Ozark Highlands Trail
to Herrods Creek
March 30, 2008
Even though I knew the woods were still brown, I couldn't ignore the first big rain event of Spring. I've settled into a regular formula for determining where I'll go waterfall chasing. I check the weather radar maps to see where the rain has fallen, then compare that to my list of places I want to visit. This morning it was finally time to hike the section of the Ozark Highlands Trail just west of Herrods Creek and see four waterfalls along the way.
I parked the truck where the Spy Rock spur trail crosses Morgan Mountain Road. I've passed by the spot probably two hundred times over the years, with it being on the way to the deer woods east of St. Paul.
As I set off down the trail I was still within sight of the truck when without warning a hard rain started coming down. I quickly dug out my rain coat and threw it on and continued downhill. The trail leveled out and joined up with the Ozark Highlands Trail after about half a mile, then it ran in a steady downhill trend. I enjoyed some nice views of the wet leafless forest; I recall a location where the trail made a big swing to the left and followed along a line of lichen-covered rock outcrops.
The trail began to run parallel with a small stream tumbling down the mountain, and I detoured many times to investigate. Near where the mountain finally bottomed out at Herrods Creek (a mile and a half from the truck), I took a spur trail over to Waterfall #4, which is pictured at the top of this page.
My plans were to cross the creek and locate another waterfall along the trail. The creek was obviously flooded, but the water didn't look like it was running too swiftly. I changed into my Crocs and took maybe three steps into the cold water and had a change of heart. It was already up to my knees!
I started to change back into my boots but got distracted by a small white Bloodroot flower popping its head up from the leaves. I began walking among some massive moss-covered boulders at the base of the hill, looking for flowers that might make a good picture. Most of the flowers had not opened up all the way, and the ones that were opened had been battered by the rain. I did find a colony of baby Mayapple plants that resembled tiny umbrellas.
After a late lunch I began the tough hike back up the mountain, sidetracking on another spur trail after a half mile to Waterfall #3. I rested underneath a overhang that went deep into the hillside behind the small falls.
It was after 5 o'clock when I finally reached the Spy Rock trail, and I was pretty tired. But my goal was to see the first two waterfalls on this section of the Ozark Highlands Trail, so I decided to suck it up and keep going up the main trail. My trusty GPS receiver told me it was a little over half a mile as the crow flies to the farthest of the two falls, and I knew the terrain would be fairly level.
I reached Waterfall #2 in no time. The trail crossed the tiny stream just above the small waterfall. I liked a smaller cascade right above the trail a lot more. Another quarter mile more of hiking got me to Waterfall #1. This 10-foot tall falls would have looked a lot nicer without a tangle of fallen tree branches beside it.
I felt like I was maybe running out of daylight so I started back as soon as I snapped a few photos. When the trail neared the stream below Waterfall #2, I walked down the hill to see if I could spot the source of a loud falling water sound. The stream ran through a small canyon and I couldn't find a way down, but I did manage to find a place where I got a tantalizing view of a 15-foot waterfall that included four drops. I said to myself, "No more do I get one thing crossed off my list, that I've got to add a new one!" I marked the spot on the GPS then scurried back up the side of the draw to the trail and hiked at a fast pace toward the truck. Before reaching the Spy Rock trail I stopped for a breather at a spot with a memorable view of the mountain across the valley to the east (my left). The cloud cover had broken up and the late evening sun was lighting up both the mountains and the remaining clouds.