By Chase Berenson
Everyone knows that as summer temperatures climb, finding a body of water is the best solution to cool down. Rather than lazing on a beach, it’s possible to work up a sweat on a waterfall hike just a couple hours from Baton Rouge.
This flat city is only a couple hours away from the waterfalls (and elevation) of the Clark Creek Natural Area in Pond, Miss.
The Clark Creek Natural Area includes numerous waterfalls throughout the 700 protected acres, although there are four major waterfalls that are easily accessible from the four miles of main hiking trails.
Depending on the terrain, some falls have wooden staircases that have been built to allow hikers to access the water. Some of the falls have pools underneath where a hiker can cool off by soaking in the cascading water, while some allow hikers to sit precipitously dangling their feet over the edge in the falling stream.
To reach the last couple falls, the trail completely disappears as hikers are walking up the flowing stream. Prepare to wind up barefoot, or wear shoes that can get wet.
In addition to the main trail, there is a three-mile primitive trail loop. As opposed to the wide and well-maintained main trail, the primitive trail is a single track through the forest without any assisting elements like staircases or railings. The primitive trail is marked by white blazes, and reaches a couple more waterfalls off the main trail.
While no one would confuse hiking in Clark Creek with climbing a mountain, gaining 300 feet of elevation can be exciting for Baton Rougeans who are used to living life at sea level. Expect this hike to be a little more strenuous than local hikes, but the payoffs will be better from the top of the falls.
Clark Creek is a popular weekend escape, and on Saturdays and Sundays the parking area fills up with a fairly even mix of Louisiana and Mississippi license plates. On weekdays the trail is a little more deserted, allowing hikers to experience the solitude of the woods.
Even on a busy day, the majority of people stay on the first two waterfalls, which means that an intrepid adventurer will still get some alone time on the trail.
It’s a tradition to stop at the Pond Store after the hike. The store has been in operation since the 1850s, and features a small selection of snacks as well as celebratory beer and cold drinks. Don’t forget to sign the store’s guest register before partaking in your celebration at the picnic table on the deck.
Many people in Baton Rouge actually are aware of the Clark Creek area, but erroneously call it “Tunica Falls”. This makes it easy to confuse Clark Creek with the Tunica Hills Wildlife Management Area, which is actually in Louisiana.
As a matter of fact, the road to Clark Creek is so small it doesn’t feature a “Welcome to Mississippi” sign, meaning some people who have done the hike didn’t even realize they had left the state.
There are a few signs with maps along the main hiking trail, but they are in poor condition and shouldn’t be relied upon. The main trail is marked fairly well, but if you’re worried about getting lost, you can stop at the St. Francisville Visitors Center to pick up a paper map on your trip north. They’ll also give you a road map to make sure you don’t get lost before you even get there!