch that are close by.
6. Eden Falls, Lost Valley: This 2.3 mile out-and-back trail is located just outside of Boxley Valley, near Ponca. It’s a fairly popular route with much of the mileage to get into the area being ADA accessible. People spend an average of 55 minutes completing this trail, but hikers could extend this greatly by exploring Eden Falls and Cobb Cave. Getting to Eden Falls is a bit demanding but worth the effort to see the 50 foot falls. If you plan to explore Cobb Cave, wear sturdy, non-slip soled boots and possibly a headlamp. Also, unlike any of the other trails listed here, dogs aren’t allowed on this trail. While you’re driving in, you’ll want to cruise slowly and keep an eye out for the dense elk population this area is known for!
5. Glory Hole Falls, Ozark National Forest: This 1.9 mile trail near Deer may be short but it makes up for its brevity with a 410 foot hike out once you’re finished exploring the falls. It is most impressive after a substantial rainfall and viewed from underneath. Once you’ve enjoyed taking photos and basking in the sounds of the falls, continue to descend and explore the boulder fields around this area while you’re there.
4. Bear Skull Falls, Ozark Highlands Trail: This 4.1 mile out-and-back near Hagarville follows the Ozark Highlands Trail in the opposite direction of the hike to Hobo Falls (hiking west). Taking around 2 hours to finish, this is one of the finest sections of the OHT that only takes an hour to get to from Russellville. Continue following the markers for the OHT until you get to a blue blaze marker on your left and follow this very short spur to access the base of Bear Skull Falls. If conditions allow and you have time, cross Lick Creek (a short distance from Bear Skull Falls) and continue to Slot Rock, about a quarter of a mile from the creek crossing.
3. Haw Creek Falls & Pam’s Grotto, Ozark National Forest: These two falls are perfect to be enjoyed together if you’ve planned a half day of exploring. Haw Creek Falls is a quick .2 mile out-and-back trail that’s accessible from the main camping area at Haw Creek Recreation Area. It’s beautiful for a quick walk, photo taking and rock skipping. While you’re there, don’t miss Pam’s Grotto falls as well. This one can be tricky to locate as there’s no dedicated signage. From the Haw Creek campground exit, turn right (north) and follow the road about a .5 mile. Parking in the obvious pullout area, you’ll see the trailhead across the road. From there, the trail is very easy to follow. As you complete the .8 mile out-and-back, you may see rock climbers on the steep bluff lines along the way. Make sure and wear sturdy shoes for this one – the trek to the base of the falls is a bit steep.
2. Cedar Falls, Petit Jean State Park: By far one of the most popular and well photographed waterfalls in Arkansas, this 1.9 mile out-and-back hike with 370 feet of elevation gain will take hikers about an hour to complete but the reward of a 95 foot continuously flowing waterfall is worth it.
1. Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, Buffalo National River: These falls near Compton will take your breath away. To access Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, you’ll need to hike 5.7 miles with 1400 feet of elevation gain through an out-and-back trail. Be sure to plan accordingly with lots of water, strategic breaks and sturdy shoes to get the most enjoyment out of this challenging hike to view this 200 foot falls. The 5.7 mile hike from Compton is the only way to get to the falls by car/foot but if you’re floating the Buffalo River, it can be accessed by a .5 mile moderate hike that is marked by a NPS sign.