The Buffalo was designated America’s first national river in 1972. Starting in Boxley Bridge, Ark., the section under National Park Service management flows 135 miles through the craggy Ozarks, with nine camping areas. Access is easy and the shuttle simple. Go early to capture budding oak and hickory trees and wildflowers—typically in March; the upper Buffalo is often too low to paddle after June. This is rugged country, pocked with caves, crumbling sedimentary cliffs and abandoned homesteads. Expect only swift current, although some Class I and II rapids take shape in high water.
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