Arkansas Wildlife Blog and Gallery
Buffalo National River and NW Arkansas
 
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Map & Guide to Lost Valley Hiking Trail

If there is a single must-see hiking trail in the Upper Buffalo River area is it the hiking trail at Lost Valley
Campground. This trail is virtually one that anyone can hike, the first portion of the trail is even barrier-free
for a half mile.  There are a number of benches for resting and watching the wildlife. The park service
estimates the round trip for a leisurely visit to be 2.5 hours for the 2.3 mile round trip.

Lost Valley Hiking Trail offers reasons to visit in every season. The Eden Falls waterfall is one of the most
photographed in NW Arkansas, a local landmark. The Natural Bridge falls shoot out of a tunnel into a
reflecting pool. Cascades in the creek and in a couple of small canyons on the south side of the trail in the
wet season round out a great nature lover and photographer's venue. Armadillo Falls is also just a short
hike off the trail.

A word of caution. The trail to the Eden Falls Cave is not for children, persons fearful of heights, or anyone
prone to dizzy spells. In wet weather, that trail should probably be avoided by most. 95% of the attraction of
Lost Valley Trail remains if you miss the cave, it's not a big deal.

Spring and fall are magnificent at Lost Valley. The spring wildflower bloom is legendary and a destination
for wildflower lovers in the region. Wildflower season usually coincides with great water flow in the
cascades and waterfalls of Lost Valley. In the fall, golden leaves of the many beech trees in the valley
illuminate it with a golden brown canopy. Fall is also generally a wet season with good flow in the falls and
Clark Creek. It has the additional advantage of coinciding with the rutting season for the legendary Boxley
Valley elk herd.


Narrative for Map (below):

I have a few different features marked for Lost Valley not listed in most guidebooks that I have seen.

Wildflower areas are noted with a label. Wildflowers border the hiking trail in Lost Valley on both sides all
the way up to the Natural Bridge. The wildflower season is long, generally extending from April to June for
the big show, but wildflowers are around in all the warm months in one form or another. In Lost Valley the
flowers are abundant along Clark Creek and diminish after the Natural Bridge as the soil becomes more
rocky and you climb above creek level.

The Suck Hole   I have not read about this anywhere, but in the area marked on the map, there is a large
crack in the creek bed that takes a huge percentage of Clark Creek underground when it is flowing hard.
This kind of formation is common in Karst geological formations. There is at least one similar hole in the
Smith Creek Preserve. Anyway, it is interesting to photograph.

Next in line is what locals call "the Spirit Tree". It typifies a trait seen in many beech trees where the center
of the trunk rots out, but the outer rings and bark seem pretty sound. This is the most extreme example of
this hollowing out. You can step through the trunk of this tree. It also has roots that look like feet. I doubt this
tree will survive another two years. It is being attacked by fungi now. This is a worthwhile attraction and a
picture to remember your visit.

In my opinion you have now entered the absolute sweet spot of Lost Valley, not that anything that preceded
it isn't great, it is just now becoming all-world.

The next under-mentioned attraction are what I call the Cascade Canyons. Depending on the rain, these
little canyons form little falls and flows that I prefer to larger waterfalls.  A great place to take pictures,
especially in the second canyon. You will notice rock barriers crossing the trail to control erosion.

Around this point you will see a sign indicating that the trail goes to the left. On the right, there is a great
dead tree surrounded by rocks. It is a decent photographic subject.

A little further on, you will encounter a fork in the trail and you will want to go to the Natural Bridge. This very
small section from the trail fork to Eden Falls is my favorite part of Lost Valley. Wildflowers are good here,
and they are growing in interesting places. Clark Creek is great with huge jigsaw rocks, all kinds of
interesting cascades, rugged canyon walls, pour offs, and on and on. This is where Ansel would have
wielded his huge view camera and taken black and whites.  There are a lifetime of great photos to be taken
here. In the background there is the sound of the falls. It is also a place to just sit, and become whole.

This last section of the trail will challenge your hiking skills more than what has gone before. Be very careful
of your footing. Note that the trail often gets wet, never, ever trust a wet rock. They can be like ice. If they
have moss on them, they are ice. I want to re-emphasize that the trail to the Eden Falls Cave, that last
stretch above Eden Falls is dangerous. Fall from there and you could perish. I would not take any child or
adult with unsure footing there. People afraid of heights would be terrified on that stretch.

I always stay on the trail along Clark Creek. I realize there is a loop, but I prefer to be along the water and all
the rocks. Like any outstanding trail, Lost Valley Trail looks different coming back. Take your time. Sit and
let the animals get active again. Take time to listen, to see, to experience the wonder of Lost Valley.

Directions: Take highway 43 south out of Ponca, follow the sign for Lost Valley Campground on the west side of the road about 3 miles from Ponca.

The campground has restroom facilities.

The campground is small and for tent campers. It has a pavilion that can be rented for group outings.

Other Features: The Lost Valley area is just about in the middle of the best elk viewing in Boxley Valley. Plan to arrive at daybreak or view the elk herd in the evenings.
Lost Valley Map & Features
Lost Valley Gallery

Smith Creek

If you love Lost Valley, you will love Smith Creek Preserve. This project of the Nature Conservancy is a more difficult hike, but it is at least on par with Lost Valley, and still more secluded.

Smith Creek involves a 5-600 foot decent, and hard hike out. It's not Hemmed in Hollow, but be honest with yourself about your fitness.

Smithcreekpreserve.com for maps and information.