The East Fork Wilderness is about 11000 acres of Ozarky goodness located less than an hour NE of Russellville on the east side of AR 27. It’s been on my to-do list for a long while and a friend and I were able to spend a day there exploring a small part of it.The name comes from the East Fork of the Illinois Bayou – one of the big rivers of the area. It becomes a kayaker magnet after big rains, and I guess we had that as all the creeks & rivers were flowing fast and furious. The wilderness encompasses much of the headwaters area of the East Fork and features some steep and dramatic scenery.
The rain stopped about the time we were hitting the road in the morning but we did encounter some heavy fog in the higher elevations and there was so much of that condensing on and falling from the trees that it was almost like it was still raining.
There are no official trails but there are old roads used by loggers and former residents that can make the hiking a bit easier. We started at the Overcup access on AR 27 and hiked east, following one of the old roads along a briar-covered ridge for quite a ways before the road dropped steeply about 800′ to the river. Some maps show an old road running parallel to and sometimes crossing the river but there would be no crossing it today!
We bushwhacked upstream alternating between the water-saturated and briar-covered ground near the river and the drier but steep and rocky slope above it. Very slow going. Traversed a large boulder field, and finally arrived at the mouth of Bear Creek.
We intended to follow Bear Creek upstream looking for waterfalls and other nice scenery, and that would have taken us back very near the trail head, but fighting the briars along the creek got the best of us so we turned more steeply up the slope and got back to the old road we walked in on.
We probably hiked only about 7 miles but we were both pretty beat at the end of the day. My initial impression was that this might just be Arkansas’ biggest briar patch, but I saw such a small part of it that I’m not going to give up on it yet.
Did you see or know how to find the swamps in east fork wilderness?
I don’t know about swamps but I had read about 3 “upland ponds” and we apparently did pass one of them – it was on the north side of the trail and surrounded by a dense stand of greenbriar.
There are two that I know of. The first is the one that Michael referenced – it is marked on a USGS map from the 1930s as a swamp, although if you go some wet time like when Michael did, it is likely to be a pond. It is pretty near the trailhead, and is next to what’s left of an old homesite. Old stone walls in major disrepair are nearby. The other is off of the county road that borders the wilderness area on the north. Not far after turning onto this road from the highway, keep watch on the right. It is about the same size as the first. It is odd to see “swampiness” when you are obviously as far above sea level as you know you are here. It is also odd, and has been commented on before, that the Illinois is styled a “bayou,” when it is anything but – it is basically another (delightful!) Ozark mountain stream. These upland swamps have drawn the attention of at least one Arkansas artist, and a fine drawing of one of these within the EFWA hangs in the home of a friend of mine.
Why seek out a swamp?
I guess it’s an unusual ecosystem (or in an unusual place) so you would find flora/fauna there that you might not expect on top a ridge?