Let's face it: given Richland Creek's steep
drops, big rocks, and narrow chutes, the stream probably shouldn't
even be on this website. It's seldom floatable, and even when the water
most of us should keep the canoes and kayaks on top of the cars
where they're safe.
Richland Creek is too fast, furious, although the oxygen-rich waters
provide an ideal habitat for smallmouth bass.
Yet Richland Creek appears here for one reason: it may be
the most beautiful stream in the state. And anybody familiar with the scenic streams, creeks and rivers of
Arkansas will quickly realize the significance of that statement. Richland Creek should certainly be noted among Arkansas's scenic places.
SECTION DESCRIBED: Entire length--30 miles
Richland Creek is a classic Ozark stream with classic
beginnings. Its uppermost tributaries drain off to the east from Arkansas State Highway
7--the state's first Scenic Byway and a road traditionally listed among the
country's 10 prettiest drives. Dropping 1,400 feet along the way, these waters
eventually join up with those of the Buffalo National River at Woolum--an access point
for floaters which also features a primitive campground.
In this 30-mile journey, the creek works its way through
some of the most rugged country to be found in the state. For much of its length, the
stream is relatively inaccessible to all but those willing to put on their hiking boots.
Because of this remoteness and isolation, quiet hikers may be able to sneak up on all
sorts of wildlife--mink, beaver, turkey, deer, and perhaps a black bear. To top it
off, Richland Creek itself provides some of the best smallmouth bass and panfish habitat
in this part of the country.
In its early stretches the creek flows through a mosaic of
public (Ozark National Forest) and private ownership. About midway in its route to the
Buffalo, the stream enters the Richland Creek Wilderness, an 11,822-acre tract of forest
service property containing the most outstanding features in the entire watershed.
- Richland Falls--a 100-foot-wide cascade that drops six to eight feet;
- Twin Falls--where Long Devil's Fork and Big Devil's Fork converge with side-by-side drops of 20 to 25 feet;
- Rose Hollow and Jack Jones Hollow--both featuring canyon-like settings with lots of exposed rock;
- Falling Water Creek--a picturesque tributary of
Richland which flows along much of the eastern border of the wilderness area (note:
Falling Water Falls, located about four miles south of the wilderness boundary and within
view of Forest Service Road 1205, is a 10- to 12-foot cascade with lots of photographic
One good way to experience Richland Creek is to hike the
Ozark Highlands Trail, a 178-mile long (and expanding) path which includes an interesting
route through Richland Valley. The trail enters the watershed a couple of miles north of
Pelsor at Fairview, a Forest Service campground on Scenic Byway 7. The trail gradually
works its way downstream, then skirts around the wilderness area before continuing to the
Forest Service's Richland Creek Campground (immediately west of the intersection of
Forest Service Road 1205 and the creek).
This campground, which is 19.1 miles from
Fairview, provides a fine trailhead for excursions into the wilderness area. Richland
Falls and Twin Falls are approximately two- and-one-half miles upstream from the camp, and
can be reached following a primitive trail which parallels the stream. Hikers will enjoy
the scenery, but should watch out for loose rocks, poison ivy, and slippery spots.
Observant visitors will notice some spectacular fossils on the way.
The Ozark Highlands Trail follows Richland downstream past
the campground and eventually leads to Woolum on the Buffalo National River, another one of Arkansas's most scenic streams. The distance
is about 21 miles, and is scenic every step of the way. Hikers can expect to see lots of
rocky outcrops, boulder-filled creekbeds, and numerous springs and seeps. Like the upper
portion, this lower stretch is a good one for those wishing to observe wildlife.
For those who insist on floating this creek (and
we're not kidding; it's not for casual canoeists), the best times to catch it
are during the late winter and early spring, particularly following abundant rainfall.
Those wishing to explore by foot will also enjoy this period, although fording the creek
can be a cold and risky proposition. The waterfalls, of course, are at their peak during
Many Richland Creek veterans save their hiking trips for
the fall months. The pesky critters are out of the way by then, but the real treat is the
foliage--gums, hickories, and maples that light up the landscape. Others opt for the
dead of winter when the real lay of the land is clearly visible through the bare trees.
Richland Creek is not very easy to get to, and that's
one reason it's so special. And given the difficulty of successfully floating this
stream, we're going to primarily describe access points for hikers.
As mentioned earlier, the adventurous can hike in off
Scenic 7 at Fairview. Vehicular access is also available via Pelsor on Scenic 7. At
Pelsor, go east on Arkansas 16 to Ben Hur where you'll have two options: 1) Going
north on Forest Service Road 1203 which drops down into Richland Valley and serves in
places as the western boundary of the wilderness area; and 2) Continuing east on Arkansas
16 for another two miles or so, then turning east on Forest Service Road 1205 which
quickly swings north and follows Falling Water Creek all the way to the wilderness area
and, ultimately, to the Richland Creek campground and its trailhead (note: this is a 10-
to 12-mile drive over gravel). As Forest Road 1205 continues north past the camping site, it
essentially serves as the eastern and northern borders of the Richland Creek Wilderness
The lower stretches of Richland Creek can be approached
from Snowball--a small town in Searcy County--via a county road that leads west to
the community of Eula. County roads heading both north and south out of Eula lead to
Richland Creek, and each crosses the stream by ford. These crossings can be tricky and
should be avoided in average to high water.
For floaters, primary access points are the Forest Service
Road 1203 crossing north of Ben Hur and the Richland Creek Campground off Road 1205.
Woolum, at the confluence of Richland and the Buffalo, can serve as a take-out point for
floating the lower half of the creek, but requires a lengthy shuttle.
The Richland Creek valley is scenic whether seen by foot,
car, canoe, or horseback. Chief attractions are the scenic streams - Richland Creek itself and its main
tributary, Falling Water Creek. Both are characterized by pools, ledges, falls, and
the music of moving water. Steep, tree-covered hillsides interrupted by occasional crags
and bluffs are the norm in the upper two-thirds of the valley. In its lower third,
Richland flows through a pastoral setting toward its union with the Buffalo River.
Like the Buffalo, Richland Creek features ideal smallmouth
bass habitat--a rocky streambed covered with clear, oxygen-rich water. The deep pools
followed by noisy rapids are a fisherman's delight.
Considering the inherent difficulty in floating the creek,
the best bet may be to wade-fish the stream. In addition to trying out the pools, anglers
will also want to drift a line past good cover in faster water. Likewise, there's no
need to stick with artificials; locals have had years of success with crayfish, minnows,
and other natural baits.
Canoe services and lodging are not present in the
immediate area, and rescue services are also not readily available. Food, gasoline, and
other supplies can be purchased in communities such as Pelsor and Dover which are in the
general vicinity, though not particularly handy.
An interesting sidetrip for Richland-bound visitors is the
Pedestal Rocks/King Bluff area, a scenic "point of interest" between Pelsor and
Ben Hur on the south side of Arkansas 16. A short hike from the parking area will lead to
fascinating rock columns, bluff shelters, and good views.
Another interesting feature is "The Narrows," a
thin ridge of rock rising between the Buffalo and Richland valleys just upstream from
Woolum. It's a little scary at the top (especially on windy days), but the panorama
is worth the climb.
While the Ozark National Forest, the Buffalo National
River, and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission own much of the land within the Richland
Creek watershed, private holdings are not uncommon. Please take care to avoid trespassing