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Buffalo National River in Arkansas

Trip Overview

My son, Michael, and I traveled to the Buffalo River in Arkansas on the 13th of June for a 4 day float. I had heard from numerous sources that the upper part of the river, above the Ozark campground, was used primarily in March May for cold water kayaking. So our plan was to float the middle to the bottom portion of the river.

We arrived at the Pruitt Landing Ranger Station on Friday the 13th. The Ranger suggested that the river was floatable from Ozark on down. On that day the gauge at St. Joe, about 40 miles down river, was reading 5.15 feet. According to the park service, ample water for floating is between 4.5 and 8.6 feet. We decided to camp at the Ozark campground and arrange for a livery the next day.

As you are probably aware, springtime weather in that part of the country is unpredictable and often violent. That evening we had a thunderstorm right over our camp. So right from the start all of our gear was dirty.

I checked with the Ranger on Saturday the 14th and she said the river was still in the floatable range at about 3.8 feet at the Pruitt landing bridge. The floatable range there is 2.1 to 3.9 feet. 4.0 to 5.0 is for experienced floaters only and above 5 is flood stage. Since this was about where we would be putting in, I felt real good.

I called one of the local livery services and the guy there started to warn me off floating the river. Not wanting to take any unnecessary risks, I checked with the Ranger again and she said the river was floatable. I decided to call some other livery services and get their opinions. Every one of them said the river was floatable and they couldnt get enough canoes in. We arranged to put in at Hasty and be taken out 40 miles downstream at Gilbert 4 days later.

Day one: we rode the crest of the previous nights rain and in less than 6 hours of floating we put over 11 miles behind us. The river was indeed up with class I to class II rapids every 1/2 mile or so. We were able to spot them well in advance and scouting them from the shore before running them was pretty easy. As my canoe is 16 footer designed more for cargo carrying the current carving, we found alternate routes around anything where boulders or trees necessitated quick turns.

We camped the first night about a half mile passed the Mt. Hersey landing on a sandbar up 3 feet or so above the waterline. That night passed uneventfully and in the morning the river was down about a foot.

On Sunday, the river was running about the same as it had on Saturday with frequent rapids. But now, with the river down, we were able to run almost every one of them. Again spotting and scouting them was not difficult. Based on the readings at the St. Joe gauge where the river crested early on Sunday at 6.9 feet, we had seen the river as high as we were going to on Saturday. Due to a late start and early end, we only did about 8 miles on Sunday and we camped just passed the Woolum landing.

Sunday night was spent listening to the weather on the radio as numerous storms strafed northern Arkansas and eastern Oklahoma. By Monday morning it was clear however that not a drop of rain hit the Buffalo rivers watershed as the river was down another foot.

We set off early on Monday with the intention of spending Monday night at the Tyler Bend campground. The river was slower and lower with nothing above a class I rapid, but again we made good time. We arrived at Tyler Bend at about 1:00 in the afternoon and since the campground was a good 1/2 mile from the river, decided to finish off the trip with the 5.4 mile float to our take out point at Gilbert.

We took out at Gilbert a few hours later, went back to Tyler Bend, showered and cleaned up. After that we took off for a day at Branson, Missouri.

All in all, it was a great trip on a wonderful river. As with any trip, weather and the river level will play a big role in what you can or cannot do. If it had been as dry as it can be, we may have ended up with slow trip down the bottom portion of the river, which could have been equally enjoyable just different. The bottom line is that the Buffalo is long and varied enough that a good trip can be made in all but the driest or wettest conditions.


Silver Hill for livery
Mad River Explorer 16


None, unless you camp at the improved campsites
  • Duration: Extended Trip
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip