Harry McWater Falls on Lake Alma Trail

Access to the Harry McWater Falls is easy.  Take the 20-minute hike from the Lake Alma Trailhead and spend a few minutes taking in the soothing sounds and sights of this beautiful 12-foot waterfall.   The falls were named for a man who maintained and shared his vision for a hiking trail around Lake Alma.  That vision is now a reality which is benefiting many hikers throughout the region.


Harry McWater, the man with the vision for a trail around Lake Alma.

For a 4-mile workout, continue around the lake returning to your starting point. Plan on a wet crossing at Little Frog Bayou if the water is flowing as shown in this picture.

Driving directions are at the bottom of this page.

The 12-foot Harry McWater Falls at Lake Alma

The 12-foot Harry McWater Falls at Lake Alma

Small cascade below Harry McWater Falls

Small 3-foot cascade below Harry McWater Falls

Getting There

Take Alma Exit 13 off I-40, then drive north on Hwy 71 to the first light. Turn right onto Collum Lane East then left onto Mountain Grove Road.  Go north past the Alma water tanks on the left then a quick left into a picnic area.  The trail begins at the fishing dock.  Walk the paved Nature Trail north with the lake to your left.  The Lake Alma Trailhead is at the north end of the paved trail where it turns sharply back toward the picnic area.  If you hike the whole 3.8-mile trail, you’ll come back to the fishing dock from across the dam.   A shorter family-friendly hike is the forty-minute walk to the waterfall and back.  To get more information about Lake Alma Trail and volunteer opportunities, follow updates from the Lake Alma Trail Facebook page.

Logo for the trail, designed by UAFS student, Ashley Campbell

Logo for the trail, designed by UAFS student, Ashley Campbell

Trash on the Trail

Recently I encountered a dad, mom, and their three children, younger than 7 years old, hiking the Lake Alma Trail.  It was a warm afternoon and we were close to mile 2 on the 3.6-mile trail.   The dad asked how much farther it was around the loop.  Seeing no evidence that they were carrying water I offered an extra bottle I carry just for such occasions along with a banana I had in my pack.

I later saw them wearily crossing the dam and was relieved that they would make it back to their car.  As we passed I thought it strange that I didn’t see the water bottle but figured it was in the dad’s pocket. After they passed I wished I’d asked for it so I could use it again.

Most of my walks around the lake are early mornings with a flashlight but later during that same week I was hiking during the daylight hours while picking up trash.  Most of the trash had obviously been there for years.  No “new” trash was to be found along the trail, showing that our hikers are being considerate of this area.

Then I saw it.  The same water bottle I’d given that dad earlier in the week.  I was sure it was the same bottle because of the unusual shape and the location being just a little farther down the trail from where I’d met them the week before.  I wondered what my reaction might have been if I’d asked for the bottle and he’d told me he dropped it on the trail.  As it was I had the luxury of making a few comments to myself as I picked up the bottle.

This experience reminded me of “Leave No Trace” principles, one of which is that preparation is an essential part of protecting nature.  Hikers who are unprepared end up in bad situations (like having a thirsty family).  They make mistakes and demonstrate poor judgment.  Still, I wonder what the thought process is when a person takes a bottle of water given by a fellow hiker and then tosses it on the trail after using the much-needed water.

The Irresistible Pull of The Grand Canyon


I’ve done multi-day hikes in the Grand Canyon on five or six different occasions.  The first trip in June of 2002 was memorable for the heat.  We went from the north rim to the south camping at Cottonwood and Bright Angel.  I learned many lessons on that outing, especially related to packing light, dealing with heat, and estimating distances to cover each day.

A few years later I teamed up with some good guys and hiked The Canyon in December.  What a treat that was!  We hiked down the South Kaibab Trail on a cloud of fog which gradually gave way to crisp canyon walls as we walked along the Tonto trail and viewed the soft clouds against the South Rim.

The very next winter another trip to The Canyon and then another.  I realized this was looking like an addiction but in fact, it was more like a natural magnetic pull I felt toward those majestic walls and their infinite variety of light, texture, and air…THE AIR! It is like visiting a beautiful cathedral without ceilings, as spiritual as physical…as worshipful as it is beautiful.

There have been trips to Colorado and New Mexico along the way and I look forward to returning to those locations for more adventures but there’s nothing like the positive addiction I feel toward the Grand Canyon.  I’m looking forward to getting my “Canyon fix” again this winter with a great group of hiking buddies!

