Guide to the Buffalo National River
The First National River
If you’ve never heard of the Buffalo National River, you’re about to be pleasantly surprised by this natural beauty. Offering numerous outdoor activities such as canoeing, hiking and camping and featuring hundreds of natural wonders, such as picturesque bluffs and waterfalls, the river winds its way through 153 miles of northern Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. If you’re looking to rent an RV the closest pick-up locations in Arkansas are Little Rock and Fayetteville. Nearby you can rent an RV in Branson, Missouri.
The Buffalo National River, managed by the National Park Service, became the first National River in the United States in 1972. It is one of the most popular attractions in Arkansas, bringing about one million visitors each year.
The Ozark Mountains are known for rolling hills, springs, waterfalls, lakes and other water sources. The Buffalo National River, which is part of the Ozark Mountains, is a little different than the typical geological structure of the region. The Buffalo River’s watershed is made up largely of sandstone and shale whereas the Ozark basin is usually limestone. That means the mountainside in which the River flows is deeply cut leaving tall, vertical rock structures called bluffs for a drastic and beautiful backdrop.
The Buffalo River has a rich and deep history in the region and has been the backbone of historic and prehistoric cultures for centuries. While the River has been around for centuries and provided a source of life for many, it was thrust into the national spotlight in the 60s and 70s over the fight to dam the river or leave it free-flowing.
For years the beauty and power of the Buffalo River were admired. In the 1960s the buzz really began when the Army Corps of Engineers identified two potential dam sites along the river, much to the disdain of some locals and conservation groups. Advocate groups and parties began to form to keep the river free-flowing and a natural resource of recreation and beauty. Eventually, their voices were heard in Washington and they won the fight as President Richard Nixon signed a law and created the first national river in the United States on March 1, 1972 – the Buffalo National River!
Floating the river
One of the best ways to experience the Buffalo National River is to get on it! Rent a canoe, kayak, or a river tube and float your way through the winding river and breathtaking rock formations. You can find several outfitters throughout the different river segments (upper, lower and middle) that will help launch you on the river and then pick you up at the end of the float and drive you back to your car. Wild Bill’s Outfitters, Buffalo River Outfitters, and Crockett’s Canoe Rental are just a few companies to check out.
The river has Class 1 and Class 2 sections which is perfect for inexperienced to intermediate canoers / kayakers or someone who just wants to take it slow and easy and enjoy the float. If you’re looking at floating down the river be sure to check the current water levels before you head out, or call the outfitter you’re renting from to educate yourself on the river’s currents and water conditions for your safety.
Camping at campgrounds
There is something peaceful and fulfilling about camping in nature. Maybe it’s the endless stars or away-from-it-all mindset but it can be a great experience to camp along one of nature’s natural beauties. There are several camping options in the Buffalo National River area including RV camping and primitive camping.
The Upper District
The upper end of the River has several campgrounds including Steel Creek Campground and Kyle Landing (tent only), Erbie campground which RV’s can enter but there are no hookups, running water or dump stations, and the Ozark campground which is RV friendly but doesn’t have hookups or running water.
The Middle District
The middle section of the river only has one developed campground known as Tyler Bend. RVs are allowed but there are no campsite hookups. However, water and a dump station are located nearby.
The Lower District
The lower section of the river has several campsites. Spring Creek campground is a tent site only. Buffalo Point campground is the only campground on the park that is truly RV friendly in that it has water and electric (30/50 amp) hookups. Buffalo Point also has areas for tent camping and primitive campsites.
Other RV Camping Options
While a few of the sites like Erbie in the upper district allow RVs, the only campground in the park that has a hookup for an RV is Buffalo Point in the lower district. Here you will find water hookups, electric (30/50 amp) hookups, and a dumpsite as well as flushing toilets. There’s also a restaurant that is available but only open during the summer months. There are other RV camping options located close to the park, such as Buffalo Outdoor Center and Gilbert RV Campground.
The park that encompasses the Buffalo National River has over 95,000 acres making it a great spot for hiking no matter your experience level or age!
Popular Hiking Trails
Lost Valley Trail | 2.2 miles round trip | A large bluff shelter, an underground cave, and beautiful rushing waterfalls are some of the cool things you’ll experience on this hike. The waterfalls are particularly beautiful! This path is easy with benches and resting points along the way.
Triple Falls Trail at Camp Orr | 0.5 miles round trip
A heavily trafficked out and back trail located near Jasper, Arkansas that features a beautiful waterfall and is good for all skill levels (i.e., easy). The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips and is accessible year-round.
Hideout Hollow Trail | 2 miles round trip | During your hike you’ll see some of the prettiest waterfalls in the Buffalo River area. You can even walk underneath the waterfall on a bluff just be careful of slippery rocks which can be dangerous.
Hemmed in Hollow Trail | 5.5 mile out and back | Located near Compton, Arkansas that features at 220-foot waterfall (the tallest between the Appalachians and Rockies) and is rated as difficult. The trail is primarily used for hiking and nature trips and is accessible year-round.
Whitaker Point Trail | 3 miles round trip | One of the most beautiful and scenic spots in the Buffalo River area is Whitaker Point Trail, also known as Hawksbill Crag. Whitaker Point is a popular photography spot, proposal spot, and all-around gorgeous spot to experience. Considered a moderate hike, this is definitely one you want to take your time on and enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings.
Indian Rockhouse Trail | 3.5 miles round trip | You’ll be able to see a sinkhole, waterfalls, and many geological features along the way. Pets are not allowed on this particular trail due to its moderate to strenuous category with several steep inclines and declines.
With at least 59 different species of fish swimming in the Buffalo National River, it makes this region a destination to go fishing! While there are a lot of different varieties of fish in the river, only 12 are considered game fish. Rainbow trout, brown trout, smallmouth bass are some of the common species you can catch while out on the river. You have to have a license for those over sixteen years old. For all the official rules and regulations about fishing on the Buffalo National River, visit the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing outdoorsy experience or want to hike, float, and get active in nature, the Buffalo National River area is a wonderful place to experience. In a world that is fast-paced and on the go, it’s refreshing to get outdoors and enjoy the natural beauty. We hope this inspires you to put Arkansas and the Buffalo National River on your next destination list.