Traveler's Checklist: Buffalo National River
The Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas features over 100 miles of free-flowing river, massive sandstone and limestone bluffs, and excellent opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities in a scenic setting. Here are some suggestions to help you plan a visit.
Download a map and a copy of the park's Currents newspaper. This is a long, linear park, and only a few roads parallel or cross the river, so good information will make it a lot easier to find your way around.
Know which way is "up." The Buffalo River flows from west to east, beginning in the Boston Mountains and flowing for 135 miles through the Ozarks to the White River. Key areas are commonly described as the "Upper River" (western, or upstream end) "Middle River," and "Lower River," (eastern, or downstream end). Understanding those terms will help you plan your trip.
Float the river. There are 22 river access points along nearly 100 miles of navigable waters, but confirm water levels before your trip. This is a natural river, and water levels vary considerably with seasons and rainfall. In general, spring and early summer offer the best floating conditions. The Buffalo is narrow and fast near its headwaters, and gets wider and lazier the farther downstream it flows. Experienced boaters generally prefer the Upper River in spring; the Middle and Lower River are better choices for beginners. The park's FAQ page include some good tips.
Rent a canoe or bring your own. The park website includes a list of local companies which can provide a canoe or johnboat, along with shuttle services to and from river access points.
Take a hike or horseback trip. The park has over 100 miles of maintained trails. Some trails will accommodate both hiker and horse use; others are limited to foot traffic. The Currents newspaper includes suggestions for several short hikes, including the Lost Valley Trail (Upper River), River Overlook Trail (Middle River) and Morning Star Mine Trail (Lower River). At approximately 204 feet, Hemmed-In-Hollow Falls (Upper River) is one of the tallest wet-weather waterfalls in the Midwest, but the hike in and out is a challenging one.
Spend the night. There are 12 designated campgrounds in the park, plus several separate campsites for organized groups; some sites can or must be reserved in advance. There are also abundant opportunities for backcountry camping. The Buffalo Point campground, on the Lower River, is especially attractive and very popular. It is also the most highly developed; the showers and hookups are a legacy from that area's previous history as a state park.
Buffalo Point also offers the only in-park lodging, with both historic "rustic" cabins, dating from the CCC era, and more modern units. A wide range of other lodging options, including cabins, B&Bs and standard motels are available in the surrounding area.
Experience solitude. There are three designated wilderness areas within the park's 94,000+ acres. The Lower Buffalo Wilderness is the largest and most remote section of the park.
Learn about pioneer history. Several pioneer homesteads have been preserved in the park, and the Rush Historic District, in the Lower River, offers traces of a former mining rush in the late 1800s.
Enjoy the scenery. Although there are few roads in the park itself, the surrounding area offers some fine scenery, and this section of the Ozarks is especially appealing in the spring and fall.