This is a guest post from Joe Amato. An avid traveler and outdoorsman, Joe lives to explore and discover the beauty of the world in all its forms.
“Did you know there are mountains and waterfalls only two hours from here?” my friend Kyle asked.
“Bullcrap,” I scoffed, seeing as how we live in New Orleans.
“Tunica Falls,” he said
I immediately Googled it. After five minutes of research, I knew I had to go.
A few days later I was in route to the waterfalls. The drive took me through Baton Rogue, which was a stress test. All around was the choke of hurry and merchandising, and red lights and strip malls extended far into the horizon. The urban sprawl continued on for miles, eventually fading away in the quaint Mississippi River town of St. Francisville, home to scenic bluffs, plantations and massive live oaks. There, I bumped down a beautiful country road replete with old wooden fences, sprawling fields and overhanging trees that felt like arches ushering me into a new portal. I had arrived.
Visiting Clark Creek Natural Area
Approximately 700 acres in size, Clark Creek Natural Area is home to over 50 total waterfalls and a number of primitive and improved trails. I stocked up on snacks and supplies at a general store outside of the park and then headed in. As I began to hike, I was quickly surprised by the steepness of the terrain. Though they may not have been mountains, the 300-foot bluffs looked quite imposing from sea level.
The surrounding forest was lush and diverse, with rolling hills unfurling in every direction and the sounds of small animals rustling. I trekked to the first waterfall, which was a real Deep South doozy. There was a stair built into the terrain, enabling me to descend into a pool where I could feel the full force of the 25-foot waterfall cascade down upon me.
I left and followed the river through a full-blown canyon, from which I eventually bouldered down to an even larger fall with a deep pool that was perfect for swimming. After splashing about for a bit, I decided to take a solo jaunt on the 4.6-mile primitive trail.
Exploring the Primitive Trail
I spent this rest of the day on this route, which I had all to myself as I marched, sprinted, spun, and slid my way through the spectacular playground. The trail meandered up and down the slopes, passing several more waterfalls and then merged with a creek. I danced down the creek bed with music in my head and pure joy in my heart. The dense foliage canopy and occasional fresh animal tracks in the sand made the hike a real sensory experience.
I noticed on the map that there was a waterfall off the trail at the Southwestern extremity of the park, so I began to head toward it. The trail split north and I continued west along the creek into unmarked territory. Even that simple distinction was enough to get my blood flowing a little faster. After a while I came to a sign that read, “Private Property – No Trespassing,” so I assumed I had reached the western border and headed directly over a looming 300-foot steep slope. The scramble up was exhausting, but exhilarating, and as I crested the peak I knew I was having an authentic wilderness experience.
After following the ridge for about 15 minutes with no sign of the waterfall, I decided to give up the hunt. I turned back, but to my dismay the path wasn’t as clear as I had imagined it would be. The ridges moved away in all directions and suddenly I realized I didn’t know which way to go. My pulse quickened as my eyes darted back and forth. Choosing a path, I set off, and before long nothing looked familiar and I started to get nervous. I retraced my steps and tried a different direction. This time I recognized a fallen tree, and once I crested a hill I spotted the riverbed. I ran and slid down to the bottom and was back on the trail.
Dancing In the Falls
From there, the trail weaved through an impressive array of flora, including the world record Mexican Plum and several uncommon tree types, such as: Sugar Maple, Serviceberry, Umbrella tree, Pyramid Magnolia, Chinquapin oak and Witch-hazel. At one point, it split into two directions.
One trail brought me to a boulder-filled creek flanked by high walls. It was truly primordial: the cool air, gurgling creek, and sweet symphony of nearby birds created a feeling of freedom, wonder and awe.
The other led me to foliage filled gorge reminiscent of a Paleozoic era scene that eventually dead-ended at a waterfall. There, I danced naked under its thunderous cascade, a perfect ending to my trip to Tunica Falls.
Do you have a cool camping story you’d like to share? Send it to Dan@camping-gear-outlet. If I like it, I’ll publish it on the blog and even send you some free gear.