This past weekend, we headed back to the Buffalo River to see the famed Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls. We had our friend, Dan, join us and since there were two cars, we opted to park on at the Compton Trailhead and hike back to the other car at Steel Creek campground, thinking we would avoid the dreadfully steep climb back up to Compton. To ensure an early start, we camped Friday night at Steel Creek. I went for a walk back up the road into the camp and got to spend some time watching a doe having a little dinner in the field. After a rather sleepless night due to the raucous and rowdy behavior of other campers in the park, we were up at 4:30 a.m. decided to grab a bite to eat in Ponca while the tent dried out from the dew condensation. Wet tents are no fun, but the early morning fog makes a pretty picture.
To get to the Compton Trailhead, we went north on 43 from Steel Creek, through Ponca and turned right on County Road 19, which was marked with a sign. Unfortunately, for the next turn, the sign had fallen down and after a couple of failed attempts, we figured out we were supposed to take a right. About a mile down the dirt road there is one more right for the trailhead parking. The hike to the falls is only 2.5 miles, but it’s straight down, most of it on stair-stepped rocks.
The hillside had lots of flowers in bloom and some very cooperative butterflies and I was frequently far behind Stuart and Dan.
About a mile in, there is a campsite and a trail that leads behind the campsite to a great overlook. We took the opportunity to stop for a break and enjoy the scenery. There is an expansive view of the valley below and a really neat limestone bluff in the hillside across the valley.
Soon, a youth group caught up with us and we pointed them toward the overlook while we scooted down the trail. A few of them decided not to continue on to the falls, and they missed out! We met up with the rest of their group again at Hemmed-in-Hollow.
The About 2 miles in, the trail levels out a bit and we passed several large and small groups of hikers making their way back from the falls. There is a nice little waterfall and creek area just about 1/4 of a mile before Hemmed-in-Hollow and we stopped and explored the area a bit. A nice couple that was hiking back told us part of the trail was washed out, but still passable and the view was worth it. That was all the motivation we needed to start back on the trail. The washed out part of the trail is on the way to the canyon and it is definitely a bit tricky.
Hemmed-in-Hollow was amazing. It was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen while hiking so far. Pictures really cannot do it justice. We’d seen pictures and videos, but the real thing is so much more impressive. Hemmed-in-Hollow is a narrow box canyon with a 209 foot waterfall that has carved a ‘bowl’ in the bottom of the canyon. The canyon is limestone and the waterfall moves around in the breeze, making where the water fall lands move back and forth across the canyon. We haven’t had much rain in the past week or so, and the water level was lower, but the falls were still running and moving around. It was starting to warm up and the first order of business was to stand underneath the cascade and cool off. We spent about an hour in the canyon watching the falls and checking out the crawdads chasing tadpoles in one of the pools. We also got to see a water snake that was about 6 inches long swim through the pool and under the rocks.
To avoid the hike back up to the trailhead, we took the lower route to the river and planned to camp out that night along the Old River Trail. The river is about .3 miles from the falls and it did not take us long to get there. It was about 12:30, so we stopped and took a dip in a great little swimming spot in the river. The Old River Trail crosses the river 6 times on the way back to Steel Creek, so this made our first river crossing of the trip. We found some campsites just after crossing the river and made camp and took a little afternoon nap.
After we were rested up, we scouted around and found a nice little sandy beach next to a bluff and noticed the thunderstorm brewing. There was a 20% chance of rain, so we knew there was a possibility we would get wet, but thought that perhaps it would just be a brief afternoon shower. We were wrong about that. It started raining about 7 pm and rained until well into the next morning. The tent did a great job though…I took a picture of the dry spot that remained after packing up the next morning.
It was about 4 miles back to Steel Creek and lots of river crossings, so we headed out. The rain had turned the Old River Trail into a muddy, mucky mess. Added to that, we decided to NOT change into water socks and slogged through the creek in our boots. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Initially, most of the trail was over river rocks, but eventually, it turned into more of a really long mud puddle through the woods.
The guys were hiking like their hair was on fire, so they managed to walk right past the old foundation of the Centerpoint School. Fortunately, I was able to snap some pictures so they would know what they missed.
After lots of river crossings and bluff sightings, we wound our way through a wooded area. A deer spotted me taking a bit of a break and stood still long enough for me to take a picture, although you have to really be looking to find it.
By the time we made it back to Steel Creek, we were ready for civilization again. Hemmed-in-Hollow was totally worth the hike, but I wouldn’t recommend the Old River Trail if there has been any rain. It is level, which is a bonus, but it is also in the river bottom which means it’s the first to get soggy with any precipitation. If you do hike it…take off your boots for the river crossings.