Wednesday, December 18, 2019

My Grand Hike to Grand Falls in Joplin

grand falls shoal creek joplin

Grand Falls on Shoal Creek near Joplin is the largest waterfall in Missouri. I consider this waterfall a hidden gem in the Ozarks. Grand Falls is 12-feet tall and over 160-feet wide. The Falls (as locals refer to the area) are two miles west of Redings Mill, Missouri on Riverside Drive. Most visitors park alongside the road. This is a very popular hiking, swimming, and fishing spot during the warmer months of the year. Therefore, parking in the area can get quite crowded - especially on weekends - so I prefer hiking to Grand Falls from Wildcat Glades. (Wildcat Glades is now owned and maintained by the Missouri Department of Conservation).

Grand Falls Dam on Shoal Creek


Before I tell you about my hiking trek to Grand Falls, I'd like to share a bit of interesting history with you. This area has been a popular recreation spot for Joplin residents and visitors since the city's founding in the 1870s. Just above the falls is a man-made dam. I have heard two conflicting stories about why this dam was built on Shoal Creek.

The first story that I heard about the dam is that it was built by Empire Electric to generate hydropower for the city of Joplin. This story is definitely plausible, because Empire Electric built small dams to generate hydropower on other area rivers. For example, the Noel Dam was built on Elk River forming Lake  St Claire in the 1920s. Also, Power Dam on the Spring River in Riverton, Kansas created the 400 acre Lake Lowell. Empire used both of these dams to generate electricity for Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas respectively before they switched to coal power plants.

Another story I heard is that the Grand Falls Dam was built to create a lake on Shoal Creek to supply the city of Joplin with water. I do know that Joplin does get (at least some of) its drinking water from Shoal Creek. However, I don't know if that was really why the dam was originally built.

My Hike to The Falls


redings mill bridge shoal creek


I began my hike to Grand Falls by hiking the Wildcat Glades trail that goes through the quaint village of Redings Mill. The first part of this trek takes you by lots of scenic bluffs and a few caves. One of the caves has a large opening with smoke soot on the rock above it. I imagine this was once a popular camping spot for Native Americans. I also love this trail because it takes you over the old Redings Mill bridges across Shoal Creek (The old bridge is only open to pedestrian traffic). This is a great spot to take in the beauty and roar of the rapids below. After you cross the bridge, the trail transports you into the peaceful serenity of the Ozarks as you hike alongside Shoal Creek. The trek is mostly flat and hugs the creek closely.

Shoal Creek


You will eventually come to a big hill to hike that takes you high in elevation above the valley below. You do need to be in good physical shape to take on this challenging section of the trail. There is even a warning sign at the bottom of the hill. The path is very steep and narrow, so you need to be careful. Just take it slow and steady. Once you get to the top of the hill, you have an excellent vantage point of the Ozark Mountains and the valley below. 

wildcat glades trail
(Photo taken from a winter hike).

From this point on it's (literally) all down hill from here. For me, the trek down doesn't seem as scary as going up. Once you at the bottom of the hill, the trail ends at a parking lot next to the low water bridge. From there, you will follow Riverside Drive about a mile to Grand Falls. Riverside Drive doesn't have that much traffic. However, drivers might not expect to see someone walking on the side of the road - so be careful. 

My favorite thing about hiking to Grand Falls isn't anything that I see on the hike there. Instead, it's the sound of hearing Shoal Creek roaring over the dam and the falls as you approach from a distance. You hear the sound of rushing water long before you come upon the falls because they are hidden by the trees. Just before you get to the falls is a short trail that will take you to the dam. (I didn't know about this trail on my hike; otherwise I'd have better photos of the dam lol).

 Beautiful Grand Falls on Shoal Creek


 grand falls joplin


In short, if you are looking for an awesome outdoor adventure in the Ozark Mountains just a few miles from Joplin, you should check out Grand Falls on Shoal Creek! Many lifelong residents of the Ozarks aren't aware that such a stunning, natural outdoor attraction is located so close to Joplin. I remember being stunned to learn that Grand Falls is the biggest waterfall in Missouri. The first time I saw the falls, I couldn't believe their size and beauty. I remember being a bit awe struck by the water cascading off the massive ledge before me. Below the falls you will find several creek pools that are perfect for swimming on a hot day. This is one of my favorite swimming holes in the Ozarks! Shoal Creek is surrounded by large chert rocks. Therefore, you do have to climb down a few short rock ledges to get to the water.









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