Hiking and Kayaking in the Buffalo National River Area

So, the next installment in the #throwbackthursdaytravels is looking back at another brief trip that we took to Arkansas, but this time to the Buffalo National River Area.

The Buffalo River was the first river to be designated as a National River in 1972. It is also one of the few rivers within the continental US that doesn’t have a dam built somewhere on it. The head of the river is within the Ozark Mountains and it winds its way through the state until it joins with the White River outside of Buffalo City, Arkansas.

Looking at the river and cliffs

Since there is approximately 135 miles of river under the oversight of the national parks service–there are plenty of places for camping throughout the area (though, please consult the National Parks Page for the Buffalo River, to find specific sites). There are also plenty of small towns that have built cabins for rent also in the area as well (this is how we stayed–we rented two different cabins). Therefore, it is difficult to give good directions to the area, but I will mention how we got to Ponca (which is one of the towns on the river and a good ‘entry’ point if you’re wanting to kayak or canoe on the river).

We entered Arkansas via highway 412 (which goes directly through Tulsa and enters Arkansas in Springdale), and we continued on 412 until we got to the turnoff for state highway 21, continuing along that highway until we reach the point where we turned onto state highway 43, following that into Ponca.

For our short trip, we ended up renting two different cabins. Due to the extreme popularity of the area, it may be difficult to get a single cabin for the entire length of your stay (depending on how far in advance you try to plan). We ended up at two different cabins for two days each in the area.

The first cabin we stayed in for two days

Another note about Ponca–it is within a dry county, so if you (or someone you’re traveling with) wants to indulge in alcoholic beverages–you need to bring them with you, and also realize that you could be a good forty plus minutes away from the nearest store that sells anything alcoholic, as I forget how many of the surrounding counties are also ‘dry counties’.

The woods around the first cabin

This was a short trip that was spent hiking (spray all clothes with bug repellent–seed ticks, at least that year were awful, one bright side was I hadn’t developed my allergic reaction to them yet), and paddling down about ten miles of the river.

Looking down at the Buffalo River
wildflower seen on hike along the Buffalo River

We spent most of the first two days hiking along the trails along the river, going down to the river, and back up to the trails. The third day was our big kayaking down the river day. Now–if you’re going to kayak down the Buffalo River (or really any river), please use a good kayak. Instead of taking our large two-seater kayak, we decided on taking our individual inflatable kayaks.

Little creek in the woods

There were even some little creeks in the woods that would feed down into the river–either by flowing straight into the river or as a waterfall.

Rapids within the river

These kayaks worked–but the rudders were broken off partway through the trip (which made trying to steer for the rest of the trip difficult), not to mention if you flip and end up out of the kayak–it’s difficult to get back in (I actually flipped mine shortly after we started over the first set of rapids I didn’t steer away from quickly enough).

Using Google Maps to highlight the distance that we kayaked

The Buffalo River has rapids on it (believe it or not)–class one and two rapids. Up until our trip, I always thought that they were ‘baby rapids’ and nothing to really worry about–my bad, I learned my lesson. It was a learning experience throughout that ten-mile paddle. I enjoyed every minute of the trip, and while I think it would be fun to do it again–I’d make sure that I was in a kayak that would be able to handle all issues of an actual river.

Another set of rapids on the river

Since I was focused on flipping my kayak again (therefore trying to avoid the class two rapids as much as possible), and not ending up either on the shore or against the other bank–I didn’t take that many pictures as we headed down the river.

One of the few pictures I took on the river
Looking up at the cliffs surrounding the river

In addition to renting kayaks, you can also rent canoes (and I think even possibly large inner tubes for floating) to take down the river. The river is very popular for all three–so depending on when you go, there could be ‘traffic jams’ on the river. Also be careful of those who jump out of the canoes, kayaks, or off their inner tubes (most are looking for places to use the bathroom).

I spent a little time after the kayaking trip, exploring a bit of the area around the cabin (just to make sure that I had my land legs back). The only wildlife that I really saw was a rabbit, a couple of birds, and some insects. I’m sure that if I went into the woods a little, I might have spotted some other wildlife.

The cottontail rabbit that was living near the cabin

So while it was a short and quick trip–it was an enjoyable trip. I got to explore the outdoors (next time I’ll be remembering to spray my clothes with repellent to avoid the seed ticks), check something off my bucket list (paddle over class I & II rapids), and spot a ‘new’ (to me) bird–the black vulture.

Black vulture sitting above the river

Being able to get out on the water is something that I don’t do enough of (while I live close to a ‘lake’–it isn’t what I would consider a ‘clean’ lake, and the other area lakes are mud bottom lakes–yuck), but hopefully it is something I can work on changing over the next decade or so.

There were also several different hiking trails that I would have liked to done–so another reason to go back at some point.

Have you been to the Buffalo River?