We’ll All Float On: The Buffalo River and Other Adventures Posted by: Aaron Stearns | 0 Comments
What are you doing inside? It’s spring in Arkansas, which means it’s probably raining. But don’t mope. Get your gear because rain means the rivers of the Natural State are ready to ride. Trey Moore, the wilderness expert side of Golden Circle Guides, unpacks some insider tips for floating the Buffalo River and making the most of the great outdoors this spring and summer. He offers three suggestions for family friendly activities, and then two more for the more adventurous Arkansan.
1. Hemmed-In Hollow: The Must-See
It’s the tallest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians, as the National Park Service reports it to be 209 feet in height. Awe-inspiring, Hemmed-In Hollow is one of the most dazzling displays of courtship among water droplets and light to create misty multi-color rainbows.
How to get there: There are two trails along Arkansas Highway 43: The Centerpoint Trail and the Compton Trail, as well as a trail up from the campground at Kyle’s Landing. But the best way to access the stunning stream cascading over 200-foot-tall limestone bluffs is via the Buffalo River itself.
When to go: Heavy rains during late winter and early spring bring the best flows to the waterfall. However early autumn can be a great time for photographing nature’s colors as the leaves change with the waterfall as your backdrop.
Local Knowledge: Contact the folks at Lost Valley Canoe Rental in Ponca for boat, gear rentals and shuttles plus all the information you’ll need about hiking or boating to the falls.
2. Lost Valley Hiking Trail: Kid-sized adventure
One of the most accessible and beautiful trails in the the entire state. This one is a real treat. A short hike along an incredible Ozark creekbed leads to an unbelievable payoff. Hikers are rewarded with a blue-green swimming hole flanked by limestone cliff walls and backed by a small waterfall as the creek carves its path through Cobb Cave. But don’t stop there, continue up the hillside to Eden Falls flowing from the mouth of Eden Cave.
Essential gear: Did you bring your headlamp or flashlight? You’ll be glad you did when you enter Eden Cave. Follow the narrow cavern almost 100 feet to find another stunning 30-foot waterfall at the back of the cave.
Places to stay: Campgrounds and cabins abound in the Jasper/Ponca area. Check out Steele Creek and Kyle’s Landing on the Buffalo for riverside camping. Or stay at a quaint hotel or mountain cabin near the town of Jasper.
Local Knowledge: Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, The Ozark Cafe has been serving locals, hungry hikers, travelers and adventurers since they opened their doors in 1909. Swing by this Arkansas landmark for a hot meal and cold milkshake after a long day of hiking and swimming.
3. The Boxley Valley Elk Herd: Wildlife Photographer’s Dream
In Boxley Valley on the upper reaches of the Buffalo National River is one of the most successful wildlife restoration and conservation stories in the world. When pioneers first arrived in Arkansas, they found a landscape teeming with wildlife. Buffalo, deer, turkey, wild boar, fish, bear and elk were all abundant resources which turned these pioneers into settlers. As time passed some of these great resources were hunted into local extinction. That is until 1981 when elk were reintroduced to Boxley Valley. Under the protection of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission these elk have flourished and have even been used to repopulate herds in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Best time for elk viewing: Early and late in the day are the best times for viewing elk. Late spring to early summer you can expect to see young calves grazing among the herds. Late fall is the time of rut, when the male elks engage in epic bull fights with one another to win the favor of the fair maiden elks.
Essential gear: Bring a sturdy tripod to get the best, most stable shots as well as a telephoto lens. Remember, even though the elk seem friendly they are still wild animals and can charge when they feel threatened.
Local Knowledge: To learn more about the history of elk in Arkansas check out the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s Ponca Elk Education Center.
High Adventure Trips for the Adrenaline Junkie
1. Whitewater runs of the Upper Buffalo
The Buffalo River’s headwaters form in the Boston Mountains of the Ozark National Forest and offer some of the best whitewater runs in the country. The sections of river from Boxley to Ponca and Ponca to Kyle feature swift water bending around rocky limestone bluffs and over pebbled shoals. Camping opportunities are countless on the Buffy’s banks. You need to have fine boat control to handle these stretches of river, especially if you are paddling an open canoe filled with camping gear. The crystal gem of whitewater runs in this area is known locally as the Hailstone. The main tributary to the Buffalo was so named on its first descent due to the astonishing amount of hail encountered by that crew of intrepid explorers. The Hailstone is a commitment, 14 miles of mostly class III rapids through the most beautiful river gorge in the state. Get an early start to this run, it’ll take you all day. And it’s worth it, you’ll glide underneath one of Arkansas’ most recognizable sights, Hawksbill Crag on your way down this wilderness area. Be sure to pack a lunch and bring your camera.
When to go: If you have the gear and the skills you should be ready at a moment’s notice. All of these runs are rain dependent and don’t stay at optimal flows for very long, typically just a day or two. The Hailstone is the toughest to catch by far, with a tight watershed you must get the right rain in the right spots at the right time for it to be a go. Best chances are late winter into early spring.
Essential Skills: You should be a confident whitewater boater before you attempt the runs in the upper Buffalo region and surrounding areas. The Arkansas Canoe Club offers two instruction clinics a year for those looking to get into the sport. Recreational school is held every June on the Spring River and every May the ACC hosts The School of Whitewater Paddling on the mighty Mulberry.
Local Knowledge: Talk to the guys at Buffalo Outdoor Center. This is their backyard and they get out on these creeks whenever they run. Plus, they might even be able to help you out with a shuttle.
2.World Class Rock Climbing at Horseshoe Canyon Ranch
One of the top guest ranches in the country is also home to some of the best sandstone climbing in the world. Horseshoe Canyon Ranch is known for its friendly atmosphere, horseback treks, goat maintained disc golf course, cabins and camping. But it is their flair for adventure that has truly put HCR on the map. The cliffs that surround the ranch have been studded with protective bolts making it one of the sport’s premiere climbing destinations. Go on your own or get a guide from the ranch. But don’t just hang out on the walls, check out the newly installed Iron Horse, a zipline 2,300 feet across the canyon. This thrill reaches speeds over 50 mph while zooming 277 feet above the valley floor.
Compete with the best: Every year HCR hosts The Pebble Wrestle Bouldering competition and rendezvous. But the real draw has to be 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell. This marathon style climbing competition has athletes pairing up in teams to climb the most routes day and night in 24 hours of brutal, agonizing glory. The event started small but has caught on in recent years with big name sponsorships and big name competitors as well.
Local Knowledge: Go with those who know. The staff at Horseshoe are the best to tell you about all the doings on the ranch. They have a General Store for more information and great vacation packages which can include any of the following; guided climbing, horseback rides, zipline adventures, disc golf, primitive camping or rustic cabins.
Photos courtesy of Alex Kent Photo
Golden Circle Guides is owned and operated by Alex Kent and Trey Moore. When he’s not scaling the heights of Arkansas’ sandstone or running the rapids of our Ozark creeks, Alex can be found behind the lens of a camera. Whether guiding backpacking treks through the Grand Canyon or running whitewater rafting trips in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Trey has worked professionally in the Outdoor Industry for a number of years. Alex and Trey are both Leave No Trace Master Educators, Wilderness First Responders and ACA Whitewater Canoe Instructors.