Buffalo National River, Arkansas
It’s a good three-hour drive from Springfield, but the Buffalo National River in north-central Arkansas is well worth exploring.
Running more than 140 miles, the river is fed by runoff and is thus sensitive to rainfall. In recent weeks the area has received a lot of rain, and the river swelled to dangerous levels a week ago, but has now dropped back down to navigable condition.
The most popular day trip on the upper Buffalo is from the low-water bridge at Ponca to Kyle’s Landing, a distance of about 10 miles. Last week, water was 7 feet over the bridge, but it quickly receded.
The views from canoe or kayak can be astounding, with 500-foot tall Roark Bluff looming above the river. And that’s not all.
“The scenery is second to none, and there’s so much to do along the river,” said Mitchell Wayman, manager of Buffalo River Canoes based at Kyle’s Landing. “You can pull off and hike a quarter mile to Hemmed in Hollow, which is a 205-foot waterfall. We’ve had people come from around the world to float down and do that hike.”
Wayman said Memorial Day weekend is typically the busiest time on the Buffalo, with thousands of paddlers exploring various segments of the river. With rain in the Memorial Day forecast, Wayman encouraged paddlers to come prepared with a poncho or other lightweight rain gear.
“Just plan for short stints of rain — it’s not like it will be raining all day,” he said. “And the water is warm enough to go swimming. A lot of people were swimming last weekend.”
The middle Buffalo is a bit tamer, with easy class 1 water. Haley Jackson, at Buffalo River Outfitters near St. Joe, Arkansas, said the a good one-day trip would be from Baker’s Ford to Gilbert Access, a distance of about 10 miles.
“The river’s looking great,” she said. “The water came up, but it didn’t last long and it’s starting to clear up. Over the next two or three days its color should be back to normal.”