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Trails

A Hike to the Hemmed-In Hollow Waterfall

A Southwest Missouri hiker shares a firsthand account of tackling one of Arkansas's steepest, rockiest water trails

By Savannah Waszcuk

Mar 2019

Hemmed-In Hollow Waterfall in Arkansas MO
Photo By Jeff RoseThe Hemmed-In Hollow Waterfall may be a difficult hiking destination, but the views are well worth it.

A few Fridays ago I was in a deep sleep, and then suddenly “Crash!” A punch of thunder jolted me awake. Soon after this, I heard it: thousands of water droplets pounding on my roof and proclaiming the most comforting all-natural cadence there is—the sound of a heavy rain. 

I turned over in my bed and immediately changed my plans for the next day—I had to get out and hike. Sure, abundant rainfalls often transform our dusty Ozarks trails into a mushy, muddy mess. Large rocks and ledges get slippery, and pools of water hinder typically open paths. But I wasn’t worried about mud pits or puddles. Instead, my mind was dreaming of our wet-weather waterfalls—they’re only happy when it rains, and I knew the past week’s downpours would have them rushing with life.

I woke up, laced up my hiking boots and headed south—I decided to tackle northwest Arkansas’s Hemmed-in Hollow trail. Named after the very waterfall that lives at its core, the Hemmed-In Hollow trail offers a 5-mile round-trip hike that leads adventure-seekers to the base of the tallest waterfall between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains. Physically, the hike poses quite the challenge: You’ll travel 2.5 very rocky, steep miles down to the falls, and a long, steep 2.5 miles back out. Oh, and did I mention the 1,404 feet of elevation gain? (Imagine hiking the distance of 4.5 football fields, mostly on rock and with hundreds and hundreds of stairs.) 

Now, I’m going to be honest with you: I had hiked the trail a couple times before, and I was never that impressed. I had always heard, though, “You have to see it after a big rain,” so I gave it another try. 

After over an hour of step downs, I reached the final stretch, looked down to my muddy boots and started questioning the hike’s worthiness yet again. After that work and the work that was waiting for me on my way out, I feared there would be no worthy payoff. But everything changed after I made my way around the next bend. There are a couple of smaller waterfalls to see on the way to the big guy—falls that had merely dripped on my last visits—and they were roaring with rushing water. Good sign!

What was waiting for me was even better than what I hoped for—there was a rainbow glistening in front of a steady stream of water cascading from the blufftop. “Wow,” I thought. “This must be the Hemmed-In Hollow I’ve heard so much about.” And in that moment, it was all worth it. The muddy boots, the sore legs, the trek pole that I somehow lost from my pack on the trip before—those things were all worth it, just to see Hemmed-In Hollow in all its glory. On that day, the waterfall wasn’t the only thing happy when it rained.