Hemmed in Hollow, Arkansas
Yep, dang ole’ Arkansas
*This post continues the mining of old photographs taken in the pre-digital era. We therefore apologize in advance that the quality of the pictures is not quite up to the usual standards. Also note that our description of the falls was accurate for the time we visited, which was in 2005, things may well be different now. We would suggest you check the NPS website for the Buffalo National River for updates details.
**We have added Hemmed In Hollow in the Buffalo National River to BecauzeItzThere’s best hikes in North America!
Back when Sylvia and I used to live in Texas there wasn’t a whole ton of hiking to be done, unless what you were looking for is walking along the edge of roadsides, through housing developments or across flat prairie studded with anthills.
Not that there isn’t some great hiking in Texas. Problem is, most of it is further from the Dallas and Houston areas than Cleveland is from Boston. See our post on Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
If you want mountains, the closest place to the Dallas area where you can find REAL mountains is the Ozark mountains of Arkansas. Though it was still a good long drive, Sylvia and I used to go up there as often as we could on long weekends. Which wasn’t often enough.
People often dismiss Arkansas, which very much lives up to its nickname “The Natural State.” It’s one of those places where, if you have heard anything about it at all, it’s probably bad. Something about Rebel Flags and moonshiners or the like. Well, there’s really not much bad to be said about the Ozarks at all.
Together with their companion range to the south, the Ouachita Mountains, the Ozarks are the only mountains of significance between the Rockies and Appalachians. From eye level, these mountains are almost indistinguishable from the Appalachians, except for the surprising number of dramatic limestone bluffs that rise up without warning seemingly everywhere.
Viewed from a higher perspective, the Ozarks/Ouachitas are notable as being the only mountains range whose ridges run east-west as opposed to north south. So if ever you are on a coast to coast flight, chance look out the window and see mountains running along below going the same direction you are…you are flying over the Ozarks.
The Ozark Mountains are not particularly big in themselves, being about half as tall as the Appalachians. They are however quite rugged…more proof that the sea level elevation of a mountain range is only one, and not necessarily the most significant, indicator of how rugged and difficult the terrain will be. What they are famous for, beside the bluffs and the whiskey stills, are waterfalls and limestone caves.
We’re not much for caves. Waterfalls, on the other hand…
Back in our Waterfall Week posts, we made mention of a place called Hemmed in Hollow in the Ozarks. Despite the odd name, Hemmed in Hollow is very definitely a waterfall. In fact, it is one of the most significant waterfalls in the Eastern United States. HIH is one of about 200,000 claimants to the dubious title “Tallest Waterfall East of the Mississippi.” It is also routinely called the “Tallest waterfall between the Rockies and Appalachians,” and this claim has more truth to it. The debate about whose waterfall is bigger, however, is not what this article is about…if you wish to read more about it, you can read this.
But make no mistake, Hemmed in Hollow is a very big waterfall and a very impressive place. It’s also very hard to get to, being at the end of a very narrow, steep walled valley, and this helps keep the crowds down. For those looking for an easy drive-up experience, Hemmed in Hollow is NOT that place.
Some smaller falls on the way in. Astonishingly, this is a fork of the same creek that plunges over Hemmed in Hollow.
The falls is located in by far our favorite place in Arkansas, the Buffalo National River. Though Arkansas does have a National Park, they obviously picked the wrong place to put it. With all due respect, Hot Springs National Park is at best a made for TV national park…it is better termed a national historic site. Our opinion is that the highlights of the Ozark Range — the Boston Mountains, Boxley Valley and Buffalo River area are self evidently far more suitable for designation as a national park. But that’s unlikely to ever happen, and we’re sort of okay with that. They are nonetheless a federally protected landscape.
There are three ways to reach the falls, one of which involves coming in by raft or canoe from the river itself. Most people hike down from the Compton trail head along the Hemmed in Hollow Trail, which is about 2.5 miles one way down to the falls. It is a VERY steep trail.
Sylvia and I did this trail in April of 2005, right before the leaves bad come on the majority of the trees and the dogwoods were in full bloom. It was gorgeous. It was a memorable hike for other reasons as well.
- It was our first serious hike together
- Sylvia, as usual blabbing away, fell and skinned here knee
- We got turned off the trail onto a ‘scenic route’ that proved to be even steeper and more difficult than the real trail
- After we returned to camp from the hike, we had a scary moment as Sylvia briefly passed out, possibly from dehydration
Though it’s a tall fall, Hemmed in Hollow is not always very voluminous in terms of water coming over the top. In fact, in most seasons, when it is running at all, it could best be termed a ‘natural outdoor shower.’ Water doesn’t crash down, it drizzles. There is no plunge pool per see at the base of the falls, just some rocks. And, as there are no man-made barriers at all around the base, you can walk about as close as you want…in fact, you can walk up right into the stream of water itself, and do so in reasonable safety (as long as you exercise caution.) I knew of very few other falls where this is so.
The result is a strangely magical experience.
The Wikipedia article for the falls states that “Wind swirling in the canyon causes the falls to continually dance about.” This is absolutely true…when we were there, the water stream kept swaying to the left and right, like playing a garden hose across a lawn. The falls could move as much as fifty feet in either directions.
Apart from the falls, the Hollow itself, with its huge cliffs, is a very impressive place.
When we visited the falls it was not very crowded at all. Many of those who were there had obviously come in from the river…some were still wearing life jackets or carrying paddles. The falls is only a half mile walks, reputed to be very easy, from the river.
Despite the misadventures, it took us only a few hours to do the hike, which is about five miles round trip. We took the CORRECT trail back. Note that there are several smaller falls and many ledges along this trail that had nice views in spring…From May to November leaves are on in Arkansas, so there may not be many views at all.
Hemmed in Hollow was one of several great hikes we did in or around the Buffalo River. We also hiked sections of the Buffalo River Trail, with its impressive views of limestone bluffs up to 1000 feet tall, and the Ozark Highlands Trail.
If you are interested in the Ozarks, the undisputed authority in the field is Tim Ernst, a photographer and author who has written the definitive guidebooks of the area. I own a copy of his Ozark Highland Trail Guide, fourth edition, and Arkansas Hiking Trail, third edition.
Note that if you hike in Arkansas in the fall, it is beautiful…but deer hunting season usually begins in early or mid-November. Let’s just say the Arkansas woods are an interesting place during hunting season. Wear as much blaze orange as you can find.
We loved Hemmed in Hollow and have great memories of the Buffalo River. It’s one of those places we’d love to go back to someday, but heaven knows when we’ll get the time, with so many other great adventures competing!