Our favorite hike in Arkansas: the Lost Valley Trail

The cool, rainy morning was a relief after a number of brutally hot and humid days.  Not that the heat and humidity should have surprised us, this was Arkansas after all.  

We had come to the Ozark Mountains for a long weekend of hiking and exploring.  Crossing the Mississippi River in Memphis, we immediately hit the flat, fertile flood planes of Arkansas.  Rice paddies (who knew?!!) stretched out in front of us for miles and it was a long time before we entered the hills of the Ozark Mountains.  Fields gave way to pines and the small towns grew further apart.  The road curved sharply, climbing higher as we passed vacation homes clinging to the sides of the mountains.  


We stopped for gas at a station with an amazing view and a dog blocking the entrance of the store.  He raised his head and looked at us with half open eyes as we entered, but did not move.  The two women behind the counter, excited, it seemed, to have a customer, told us of a hidden waterfall nearby that they had just explored.  The waterfall sounded great, but we had to keep moving.  We reached our hotel just as storms rolled in and watched the rain fall in sheets from the dry safety of our room.

The rain stopped mid-morning the next day as we drove through rolling farmland.  A misty fog clung to the hills as we passed dirt roads leading to small farms set among fields filled with cows.   It seemed hard to believe that there was a hike set among the farms, but soon we entered a lush hollow and saw the sign for the trailhead named, appropriately, Lost Valley Trail.

Lost Valley Trail, located within Lost Valley State Park, is a great hike that at just 2.2 miles R/T is accessible to anyone.  It’s a popular hike, so the trail is often crowded.  But the great thing about the hike, the reason we decided it was our favorite, is that it is so varied.  There is just so much to explore on this short hike.

The first half mile or so of the trail is flat and handicap accessible.  There are even a few benches to sit and rest and enjoy the cool quiet of a hardwood forest and the Clark Creek.  After that the trail becomes less level and starts to climb some.

The entire hike is through a box canyon which might have once all been underground.  High bluffs surrounded us on both sides.  Many of the feature on the trail point to this, such as our first stop to look at massive stone blocks that fell long ago from the surrounding bluffs.


We hiked some more and soon came to a natural bridge.  Here the creek has carved through limestone to create an arch.  The water was low enough that we were able to climb through the “tunnel”.  The sun came out, rapidly burning off the remaining fog and the day started to heat up, so we stopped to rock hop and play in the creek. 

Our next stop on the hike was Cob Cave.   It’s not actually a cave, but rather a giant bluff shelter once used by Native Americans that gets its name from corn cobbs found on site.  We spent some time exploring the cave and marveling at the sheer size of it.  It was easy to imagine this being used as a shelter and place to stop and rest for the night.


Stop number four on the hike was Eden Falls.  It’s a series of four waterfalls that plummets 170 feet down the bluffs.  The hike brought us to the base of the falls and then turned to steeply climb out, providing good views of the entire waterfall.


The trail climbed some more, up a set of mossy stone stairs.  They twisted around large boulders and disappeared into the green forest.  Water from last night’s storm still dripped down on us as we stared up at the canyon walls.  They surrounded us and made us feel very small.

Lost Valley.  Here, you could feel how the area got its name.  Standing quietly in the forest, you had a sense of timelessness.  Of the ancient hitting against the present; unchanged by time.  It was comforting to know a place like this still existed!


We hiked on, still climbing some until we reached the last stop of the hike; Eden Falls Cave.  Water from Clark Creek flowed out of the entrance to a small underground cave.  We crossed the creek and climbed up a ledge which the water flowed over, creating a small waterfall.  Peering inside the murkiness of the cave, we were excited.  It was time to go explore!

 The cave has been carved by the stream but there is still a good deal of dry land to walk on.  We strapped on our headlights and began to walk back into the darkness.  You definitely need a flashlight to explore the cave as it is very dark once inside.  We decided to head to the left and soon were on our hands and knees crawling because the ceiling of the cave was so low.  

After a couple minutes of crawling we reached a large room in which we could easily stand.  This is the waterfall room which is about 200 feet back from the entrance of the cave.  We could just make out the 35 foot falls through our headlights.  It was really neat to see a waterfall so deep in a wild cave. (I included a picture of it but it was difficult to get a good one with an iPhone in a dark cave!)


