Fall is the perfect time to enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you love experiencing epic hiking trails around the world or simply want to enjoy the breathtaking foliage, this season is definitely the best time to put on your favorite walking shoes and venture out to explore. Arkansas may not be the first place you think about visiting to enjoy natural beauty, but after taking the Falls Creek Falls hike in Lake Catherine State Park, we would argue that this can challenge any place for breathtaking scenery.
Although our travels have seen us experience the amazing Delicate Arch hike in Arches National Park in Utah and the beauty of Huka Falls in New Zealand, there is something quite magical about stumbling across an epic hike close to home, especially when there are waterfalls involved. When TLC spoke those infamous words…I really don’t think they realized what they were saying!
Don’t go chasing waterfalls, Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to…TLC, 1994
I ALWAYS head in the direction of a waterfall, whether it be because they are a spectacular natural attraction or perhaps because of the inherent beauty and relaxation they offer.
From the best waterfalls in Iceland to this gorgeous sight in the heart of our home state of Arkansas, we tend to head towards the relaxing sound of a waterfall. Let’s take a look at what makes Falls Creek Falls such an enticing prospect that will likely make you want to book a trip to Arkansas in the near future.
Lake Catherine State Park
Located in the heart of the Ouachita Mountain region of Arkansas, Lake Catherine State Park is only a short drive from Hot Springs National Park and about 40 minutes from the capital of the state, Little Rock. Whether you are planning a camping trip to this part of the Ouachitas or you are taking a day trip from a nearby location, Lake Catherine State Park epitomizes everything there is to love about Arkansas.
Boat rentals are available all year-round and with numerous pavilions scattered across this state park, it’s no surprise that this is a popular spot for locals and visitors alike to enjoy family picnics or reunions. But it’s the hiking trails here that helps set this aside from many of the other locations you could choose to explore in this part of Arkansas.
Intrigued by the thought of arriving at a spectacular waterfall? Ready to taking a relaxing stroll along the banks of Lake Catherine? Looking for a more strenuous mountain hike? All of these are available courtesy of the three gorgeous hiking trails available inside the state park, accessible from the same starting location.
Visitors to Lake Catherine State Park should head along the road towards the lake at the back of the park. Head past the amphitheater and you will arrive at a parking lot which signals the start of the trailhead for the following three trails. Be sure to take a bottle of water (or two) regardless of the time of year you are visiting.
We experienced these trails during fall which we consider to be the best time to explore Arkansas. If you visit in the middle of summer, be prepared for searing hot temperatures and humidity. In winter, you can expect freezing cold weather, hence the reason why spring and fall are perhaps the best time to hike.
The following three hikes are all considered to be “intermediate” by resident hikers and after exploring the Falls Creek Falls hike, we would agree that there are some spots that are a little more challenging than a standard hiking trail.
- Falls Branch Trail – 1.7 miles – Follow the red blazes
- Dam Mountain Trail – 3.1 miles – Follow the white blazes
- Horseshoe Mountain Trail – 2.7 miles – Follow the yellow blazes
Three distinctive trails with varying distance and so it’s all about personal preference and how much time you choose to spend in Lake Catherine State Park. But regardless of which trail you choose, visiting Falls Creek Falls is something you simply cannot afford to miss. We opted for the Falls Branch Trail which despite being the shortest, offers a myriad of gorgeous natural landmarks along the route before you arrive at the pièce de résistance around 75% into the trail.
Falls Creek Falls Hike
If you are looking for the ultimate, family-friendly hiking trail, Falls Branch Trail is definitely the best option and one that you can easily experience in less than two hours (the trail itself won’t take that long but you will likely want to stop on several occasions to take pictures, particularly when you arrive at the waterfall).
A word of warning before you venture out on this trail is that you should be aware of what the weather has been like prior to your visit. The more rainfall that has occurred in the lead up to your visit will certainly help provide a more impressive flow over the edge of the waterfall. Regardless, this is a hiking trail that is well worth visiting at any time of the year.
After you leave the parking lot, head south on the same trail as if you were hiking the Horseshoe Mountain Trail. Pay close attention to the blazes on the trees as you will want to follow the RED markings throughout your adventure.
The first half mile has a gentle incline with a few switchbacks but nothing that any standard of hiking ability should be concerned about. There are a couple of bridges to cross streams which just adds to the overall beauty of the hike and there are even benches available on the hike to the summit if you want to rest for a few minutes or admire the scenery.
At the half way point, the hike starts a gentle descent though there are a few spots where you are navigating rocks which requires a little more attention. Before you arrive at the waterfall, there is a spot where you can look upstream and enjoy gorgeous views of the sunlight passing through the deep woodland. By the time you arrive here, you will likely be able to hear the sound of the waterfall.
You actually arrive at the waterfall from the top and you can clamber across the rocks to peer over the edge (don’t get too close to the edge as you never know how slippery the rocks can be!). The waterfall is only 12 feet in height but don’t let that fool you because the sight of this waterfall with the gorgeous surroundings makes this a breathtaking natural attraction.
Spend some time sitting on the rocks overlooking the waterfall, head across the stream to capture a unique view from the other side or for the kids in your party, perhaps taking a quick swim will appeal. You cannot help but fall in love with this waterfall and this is the perfect spot to really test your photography skills with some long exposure shots (top tip – use your iPhone in “live” mode to take a picture and then change it to long exposure to create that magical shot!)
The remainder of the trail leads you along the banks of Lake Catherine. I will admit that there are several spots along this part of the trail that offer breathtaking views across the lake but many of them are spoiled because of the sight of a power station on the far side of the lake. Regardless, if you can ignore this, there are plenty of panoramic scenes to enjoy.
Lake Catherine State Park is a location that should be on everyone’s radar when planning a visit to Arkansas. This is one of many locations in the Natural State that we have failed to visit until recently and we hope that by sharing our highlights on this visit, we will encourage a few more folks to explore this state park. Although the highlight is Falls Creek Falls, there are plenty of other reasons to enjoy a visit to this state park.
We are by no means avid hikers but we thoroughly enjoyed the Falls Branch hiking trail and honestly this alone has encouraged us to get out and explore more of our home state. You frequently think about traveling far and wide across the globe but the reality is that there is breathtaking beauty right on your doorstep…you just have to be willing to do some research and find these hidden gems!
If you are interested in exploring other parts of Arkansas, why not consider a trip to Petit Jean State Park or Mountain Magazine, both of which are a relatively short drive from Lake Catherine State Park.
What are your experiences in the state of Arkansas? Do you “chase waterfalls” around the world? Share your thoughts in the comments section below and the next time you are contemplating a trip to Arkansas, please let us know!