Hikers can take the high or low road to visit the eighth highest waterfall in Arkansas.
Sweden Creek Falls plunges 80 feet from the lip of a box-canyon bluff in the heart of 136-acre Sweden Falls Natural Area south of Kingston on the Madison-Newton County line.
Where rare plants grow
Sweden Creek Natural Area is home to several rare plants.
One is Arkansas alumroot, found only in Arkansas along acidic bluffs.
Small-headed pipewort is a small, globally rare plant found only in groundwater seeps within glades and prairies.
Yellow monkey-flower is a species found mainly in the Rocky Mountains, but is found in the Boston Mountain range of the Ozarks.
— Source: Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission
Two visits to Sweden Creek Falls in May found the cascade in two different moods. A hike on May 1 found the waterfall roaring two days after heavy rains soaked the region on April 29. Two weeks later, the waterfall was less boisterous, but gorgeous nonetheless.
Cold weather followed the April 29 deluge and found Tom and Karen Mowry of Nob Hill bundled up in jackets and warm hats during a hike to the waterfall. It’s an easy to moderate hike of less than a mile from the small parking area along Madison County 3260.
To get there, drive south from Kingston on Arkansas 21 about five miles. Turn right at the large sign that points to Red Star and Elkhorn. Follow the gravel road three miles. A sign for Sweden Creek Natural Area, and parking, are on the right.
The trail curves downhill on an old road, past an old garage building (there is an abandoned house that is seen during leaf off) and enters the woods.
After a rain there’s a pretty little waterfall here at the woods line that’s worth exploring, but this isn’t Sweden Creek Falls. It’s here that hikers can choose the high road or the low.
The upper trail heads off to the left and follows the top of a bluff to the top of the waterfall. The hiking is level and easy.
The lower trail is more rugged and slick and leads to the base of the waterfall. The Mowrys took the high road on their May 1 visit to the waterfall.
Wildflowers are abundant all over Sweden Creek Falls Natural Area. Wild azaleas are everywhere during spring. They’re fading by May 1, but there were plenty to see, including a small grove of wild azaleas close to the waterfall.
A chilly wind tossed the blossoms while the waterfall rolled.
Shorts felt comfy a week later at Sweden Creek Falls. Darrell Bowman, director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, drove up from Little Rock to see the area. The commission administers all of Arkansas’ natural areas. Bowman is on a mission to visit all 71 areas. Sweden Creek Natural Area was No. 25 or 26.
The high road guided him to the waterfall, but Bowman was equally impressed with Sweden Creek itself. As the creek speeds toward the bluff to become a cascade, it flows over a table of flat rock the size of a big driveway. The flow has cut a channel into the rock over who knows how many millions of years. Water flows fast through the shoot and has some pretty good velocity when it plunges over the buff to become Sweden Creek Falls.
Sweden Creek is on a continental divide of sorts. The stream and waterfall is in the Kings River watershed. But just a stone’s throw south, creeks and streams all flow to the Buffalo River.
A picnic lunch is five star dining enjoyed byside the waterfall. Fortified for more hiking, Bowman followed the high road back, then decided to hike the lower trail that leads to the base of the waterfall.
He found the going slicker and rockier than the high road, with overgrown vegetation. There’s lots more moisture along the lower trail. When he reached the waterfall, Bowman admired a totally different plant community at the base than at the top.
The top is a sandstone glade, sort of a mini-desert habitat with plants that tolerate heat and dry conditions. At the bottom is a cool and moist forest, lush in ferns and greenery.
Prime time to visit Sweden Creek Natural Area is the day after heavy rain. The waterfall barely drips in dry times. The Northwest Arkansas master naturalists have adopted the natural area and keep the upper trail in tip-top shape for easy hiking.
Caution is the word at the waterfall. Cliffs are sheer drops in the box canyon and waterfall area. Pack a healthy dose of safety and Sweden Creek Natural Area is a sight to behold.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip
Sports on 06/06/2017