We turned to head out of the cave and realized that there was a narrow passage to our left that we could take that did not require us to crawl.  It was so much easier! So, if you don’t want to crawl, take the passage to the right when you first enter the cave.  You might need to stoop here and there, but will stay on your feet.

We exited the cave, blinking against the shock of bright sunlight after the darkness of the cave, and crossed back over the creek to the trail.  Eden Falls Cave is the end of the trail, so we headed back; a quick one mile hike out through the forest.  The cool solitude of the forest was enjoyable and before we knew it, we had reached our car.

This was a great little hike!  Definitely a must do if you’re ever in Arkansas.  I’ve included a link to the trail information and location below.  Have fun exploring!

Lost Valley Trail

the road to nowhere

Lakeside Drive.  It was a typical enough road, climbing out of downtown as it took us past a school and houses and farms.  Typical enough, at least, until we rounded a corner and saw the sign that let us know we were on the Road to Nowhere.

Fontana Lake is beautiful.  Mountains drop straight down to its’ tourquoise-green waters while fish jump and bald eagles fly overhead.  It twists and turns through 30 miles and is so remote that you rarely see another boat.  But, it’s what’s underneath the lake that is the most interesting.


In the 1940’s, WWII had finally reached America and an increase in aluminum was needed for wartime efforts.  The rugged and remote valley of the Little Tennessee River was chosen to create a dam to produce electricity for the ALCOA aluminum plant in Tennessee as well as for Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manhattan Project.  

The valley was filled with small towns.  People who had been there for generations, working in mines or for lumber companies.  People who loved the beauty and isolation of the area.  Old Highway 288 connected these communities to each other and to their cemeteries.  But, because of the war, things moved fast and, before they knew it, more than 1300 families were forced to leave the area.  The TVA built the dam, the tallest in the east, in a little over two years and Fontana Lake was formed, submerging the towns and Highway 288 far below.

The towns were gone but the Federal government promised to replace Highway 288 with a new road.  The road was to hug the north shore of Fontana Lake from Bryson City to Fontana, providing a way for the former residents to have access to the generations that remained behind in the old family cemeteries.

Construction began on Lakeview Drive in Bryson City.  The road entered the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and everything was going well until an environmental issue halted construction.  The issue was eventually resolved, but construction of the road never resumed.


The road now follows the lake about six miles into the park and abruptly ends at a tunnel.  It truly is a “Road to Nowhere”.   You can now park at the tunnel and hike through it.  Once through the tunnel, the asphalt ends and half finished guard rails give way to hiking trails that continue around the lake.  



 And the cemeteries still remain, more quiet and isolated than ever.  The only way to access them is by hiking in or taking a ferry that the Park Service offers during the summer so former residents can visit their ancestors.  One of the only reminders that this was once a valley filled with small towns bustling with activity.
Below is a map of the area.  You can reach the tunnel by taking Lakeview Dr. East (aka the Road to Nowhere) out of Bryson City.  The road ends at a parking area near the tunnel.

the most romantic picnic spot

It’s difficult to find a more beautiful place than the Smoky Mountains in June.  Spring’s lush green is everywhere.  Colorful wildflowers blanket the hillside.  The sun sets late, slipping slowly behind the mountains as lightening bugs flicker in the evening sky.  The heat and humidity of later months has yet to arrive.  And, best of all, the rhododendrons are in full bloom.


Catawba Rhododendrons, native to the Southern Appalachians, bloom in late-May at lower elevations and in mid-June higher up. The purple-pink bloom lasts only for a short time but is beautiful. One of the best places to view them is at the Roan Mountain Gardens on the North Carolina side of the NC/TN state line.  

Here you can wander through a naturally occurring rhododendron garden high up at an elevation of over 6000 feet. The main path is paved so it is accessible to most people. The bushes are dense and, when in bloom, make for a magical hike.


But the best part are the picnic areas. Tucked away in corners of the park are picnic areas. Moss covered tables nestled under pines and the rhodendrons. As the flowers fall they cover the ground creating a pink carpet. A fairytale setting for a romantic picnic!

