I had multiple people recommend Smith Creek Preserve to me before I went there. But it wasn’t until I found myself at the upper portion of the Buffalo National River wanting to hike with my dog that I finally went to explore the area. Dogs are not allowed on the trails in the national park, so exploring Smith Creek Preserve is an excellent option if you happen to have your dog with you.
Smith Creek Preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It preserves 1,316 acres of the forests in the Ozark Mountains and the pristine beauty of Smith Creek, a tributary of the Buffalo River.
Smith Creek is a beautiful and unique place. It cuts deep into the Ozark Mountains. The creek winds its way through massive boulders, which creates magnificent waterfalls and deep pools. The area reminds me of a scene from a fairytale or The Hobbit. I wondered if the large boulders at one time were trolls. (This is for my fellow Lord of the Rings nerds.)
But perhaps my favorite discovery while exploring Smith Creek Preserve was a large spring that creates a tributary to Smith Creek all on its own. The creek simply flows out of the mountainside.
Why The Nature Conservancy chose to preserve Smith Creek
The Nature Conservancy chose the area of Smith Creek to help protect the largest colony of Indiana bats in the State of Arkansas. The protected area lies above Sherfield Cave, where the endangered bats hibernate each winter. The bats also forage and roost in the forest surrounding the cave.
The preserve along with an easement that The Nature Conservancy purchased, protects the main entrance of the cave. This aids in limiting disruption to bats while they hibernate. Disruptions during hibernation can increase mortality rates in the bats.
Protecting the area around the cave ensures the water flowing into the cave, as well as the Buffalo River, remains clean.
In addition to being home to the Indiana bats, Smith Creek Preserve is also home to gray bats, turkeys, black bears, and elk.
Because The Nature Conservancy acquired the preserve, it now cannot be developed. Development would negatively impact the Indiana bats and other wildlife that call it home. Also had the preserve been developed, it would have impacted the water quality along the Buffalo National River.
Finding the Preserve
From the Boxley Trailhead Buffalo River Trail on the Buffalo River Trail, the entrance to Smith Creek Preserve is just south of and across Highway 21. If you are heading south from Ponca, the turn to the parking area is on your left as you begin to climb the hill. A little further south on the highway, you can look over the area from a road-side lookout.
Hiking and biking at Smith Creek Preserve
There are about 6.5 miles that are open to hiking and biking at Smith Creek Preserve. There are about three trails total that can be combined into a distance from 0.75 miles to hiking all of them.
The informational kiosk at the entrance to the preserve displays a map. When I visited, there were spots for maps and pamphlets, but they were empty. So I snapped a photo of the map with my phone. And unfortunately, I could not find a map online.
I hiked from the main gate to the springs, which is about 5 miles out and back, combining the Main Trail with the Harvey Williams Nature Trail. These trails are mostly along an old road and easy hiking.
One thing to note is the Upper Trail and Lower Trail split from the Main Trail after about a mile of hiking. But I found it hard to spot the sign and the trail.
I wanted to do a loop with either the Upper or Lower Trail to Elise Falls. But because I couldn’t find the trail I chose to the hike the Harvey Williams Nature Trail to the Springs. And I’m glad I did it the way I did because the Harvey Williams Nature Trail and Springs are breathtaking. To read about Elise Falls, check out this blog post on Arklahoma Hiker.
A wonderful jewel
Smith Creek Preserve is a wonderful benefit that we have in the Natural State. The preserve is adjacent to the Buffalo National River. It’s a great place to explore the Buffalo River area if you happen to have your furry friend with you.
The area reminded me of the Richland Creek Wilderness Area. It’s beautiful, and I’m so glad The Nature Conservancy is preserving this area.