Lost Valley Trail
I camped out and hiked at Lost Valley campground and trail a couple of years ago and really enjoyed myself. I was thinking that it might be a short enough little hike to finish in the morning hours before it got too hot.
Leaving Friday evening from Springfield, I headed South on 65. Taking highway 43 on the South side of Harrison, Arkansas the winding scenic highway leads straight into Ponca. My friend and I were happy to spot a young cow elk grazing in the bottomland beyond Ponca and made a note to check out the viewing area in the morning. Along the short gravel drive into the Lost Valley Campground, a beautiful buck grazed quietly on one side of the car and a couple of adult turkeys with ten adolescents in tow ran through the grass on the opposite side. Just ahead a squirrel jumped off the drive. Four species in as many minutes, we were back in Arkansas! I love the diversity of wildlife still thriving in the Natural State.
The sun was already down and the light was fading fast when I parked the car in front of a sign that said “Day Use Only. No Camping.” I was surprised, to say the least, as the minutes for setting up camp in daylight were ticking by quickly. Last year some flooding caused damage and threatened the safety of campers in Lost Valley. The campground no longer accepts overnight campers. Luckily, Steel Creek Campground was only a few miles away and we hurried off to find a spot to set up camp.
Steel Creek Campground and River Access is not as quaint and cozy as Lost Valley, but is set in a gorgeous valley with enormous bluffs of the Buffalo River to admire during your stay. In the early morning hours the temperature finally cooled down to a comfortable sleeping range. The Pro-Lite Thermarest I slept on made for a good sound sleep from then on. In the morning, the grass was wet with dew and the animals were all enjoying this rest from the dry heat. Ground hogs and wild rabbits nibbled casually nearby.
Breakfast consisted of some granola, trail mix and beef jerky (the staples for any backpacking trip). As this was essentially just car camping, we could have brought a cooler and a camp stove and made it a glamping (glamorous camping) trip if we had been so inclined. But for simplicity sake, we enjoyed a quick break down of camp and headed to the Lost Valley Trail to make the hike in cool temperatures.
The first quarter mile of the trail is level and well-developed. It makes for a nice walk under the trees in the shade. The Clark Creek is dry during this severe drought, but a little water trickles out of the caves along the way. There are some huge boulders thrown together in the creek bed. Known as “Jigsaw Rocks,” these make a fun climb and photo op. There are several caves along the hike, but to me the one below Eden Falls, known as “Cob Cave” is by far the most spectacular. Basically, just a huge depression under overhanging rock, this cave is vast! I left my friend at the mouth and hiked to the back for a photo. I am barely visible in the picture I’m so small! Native Americans were no doubt safe and secure (not to mention cool) under it’s protection.
It’s a steep climb up from this point to Eden Falls Cave above, which is dry, but nonetheless worth the trip. The cave is set so high on the bluff that it will flutter your stomach looking over the edge. Definitely take precautions along the last stretch of trail. A tumble here would be no small mistake! Pigeons have made nests inside the mouth of Eden Cave. Here they are safe from predators to raise their young. Watching them leap from their nests and dive into the canyon below will make your head spin.
Grab your hiking pole to save your joints on the steep descent. Because of the short distance of the trail, we decided to run the lower and level portions of the return trip. This is just a perfect place for a quick heart workout and trail run.
Along the return route, others were arriving to make the trip. Among them were several young kids and I would definitely recommend this hike for families. It’s short enough not to be too tiring, but scenic enough to make it a memorable adventure for years to come.