Here’s a link to our packing list.  Backpacking List Grand Canyon

Making Time for Marinoni


Making Time for Marinoni

story and images  JIM WARNOCK

Published in At Urban magazine of Fort Smith (This magazine is now named Do South)

There’s a treasure waiting for you in Franklin County, near the small town of Cass. One local backpacker recently said, “Hiking there is like walking through a beautiful cathedral!” Those who have experienced the Marinoni Scenic Area would completely understand this statement.

Imagine a place with twisting waterfalls, arching rock bluffs and towering trees. Walk along a gentle stream that flows over rocks into quiet, clear pools. The sounds of gurgling water, windblown trees, and a variety of songbirds will soothe your soul. Leave your cell phone in the car because there’s no coverage here; who wants to hear cold digital sounds in this acoustic setting?

The Marinoni is beautiful in every season. Fall colors glisten and shimmer,appearing as stained glass atop pools of water. Winter brings the possibility of stunning ice formations and frozen splash patterns around waterfalls. Spring brings dwarf crested irises peeking out from the most unlikely cracks and crevices. Their violet-to-purple hues sparkle against damp stone walls. During any season, you’ll find lush green moss-covered sandstone and lichen-speckled bluffs. Your greatest challenge on this hike might just be keeping your footing as you gaze up, entranced by the beauty.

Access to this jewel of a place used to be difficult and limited to strong, long-distance hiking legs. The Ozark Highlands Trail Association (OHTA) held a weeklong work camp in March of 2011 and built a .6 mile spur trail that connects to the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) just west of the Marinoni Scenic Area. You’re now able to hike a couple of miles and find yourself in one of the most beautiful places in Arkansas.

“Well worth a 3-hour drive,” says Dale Fudge, a hiker from Oklahoma City. Dale goes on to say, “The Marinoni Scenic Area is one of the most intimate and inspiring sections of the OHT. It’s secluded and packed full of dramatic landmarks. The area is now more accessible than before with the addition of the Dawna Robinson Spur Trail at Indian Creek, making for one of the best day hike opportunities in the entire region.”

It’s fitting that this area feels like a sanctuary and that it memorializes the lives of two special individuals. Paul A. Marinoni was from Fayetteville and was involved in volunteer efforts with Tim Ernst’s father. Tim, renowned outdoor photographer and author of the Ozark Highlands Trail Guide says, “My dad had his first heart attack when I was only six, so he was unable to take me to the woods like he would have wanted to. When I was seven, I began spending a lot of time with Paul Marinoni, hunting and camping during annual retreats into the woods. Paul was a real character, one of the most down-to-earth and honest people you would ever meet.” Given Tim’s sentiments, it seemed proper to name this area after a man who influenced others to appreciate the Ozarks.

The short trail allowing us to enter this natural area is named in memory of Dawna Robinson. Dawna and her husband, Bob, spent years maintaining sections of the OHT.  She was well known for her love of the trail and her desire to share it with others. “When the new Indian Creek Spur Trail was first proposed, Dawna’s spirited personality and dedication came to mind as a fitting tribute to memorialize how the entire trail came into existence through the hard work and perseverance of volunteers,” says Mike Lemaster, President of the OHTA.

In many ways the Marinoni Scenic Area reflects qualities of these two lives. Sitting at the edge of Briar Creek, you’d think these bluffs had always been as they appear today but this valley was shaped by centuries of water and ice. There’s an honesty and straightforwardness in its beauty. Giant rocks stand like monuments of strength where they folded down to the creek years ago. Although fragile, there’s a sense of permanence here and although subtle, the beauty is deep and unmistakable in any season.

If you’ve never visited the Marinoni Scenic Area, it’s an experience not to be missed. If you have hiked the area, you will want to return again and experience an even deeper appreciation of its beauty. So, lace up your walking shoes! Let’s go visit an Arkansas natural cathedral and pause there as it becomes our own special place of sanctuary and reflection.

Getting there:  From Hwy 23 just north of Cass, turn onto Hwy 215 east. Travel 7.4 miles to Indian Creek Canoe Launch and OHT Access. The trail is on the north side of Hwy 215 and begins at an opening in the fence directly across from the Indian Creek OHT Access sign. The spur trail is marked with 2×6-inch blue metal blazes. You’ll hike .6-miles to the OHT and then turn right, hiking another 2 miles to the Marinoni Scenic Area marker at the base of a bluff. Hiking out-and-back gives you approximately 5.2 miles. With a shuttle you can hike through to the Lick Branch Trailhead which will be a 5-mile hike and cover even more scenery.

For more information:

Ozark Highlands Trail Association  ozarkhighlandstrail.com

Ozark Highland Trail Association Facebook page

Ozark Highlands Trail Guide by Tim Ernst