Buffalo River

Overview

Posted by Phil Lilley on September 6th, 2011
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The Buffalo River is incredibly unique in that it is one of the few remaining rivers in our country with no dam, cutting through the Arkansas Ozarks Mountains and into the White River. Organizations like the Ozark Society were instrumental in saving the Buffalo River from dams; it was deemed the first National River Park in the United States. No other river in the Ozarks has such breathtaking bluffs, beautiful water and wilderness-like areas for terrific hiking and backpacking.  The whole area is just plain wonderful country.

Floating, fishing and camping on the Buffalo is a “stepping back in time” experience. Very few rivers offers such a combination of views, wildlife and fish as this spectacular river. Smallmouth bass, goggle-eye and green and longear sunfish are the targeted species, for the most part, with largemouth bass and catfish in the lower river.

Floats choices vary from fast, whitewater rides in the upper river to slow pools dotted with a few riffles in the lower river. Outfitters and liveries at varied spots of the river can service any trip, no matter how short or long of a float you have in mind.

Accesses, distances and services

0 – Boxley Bridge Access
6.1 – Ponca Bridge Access (toilet vault) Close to Ponca
8.7 – Steel Creek Access (camping, flush toilets, drinking water)
16.7 – Kyles Landing (camping, flush toilets, drinking water)
22.3 – Erbie (camping, toilet vault, drinking water, cell phone reception)
27.8 – Ozark (camping, flush toilets, drinking water)
29.9 – Pruitt Access (cell phone reception)
36.7 – Hasty Access (toilet vault)
40.9 – Carver (camping, flush toilets, drinking water)
47.7 – Mt Hersey (camping, toilet vault)
56.3 – Woolum (camping, toilet vault)
67.2 – Baker Ford (camping, toilet vault)
71.5 – Tyler Bend (camping, flush toilets, drinking water, showers)
73.0 – Grinders Ferry Access (camping, toilet vault)
76.9 – Gilbert Access (camping, toilet vault, drinking water)
88.4 – Maumee North (camping, toilet vault)
88.9 – Maumee South (camping, toilet vault)
93.7 – Spring Creek (camping, toilet vault)
98.3 – Hwy 14 Bridge Access (vault & flush toilets, drinking water)
99.8 – Buffalo Point (camping, flush toilets, drinking water, showers)
107.2 – Rush (camping, toilet vault, drinking water)
130.7 – White River

Download a .xls file with landmarks between these points with mile markers.

Other than the campsites mentioned, there are quite a few gravel bars that are nice to just pull up on and camp for the night.

There are two campsites on the upper river that are designated for visitors with horses. These areas, Steel Creek and Erbie, are accessible by vehicle and provide basic facilities such as fire grates and vault toilets. Both camps are located adjacent to horse trails.

Paddling:  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, Kyle’s 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.

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, scenic and safe 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 area for those wanting to get away from it all.

You’re always limited by water levels on the upper river, and by the middle of June, you probably won’t be able to float above Pruitt. By July, on average, you won’t be able to float above Gilbert.  At least, no outfitters will rent canoes on the upper river if they deem it too low.

Accesses on the upper river are pretty well-spaced. If you get really, really lucky and a perfectly-timed rain dumps some water in the upper end of the river without making it too high and muddy, Ponca to Erbie is the most beautiful piece of river in the Ozarks and can be good fishing. That stretch is about 16 miles and a good two-day trip. You can lengthen it by going on down to Pruitt, adding another eight miles, but that’s probably more than you want to do in two days. You can rent canoes for that stretch at Ponca. Pruitt to Carver is about 11.5 miles, a short two-day or long one day trip with nice water. Pruitt on down to Mt. Hershey is about 18 miles, a good two-day trip.

Between Mt. Hershey and Gilbert the accesses are a little less conveniently spaced for a two-day trip. Mt. Hershey to Woolum is 10.5 miles. Woolem to Baker Creek Ford is 11 miles. Woolem to Hwy. 65 is probably the best length in this stretch for two days at 16 or 17 miles. It’s four more miles from Hwy. 65 to Gilbert.

Gilbert to Maumee South is 12 miles. You could put in at Hwy. 65 and go to Maumee, 16 miles altogether. Maumee South to Buffalo Point is about 11 miles.

Water Levels- Helpful Links:

Buffalo National River Services and River Level Guide

Buffalo River Levels near Boxley, AR

Buffalo River Levels near St. Joe, AR

Buffalo River Levels near Harriet, AR

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