June 22, 2016
I had an itchin’ for a waterfall so Pops and I made 2 attempts since last week to find some falls at Richland Creek. Our first trek last week we stopped about a quarter of a mile shy of finding Richland Falls. It was also over 100 degrees outside and we had a late start. About 2 hour late of a start to be exact. We picked this hike knowing it would be hot and we could swim a lot of the day away. As it was starting to become sultry around 1 pm we started our journey. Pops and I parked at the Richland Creek Wilderness campground (very primitive), followed the ditch down to Falling Water Creek, crossed it and headed straight uphill towards Richland Creek. After about a half a mile we came to a beautiful swimming hole. We only stopped where there was moving water because this place is known to be a bit snakey. To the west were 3 giant boulders that created a small fall and to the east is a very recognizable spot on Richland Creek where large biscuit rocks have fallen in the creek bed from the cliffside to the north. Right in the middle is a wonderful cool down spot.
After our dip we started heading west again upstream. Every half mile or so the trail would come to the creek again and again we would have to stop and get in to cool down. We did this for about 2 1/2 miles until the trail seemed to end right after a natural rock sidewalk. A bit confused, a lot overheated and totally exhausted we headed back, letting the waterfalls evade us yet again on Richland Creek.
We were determined on hike #2 (#3 since the winter) that WE WOULD find Richland Falls at the very least. We took off again and stopped at the same swimming holes to cool down, but this time after the natural rock sidewalk we found the trail jutting off to the south where Richland Creek meets Long Devil’s Fork. Almost immediately we came up to campgrounds and knew we weren’t lost anymore. Then the trail took a very sudden, extremely steep (like crawling on my hands and knees, using tree roots and trunks to pull me up) uphill course that seemed odd, but it was definitely the way to go. After about 1/8 mile or so the trail became very narrow and curved back to the east sharply. I do not know any other way to describe this other than it was an ant trail around a giant ant hill. We maybe had a 6″ ledge to walk on, all dry, slippery dirt, no roots to hold on to, nothing below to catch you. Did I mention we were about 50 feet above the creek? Maybe in my stupid 20s I would’ve said let’s go for it. But I’m older and wiser, plus I carry around at least 20 pounds of gear on my back and I’m not graceful. I immediately told Dad “NOPE!” and turned around. Our only option was to go back down to the creek and walk the bed towards Richland Falls. This ended up being a much cooler, less dramatic way to go. We came to a few spots where we had to wade across and at one point had to put our packs and gear on a rock ledge and swim around giant boulders only to climb up them and grab our stuff. But lemme tell you, when you reach the falls it makes it all worth it. The water was shallower than last week but that meant you could walk right up to fall and only be about waist deep. Very enjoyable!!
After reveling in the fall for an hour or so we quickly realized we were about 3 1/2 miles deep into the creek and needed to head back. We again took the low road to avoid the ant hill and made our way back downstream towards Falling Water Creek. After several stops along the way to cool down, take some cool photos and rest our achy joints we finally crossed Falling Water and made it back to the vehicle at 6:30 pm.
It has been noted online that this hike would take 7 hours and that is no joke. Ernst rates Richland Falls hike at a difficult bushwhack and he ain’t lying. I felt every step of that 7 mile up and down ditchhike in my hips and knees. Definitely block off an entire day to explore this area and I promise you will not be disappointed.