Although I’m usually garrulous among my paddling friends, my first view of Arkansas’ Buffalo River left me speechless. At sunrise, we topped the final bluff and peered into the valley far below. There, snaking through a solid stand of hardwoods and scattered conifers, was a silver strand of moving water. This was the Buffalo, a canoeist’s dream.
Beginning as a trickle, the Buffalo River tumbles and glides down the north face of the Boston Mountains, the most rugged section of the Ozark region, before it crosses the Springfield Plateau and empties into the White River, a journey of 150 miles. Its location in northwest Arkansas makes it both accessible and remote. The upper portion of the Wild and Scenic river is the most challenging for paddlers. From the tiny village of Ponca downstream 50 miles to Woolum Ford, the Buffalo is an intimate, feisty stream that loops back and forth between prairie meadows and precipitous bluffs. Names on the map like Close Call Curve, Crisis Curve, and Wreckin’ Rock give you a hint that this section is for those with some experience.
After Pruitt, where a National Park Service Information Station is located, the river alternates with calm, clear pools and periodic riffles, then eventually widens as the bluffs begin to dwindle. Between Carver and Woolum, the Buffalo is a near-wilderness experience.
The middle and lower sections offer a slower-paced trip, with calm pools, periodic riffles, near-wilderness stretches, and beautiful scenery. Unexplored caves and Indian encampments dating as far back as 12,000 years lend an air of mystery to the dells.
Contact the National Park Service at (870) 439-2502 or www.nps.gov/buff/concessioner.htm for a list of concessionaires that rent canoes and provide shuttle services.