Hemmed-in-Hollow waterfall is one of Arkansas’s greatest natural attractions. It’s located in the Ponca Wilderness Area of the Buffalo National River in Northern Arkansas. The fall has a 209-foot drop, which the National Parks Service lists as the tallest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians.
Merriam-Webster defines hemmed in as “to close or shut in by or as if by barriers a village hemmed in on all sides by mountains” in this case it’s the waterfall that’s hemmed in on the sides by towering bluffs formed in rock.
Some effort is required to reach this waterfall but when in full glorious flow, it is indeed worth the effort.
There are two ways to get to Hemmed-in-Hollow waterfall. The first is a trail that branches off the Buffalo River, a short and exceedingly pleasant hike that requires a kayak or canoe. The second is via a 5-mile out and back strenuous hike from the trail head parking lot.
Via the Buffalo River
The Buffalo River, with its towering bluffs is in itself a sight to behold. We opted to take the river method for getting to the waterfall. I’ve explained how to get out on the Buffalo River here: Tips for kayaking the stunning Buffalo River.
The trail is on the left about 1-mile past Jim Bluff (you’ll see a stone at the base of the bluff that says “Jim Bluff.”) Because I did not actually see the sign the trailhead came up unexpectedly. As we came around what I recall to be a fairy sharp bend to the left, we encountered several kayaks parked along the left bank of the river and knew that it was time to head to shore. We may have missed it altogether had we not been alerted ahead of time to keep an eye out for parked kayaks (there are usually some parked at the trailed.) There is a sign marking the Hemmed-in-Hollow trail head but not a very big one. If you miss it by a little bit there’s no need to panic, just get your boat ashore as soon as you can and walk a little ways back to the trail. From the river the waterfall is about 1/2 mile down a moderate but absolutely dreamy trail!
via the trail head
Before you get too far into your planning, please heed this warning from the National Parks Service regarding this trail that is considered “extremely strenuous.” “WARNING: The hike to Hemmed-in Hollow is one of the most frequent Search & Rescue (SAR) locations at Buffalo National River. Steep and strenuous trail conditions, coupled with a hiker’s lack of preparation, can lead to dehydration, overexertion/exhaustion, and heat related illness.”
The hike in is mostly downhill so it follows that the way out is almost straight up. The 1,400 feet elevation gain over 2.5 miles can be quite challenging even for fit hikers.
Directions to the trailhead.
The ,Buffalo River Website has detailed directions to the trail head.
,The national Parks Service has provided a detailed map to accessing hemmed-in-hollow waterfall from the trail head, the map includes several spur trails. Print and pack this map. Pay close attention at intersections. The Hemmed-in-Hollow Trail has white, rectangular trail blazes that read “HIH.”
Kids and Dogs
This trail is not suited for pets or younger children, NPS recommends 12-years-old and up. The river route can be treacherous, and remember the longer trail is mostly an uphill climb on the way back out.
How much time should you allot for this hike?
From the trail head allot 4-6 hours for this trail maybe more depending on your fitness level. This will give you time to stop for plenty of breaks (especially on the way out) and time to linger and enjoy. I’d set aside about the same amount of time for a leisurely day on the river that includes the Hemmed-in-Hollow waterfall trail.
what to bring on your hike:
Bring plenty of water, and if you are hiking the longer/more strenuous trail hiking poles might help with balance and save your knees a bit of stress on mostly downhill trek on the way in AND DON’T FORGET TO BRING A COPY OF THE MAP.
When is the best time to do the Hemmed-in-Hollow hike?
The trail head is open year-round, although you certainly would not want to attempted this in snowy or icy weather. The National Parks Service points out that the water only flows after a considerable rain so they recommend being mindful of recent precipitation. You don’t want to expend that effort to arrive at the falls and find just a trickle of water coming down. The river can also be fickle. Your best bet is to try and be flexible with your dates.
Are there restrooms on the trail?
There are no restrooms either on the trail or at the trailhead.
Are you trying to decide between the longer trail or the river trail?
I would choose the river route. You get to spend the day on the beautiful buffalo and the trail from the river is much easier. Plus, you get the babbling brook runoff from the waterfall to the river along the way.
I found the trail leading from the river to the waterfall to be just as divine as the waterfall itself. You’ll wander through a lush forest while treated to the sounds of running water all along the way.
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