Buffalo National River Offers a Variety of Outdoor Activities

Mar 22, 2016

Complete with waterfalls, bluffs, a free flowing stream, valleys, historical sites and more, the Buffalo National River is a destination for many.  KSMU's Michele Skalicky has more about the park.

The Buffalo National River brings in thousands of visitors to northern Arkansas each year for a variety of activities.  On the river itself, people kayak, canoe, raft and use johnboats, according to park superintendent Kevin Cheri.  And the land in the park’s boundaries is popular, too.

"There's over 100 miles of trails.  We have people who hike our trails, we have folks who do horseback riding," Cheri said.

Sound of Eden Falls

One of the more popular trails is Lost Valley, which features several waterfalls, including Eden Falls, and a cave visitors can explore.  Braxton Wood of Springfield was hiking the Lost Valley Trail on a recent warm late winter day in the Ozarks and decided to explore the Eden Falls Cave.

"You go in and it's like a very narrow passageway that you start to walk through but as you get going it gets a little bit smaller and there's a couple of drop-0ffs...but it was probably about a football field back because it took me about 20 minutes to get completely through and back out.   Once you got in there were a couple of bats I took a picture of  and then was like a waterfall through there that went way 20 feet up and then there was a huge waterfall that came down," he said.

Wood and his family were there to check out the area after seeing photographs and hearing about it from a photographer friend.

Nick Noll of Springfield came to the park this day for adventure and to see the waterfalls and caves on the Lost Valley Trail.  He said the area reminds him of two places he loves:  Colorado and Wyoming.

"Where you can come and enjoy actual wilderness away from cities and people," he said.

He also enjoys rock climbing and plans to try floating the Buffalo soon.

A favorite trail of backpackers, said Caven Clark, chief of interpretation and resource management, is the Buffalo River Trail, a linear trail that’s not yet complete.

"It's got some absolutely beautiful sections especially when the leaves are not fully out, you know, redbud time, dogwood time you still have the vistas or in the fall or in the winter it's exceptional," he said.

And one of the more photographed places in the park is Hawksbill Crag at Whitaker Point where a rock juts out from the bluff face and give you dizzying views of the valley below.

The park also is home to Hemmed-in-Hollow Falls, which can be reached by foot or from the river.  It’s the highest waterfall west of the Mississippi.

Fishing is popular along the Buffalo, too.  Cheri said you can fish from the Buffalo River’s shores or fly fish.  Fish that call the river home include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, brim, Ozark black bass, gar and rainbow trout.

And there’s wildlife viewing.  People come to see the elk that call the Buffalo National River home.  This week, however, officials urge anyone using the park from five miles west of Ponca to five miles east of Pruitt to wear high-visibility clothing.  Park employees and the Arkansas Fish & Wildlife Service are sampling deer and elk to check for Chronic Wasting Disease after infected animals were found within the Buffalo National River.

Eagles can be seen along the Buffalo as well as a variety of other birds.  People come for photography, biking, and camping, including tent, RV and backpacking.

"We have three wilderness areas--up to 30,000 acres within that 95,000 plus acres, it was set aside as wilderness.  There's a section on the upper part of the river near Pruitt is a second wilderness area and then on the lower end of the river probably the largest section of wilderness exists," he said.

The Buffalo National River encompasses a little over 95,000 acres.  According to Cheri, the river in the park is 135 miles—part of a 150 mile river corridor of which 15 miles were already protected by the National Forest Service.

Around 14 concessioners up and down the river provide canoe, raft and kayak services for visitors. Some also serve as fishing guides.

"We have a certain number that cater just to the upper river, and we have a group that caters to the middle and a group that caters to the lower section--that way we make sure that there are services provided for visitors for all three sections," he said.

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year, the Buffalo National River is planning what it will do to observe the anniversary.

Cheri said they’ll have a folk festival this summer at Tyler Bend that will feature local entertainment and activities.  They’ll also host a biathlon with canoeing and running, and they’re inviting everyone to take part in a Ranger Challenge:  people are asked to put in 100 miles of hiking, canoeing and biking.

"To just kind of get people out--encourage them to get out into their public lands," he said.

Miles on any public land in Arkansas will count toward the goal, he said.

According to Caven Clark, they’re partnering with the Hometown Health Initiative to promote health and wellness in the state’s parks.  They plan to host guided hikes and other interpretive education programs as well as river cleanups.  They’re bringing school groups in for programs through the Ticket to Ride Grant program.  An Active Trails Grant from the National Parks Foundation will fund efforts to encourage people to use national parks for health and wellness activities, and they’re holding a Special Olympics event as part of an effort to bring people to the park that may have never been there.

Clark said they also plan to hold citizen science opportunities called bio blitzes.

"You know, anything from kids counting yellow butterflies up to university students doing some pretty serious work on stream invertebrates or something like that," he said.

He praised the work of the Buffalo National River Partners, a friends group that provides volunteers and funding for events and projects.

You can keep up with what’s happening at the Buffalo National River this year here. And as part of its centennial year, the National Parks Service has collaborated with StoryCorp to share interviews and oral histories about parks in the Midwest. Hear from Buffalo National River friends and past co-workers Charles “Charlie" Rogers and Dale MacMillan here.