National Park Road Trip 2011: Lodging at Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River flows serenely through northern Arkansas. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: Having left their favorite campground at Devils Tower National Monument and the beautiful scenery at Badlands National Park, David and Kay Scott have reached Buffalo National River in Arkansas to work on updating their book, The Complete Guide to the National Park Lodges.

Greetings from Buffalo National River in northern Arkansas. The road trip is now in its 13th week and we have driven 9,400 miles through 20 states.

Gas prices have generally declined since our start in late April, but the heat index has gone up. The temperature here is near 100 degrees and the humidity can’t be far behind.

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The "rustic" cabins at Buffalo National River carry the charm of an earlier era. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

The Buffalo River is barely creeping as this area of the country is badly in need of rain. The southern part of Arkansas is in even worse shape in terms of rainfall. This is quite a change from the cool temperatures and flooded rivers we encountered in the West and Northwest during most of the trip.

Following our last report from Cedar Pass Lodge in Badlands National Park, we drove east to Austin, Minnesota, to visit for a couple of days with Kay’s aunt. Spam, the gourmet canned meat product made by Hormel, is Austin’s nutritional gift to the world. The town even has a Spam museum. Kay’s aunt is in an assisted-living home where we were able to bag a guest room for two nights. One day in the elevator a resident asked if we had recently moved into the facility.

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'Modern' cabins come as duplexes. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

From Austin we drove south through Iowa and Missouri to visit friends in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where, many years ago, we were graduate students at the University of Arkansas. From Fayetteville, it was a relatively short drive to Yellville, the small Arkansas town that serves as the gateway to this section of Buffalo National River.

The Buffalo River begins in the Boston Mountains and winds 150 miles through the Ozarks to the east before emptying into the White River. All but 15 miles of the Buffalo River is within the park. It is a beautiful river with clear water that flows between high bluffs surrounded by hardwood forests.

Along the way are numerous campgrounds and boat launch sites. Nearly 20 concessionaires rent canoes, kayaks, rafts, and johnboats. Most offer transportation to or from launching sites along the river. One major concessionaire we checked charges $40 per canoe per day and offers several drop-off locations. The price includes transportation from the take-out point to the launch point.

Buffalo National River has a single lodging facility at Buffalo Point that lies along the lower portion of the river. We have stayed here several times. The cabins currently look to be about half full, but it is still early in the afternoon.

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"Lodge" rooms at Buffalo National River. Photo by David and Kay Scott.

We have also camped in the park on several occasions and were planning to tent here at least one night, but it is simply too hot. There are a surprising number of campers considering the current heat wave. Most are in campsites that have electrical hookups.

Buffalo Point Concessions, concessionaire for the lodging, offers a total of 17 rooms in three categories; rustic cabins, modern cabins, and lodge rooms. Cabins rent for $85 while lodge rooms cost $80 per night. Each room has air conditioning plus a full kitchen that includes pots, pans, and utensils. The five rustic cabins are free standing while the modern cabins are constructed as duplex units. The four lodge rooms are all in a single building.

Other than two modern cabins and the lodge rooms, lodging at Buffalo Point offers no views of the river that flows far below this area of the park. A paved road leads down from the cabins to a boat launch and camping area that is beside the river.

The cabins are widely spaced and in a heavily treed area.

A dining room open from Memorial Day to Labor Day sits high on a bluff above the river and offers excellent views and some of the least expensive food that can be found in a national park. A trout dinner is $12.95, about the cost of an appetizer at The Ahwahee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

We are off to southeast Missouri and Big Spring Lodge in Ozark National Scenic Riverways. The facility at Big Spring is quite similar to the one here at Buffalo Point, even to the extent that the concessionaire at Big Spring is the sister of the concessionaire who operates Buffalo Point Concessions. It appears temperatures will remain high so it doesn’t appear that we will be camping anytime soon.