North Arkansas' Buffalo River, the
country's first national river, is roughly 150 miles long, and includes nearly 95,000
acres of public land along its corridor. It has been the topic of a full-length book, the
subject of a National Geographic feature article, and the cornerstone for the state's
Like the Mulberry River and Big Piney Creek, the Buffalo originates
in the rugged Boston Mountains division of the Ozarks near Fallsville in southwestern
Newton County. Unlike the other two streams which eventually head south to meet the
Arkansas River, the Buffalo goes east where, ultimately, it joins the White River. Along
the way it descends nearly 2,000 feet through layers of sandstone, limestone, and chert.
One immediately obvious result is bluffs and more bluffs - the highest in all the Ozarks.
Hidden away ready for discovery, are other geologic marvels - springs, caves, waterfalls,
natural bridges, and box-like canyons.
But the Buffalo is much more than an ongoing display of natural
curiosities. It is, in the words of the National Park Service, "an island of time and
space.'' It is a valley where turn-of-the-century lifestyles and landscapes still exist.
It is a place that refreshes the spirit.
The Buffalo River gets its start in national forest country, nearly
within rock-throwing distance of the highest point in the Ozarks. Some floating takes
place in the headwaters area (the "Hailstone'' trip from Dixon Road to Arkansas 21 is
almost legendary among serious paddlers), but, for most, this is a good place to put on
the hiking boots. A real treat is the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, a 14,200-acre tract
managed by the Ozark National Forest and the Buffalo National River. Visitors to the area
can expect to see caves, bluffs, waterfalls, old cabin sites, and maybe even a local black
The Buffalo's next section from the Highway 21 bridge south of
Boxley to the Ponca low-water bridge at the Highway 74 crossing-is another that doesn't
get a great deal of use; the water's usually too low. But when conditions are right, this
six mile stretch offers a fast-moving series of class II rapids, many of which are laced
Perhaps the most famous of all Buffalo River floats are those that
take place between Ponca and the Arkansas Highway 7 crossing (known until recent years as
the community of Pruitt. Something for everyone can be found in this 25-mile section:
class I and II rapids (complete with hazards like "Gray Rock''); the highest
waterfall in mid-America (at Hemmed-in-Hollow) the 11,300-acre Ponca Wilderness; towering
cliffs including the 500-foot tall Big Slurry and an excellent assortment of swimming
holes. In addition, there are several conveniently located access points/campgrounds -
Steel Creek, Kyles Landing. Erbie, and Ozark-between Ponca and Highway 7.
The Buffalo's next stretch-from Arkansas 7 to Highway 123 (or
Carver)-is about 10 miles in length. While it doesn't offer the spectacular scenery
available just upstream, this is a fine float, especially for families. It features class
I rapids, gravel bars, and numerous bluffs. Campsites and access are available at Carver
or two and a half miles upstream at Hasty.
Another major section of the river begins at Carver and concludes
about 32 miles downstream at the U.S. 65 bridge (in-between access and camping areas are
available at Mount Hershey and Woolum) . Many Buffalo veterans consider this to be among
the stream's finest stretches. While other sections feature higher bluffs and more
challenging rapids, this portion of the river is one of its quietest and most peaceful
trips. The scenery is good, too, including such things as ''The Narrows''a tall but narrow
rock outcrop separating the Buffalo and Richland Creek.
The 27 mile trip from US 65 to Buffalo Point (still referred to by
many as ''the old state park'') is a long, lazy float ideally suited for those interested
in casual canoeing. The scenery's good, and the rapids are interesting but easy. Other
access points within this part of the river include Gilbert, Maumee North, Maumee South,
and the Highway 14 crossing
The Buffalo's final stretch-from Buffalo Point to Buffalo City (on
the White River) is 30 miles in length, with only a single takeout point (Rush) in
between. The 7.5-mile float from Buffalo Point to Rush is short, safe, and scenic -
perfect for families. The remaining 23 mile trip passes through some of Arkansas's wildest
country, including better than 39,000 acres of wilderness (the Lower Buffalo Wilderness
and the adjacent Leatherwood Wilderness). This is the one for those wanting to get away
from it all.
The Buffalo is a river for all seasons. Canoeing is a year-round
possibility except in the upper reaches where it's limited to the winter and spring
months. Camping too is a yearlong pursuit, though visitors should remember the state's
lowest winter temperatures traditionally occur along this stream. The Buffalo's corridor
is also a great locale for hiking and backpacking, but expeditions should be scheduled
outside the tick/chigger season.
Visitors can get to the Buffalo River via U.S.Highway 65 and a whole
host of Arkansas highways 21, 74, 7, 123. 333, 14, and 268. In addition, a good many
county roads provide access to points between the highway crossings .
Spectacular is the best word to describe scenery along the river. For
150 miles, the Buffalo offers an unmatched mixture of clear water, lofty cliffs,
overhanging hardwoods, and inviting gravel bars. There's excellent scenery off the river
too. One place that shouldn't be missed is Lost Valley, a unique bluff-lined canyon
between Boxley and Ponca. The Richland Creek Valley is also a sight-seer's paradise,
especially in its upper reaches where an 11,800 acre wilderness area awaits the
To many anglers, the hordes of visitors attracted to the Buffalo
destroy the peaceful, aesthetic values that are the reason for going fishing in the first
place. But this spirited colt of a stream has a remarkable capacity for swallowing up
people in a maze of bluffs and canyons. And the Buffalo is a gem among Arkansas' float
Considered a model smallmouth bass stream, the Buffalo has fast,
clear, oxygen-rich water with the kind of gravel bottom and boulder beds smallmouths love.
Floating in a Jonboat or canoe is the accepted method of fishing, but during spring, try
beaching your craft at the head of a deep swift chute and drifting a lure near a boulder
in the fast water. Many fishermen make the mistake of working the holes where the bass
aren't and floating through the swift water where they are. The knowing locals often work
surface lures at night for the big ones, and they catch them regularly.
The Buffalo's cool, clean waters also provide perfect habitat for
channel catfish, green and long ear sunfish and spotted bass. Veterans frequently rely on
natural baits crayfish, minnows and worms-in their efforts to entice a keeper.
About two dozen concessionaires rent canoes along the Buffalo and offer
other related services. In addition, several rent Jonboats and can provide complete
Lodging choices will depend upon individual preferences but can
range from genuine log cabins to bed and breakfast facilities to modern motel rooms. And,
of course, designated campgrounds are located at frequent intervals on the river. Most all
supplies can be obtained at Harrison. Marshall, Jasper, Yellville or other nearby
The National Park Service maintains Information Stations at the Highway
7 Crossing (Pruitt) near the U.S 65 Crossing (Silver Hill), and at Buffalo Point. Maps and
river guides are available for purchase at these sites, from the Park Headquarters in
Harrison or from local outfitters. Additional information may be obtained by writing:
Superintendent, Buffalo National River; P0. Box 1173; Harrison. Arkansas 72602
Kenneth L Smith's Buffalo River Country provides a fascinating
introduction to the river and its surrounding landscape. The book may be ordered through
the Ozark Society: P, O. Box 3503; Little Rock. Arkansas 72203.