Eldridge Hollow
April 30, 2011
What the waterfalls in the headwaters of Eldridge Hollow lacked in size, they made up for in quantity. I counted ten waterfalls along a 3-mile loop hike I made on a misty Saturday at the end of April. This was yet another location that had been high on my "must see" list for many years, and it was another location that I felt compelled to see after reading about it in one of Tim Ernst's guide books.
Around 8 o'clock I parked the Tahoe in a clearing beside a forest service road north of Oark, and headed northeast down the Ozark Highlands Trail. Half a mile later the trail went above the first waterfall. Two years earlier, the boys and I first saw this pretty little waterfall on a late winter backpacking trip. Contrary to my expectations, more water and a forest of green foliage didn't improve the looks of the waterfall.
In the upper reaches of Eldridge Hollow, the stream splits in to two forks, a southern one and a northern one. This first waterfall was in a side drainage of the southern fork. I followed the side drainage downhill 150 yards to where it joined the southern fork, and I also followed the southern fork back uphill to where the Ozark Highlands Trail crosses it. I found three nice waterfalls in the area, though I have to admit I don't remember whether they were on the main fork or in the side drainage.
The tallest waterfall I found that day was a 30-footer about 100 yards below where the side drainage joined the southern fork. The boys and I saw this one two years ago also; it was directly downhill from our camping spot.
I followed the southern fork downhill to the east about four tenths of a mile to where it joined the northern fork. The bushwhack wasn't bad at all; the woods were nice and clear and I was walking on relatively flat terrain. I didn't find any more waterfalls though. I turned right and started heading northwest up the stream in the northern fork. At first the walking was easy, as the stream bed and banks were fairly flat. I noticed an interesting tree growing in the stream bed whose spreading base and roots were exposed to the open air.
As I continued upstream, the hike got much tougher. Not only was it uphill, but it was along terrain slanting downhill toward the stream. I only found one new waterfall on that fork.. it was a short one in a little mini horseshoe canyon high up in the drainage, around 1800 feet in elevation.
Above that little horseshoe canyon, the terrain leveled out as I followed the tiny stream north for about a quarter mile until I found the Ozark Highlands Trail.
As I headed back south along the trail, I thought I was done finding waterfalls for the day; boy was I wrong! The trail gradually descended to about the 1800-foot elevation mark and followed the contours of the hollow. There were waterfalls just below or above the trail wherever a drainage ran down the mountainside above the north fork. I spent a long time taking photos of big lush ferns below one waterfall. A hiker with a huge backpack came up the trail to cross between the ferns and the waterfall. We spoke briefly, and I learned he was on a week-long trip that would end at Fairview Campground way to the east.
At my favorite spot along the trail, a 10-foot waterfall, divided into two streams by a big boulder up top, poured over a ledge above an undercut bluff shelter. The forest up above was enveloped in a beautiful light fog, which I found odd given that it was 3:30 in the afternoon. I hiked the trail back to the Tahoe, nearly a mile and a half to the southeast. My feet were feeling the effects of 8 hours in brand new hiking boots, which I managed to get wet at the first waterfall that morning. Still, I was in great spirits when I reached the Tahoe, having seen so many wonderful things in an area I'd longed to visit for many years.