Not far from Bell-Smith Springs in the Shawnee National Forest is the Jackson Falls Recreation Area. Like Bell-Smith, there is no fee to get into here, but contrary to what the title of this post may imply, it’s not a place you ‘just pass by’ either. You have to be trying to get there.
To do that you turn off of Ozark Road; crossing the top of the Google Earth capture here; onto Glen Street Falls Road. Except that it looks more like you’re turning into someone’s driveway, complete with a big house perched up on a hill guarding the gates, but no, really, this is the road! You can tell because the actual driveway, there in the lower right, is much nicer than the road.
Oh, and be forewarned, Glen Street Falls Road is more of a single narrow, rocky two-track winding down through the trees and the official word is that it is best suited to high-clearance vehicles. I’m sure they’re right about that after a rain, but on the dry day I was there I think pretty much any vehicle, driven carefully, could have made it in. (But only before you repair you car Steve because it will rip off low-hanging bumpers and air-dams!)
After what feels like driving right through the yard of that first farm, there are two more to pass by/drive through before the road takes a definite downhill twisting slide to a low-water crossing. The turn into the Jackson Falls trailhead parking is on the right just before the water. (If you are going past this point make sure you stick to the road and not the creek. The crossing is at a shallow angle and they both, road and creek, look pretty much the same right here, except that if you get onto the creek you're going to get high-centered on a16” drop-off coming up pretty quick!)
Distance from Ozark Road to the trailhead parking is about 2 miles.
The web-site points out that you can camp anywhere in the area for up to 14 days but the Forest Service also has a general rule about not camping within 300' of a trailhead so I'm not sure if camping in The Van in the small trailhead parking lot is technically allowed, but since I was only stopping for a couple hours it didn't matter.
As implied by the fact that it's a trailhead, there is a trail system here but if you want to get from the relatively short green trails (It’s maybe a quarter mile from the trailhead to the falls where the green trails ‘Y’ to the left and right.) to the longer black trails, there’s a 30’- 40’ sheer bluff in between!
The black trails can also be reached from about a mile and half farther on down Glen Street Falls Road but I have no idea what shape that part of the road is in and the FS website says it turns to dirt after the low-water crossing then deadends out there somewhere.
In the meantime, from the trailhead it’s quite a pleasant stroll alongside the creek
|This is looking right down over the edge of the falls.|
to Jackson Falls themselves. This is a seasonal falls and as you can see, it was out of season when I was there, which is probably why the road in was no problem.
This recreation area’s main claim to fame is rock climbing and there are a number of anchors located on the bluffs to either side of the creek below the falls for those who insist on throwing themselves backwards off of cliffs.
Me, well, all I have with me is a hundred feet of 550 para-cord, and while technically that should hold even my weight,
I leave it in the pack while carefully heeding the warning in the official site-brochure and spend a pleasant couple of hours just sedately poking around the area.
Other than two people that came up to the falls on the lower trail, (Which makes me think that maybe Glen Street Falls Road is passable down to trail 049 because I was the only vehicle at the trailhead, besides, they clearly were not rock-climbers that has scaled the bluffs.) I had the place to myself, but a ranger later told me that they had to close the place down on eclipse day because the traffic backed up all the way out to Ozark Road.
Though how you could do any eclipse viewing from down inside the forest here I have no idea.