You can find more information about Roan Mountain Gardens, including its exact location, here.




adventure on snake hill

The space between Christmas and New Years was gloriously empty! Nothing on the calendar, just empty days waiting to be filled.  So I decided it was time to take the kids on a little adventure.   But, our outing ended up with a little more adventure than I attended it to!

Secaucus, New Jersey.  Located in Hudson County just miles from New York City, it’s not exactly the wilderness.  Yet it is located within the New Jersey Meadowlands, a large area of wetlands.  Our destination was not the marshes that surrounded the town nor one of the factories that we passed.  Our destination was Snake Hill (aka Laurel Hill or Graffiti Hill or Fraternity Rock), a massive hill of diabase rock jutting 150 feet into the sky from the banks of the Hackensack River.  It’s a familiar sight to anyone who travels the NJ turnpike as it protrudes out over the eastern spur of the turnpike.

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a hike of legends and death

Last month, on a beautiful fall day, we decided to go on a hike.  The day was perfect: bright blue skies to serve as the perfect backdrop to the reds and oranges and golds of the changing leaves.  The day was unseasonably warm which was a good thing because we were headed to a corner of New Jersey known for its history of death and mystery.

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867 stairs down into history

Over Spring Break we took a trip to the Smoky Mountains.  In order to break up our 12 hour drive, we stayed a night in Fayetteville West Virginia and spent the next day exploring the area.  Fayetteville is a quirky little town that is home to the New River Gorge Bridge which is the longest arch bridge in the US and, at 876 feet above the New River, the 3rd tallest.

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slow fade

On a warm spring day this past year we went on a short hike to explore another forgotten building.  We hiked up an old rutted road that was slowly being reclaimed by the forest.   The road climbed and twisted and soon we found ourselves staring up at a whitewashed tree with a huge white owl on a branch!  Had we wandered into a magical wonderland?  No, we had found Outlook Lodge! Continue reading “slow fade”

deep into the cave

The heat and humidity of the July afternoon had been left behind and the temperature continued to drop as we crawled onward, deeper and deeper into the ever narrowing crevice.  The rock surrounding us was now smooth and damp with a slightly yellowish sheen.  This dampness had meant the end of the huge black spiders each guarding an even bigger egg sack that we had seen at the entrance.  We  looked forward allowing our headlamps to pierce the darkness in front of us and wondered just where this tunnel in the cave would lead.

I often wonder how people have found many of the places that we go to.  We often find ourselves in the middle of nowhere either bush whacking or following a faint herdpath to our destination.  Was the location passed down through the generations by locals or was it simply stumbled upon by someone?  Then, what caused someone finally to give up the location? Continue reading “deep into the cave”

all the way! (with cranky kids)

What!  We have not hiked the Adirondacks most popular hike!  How can that be?

We were taking my oldest son to summer camp in the Adirondacks and decided to stay for a long weekend after we dropped him off.  If you have read other posts of mine such as conquering the mountain, you know that the Adirondacks are my favorite place visit.  It’s beautiful, rugged, rural, and there is so much to do!  I began to plan what we would do this time and I came across Blue Mountain in the town of Blue Mountain Lake.  We have been to the town a number of times but have never hiked the 2 mile trail to the top of the mountain which many websites stated was the most popular hike in the Adirondacks.  Guess it was about time that we hike it! Continue reading “all the way! (with cranky kids)”

i shouldn’t be alive…

Have you ever read an article about some mishap that happened to someone who was out in the wilderness and thought, “boy are they stupid!”?  It often seems like people lose all common sense when they go into the woods!  One of my favorite examples that I have read was that of a hunter who got lost in the Adirondacks and started walking looking for a way out.  He eventually came to the NYS Northway (the major 4 lane highway of the area), crossed it, and kept on going, still lost!!!  The movie The Blair Witch Project always bugged me for the same reason.  Instead of following the river out, they crossed over it and walked in circles.  Well, we had our own example of wilderness stupidity this past weekend. Continue reading “i shouldn’t be alive…”