Paddling the Buffalo River, Arkansas

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The Buffalo National Scenic River in Arkansas is America’s first national river, and is one of the few un-dammed rivers in the lower 48 states.  I planned a trip there over Memorial Day weekend in with 5 of my paddling friends.

We met at a campground on a Thursday evening, after a 10 hour drive from Chicago.  The next day, we loaded our cars to start the car shuttle.  Our paddling trip was 50 river miles, so the car shuttle took several hours, including some tricky roads getting to the launch at Woolum.

No sweat for Jerry coming through

With cars shuttled, it was time to launch.  We also had to pack up our boats at the launch, because kayaks are easier to transport when empty. There were definitely some camping items that didn’t make the cut!  While weight isn’t quite the issue it is for backpacking, there still isn’t much space in a kayak, especially for a 3 night trip!

The fun part of deciding what fits in the boat and what stays behind in the car

The river was quite fast after recent storms, and we heard of sections upriver closed due to a drowning.  Cue the pre-trip nerves of wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into!  The ferocious sound of water rushing through vegetation was somewhat terrifying – it would sound like we were approaching a 10 foot waterfall!

The scenery made for a nice distraction from the fear, though!

After 17 miles of paddling the Buffalo River, we pulled over for the evening at Shine Eye Campground.  While we paddled a bit past the established campground, we still had an outhouse to use, and company around the campfire.  This would be our most civilized camp of the trip.  The next two nights would be more primitive and secluded.

The next day, we paddled 20 miles from Shine Eye to Spring Creek.  It was another scenic day ending at a cozy beach campsite.  If you haven’t camped on a sandbar or beach, I highly recommend it!

Camp #2 - just past Spring Creek - nice and flat with lots of shade

On our 3rd and final day on the Buffalo River, we only had 13 miles to paddle from Spring Creek to Rush Landing, where we’d left our cars at the start of the trip.  This section includes the postcard-worthy Buffalo Overlook, which is the hallmark image for the National River.  We stopped at the visitor center here for a bathroom break (running water!  soap!)

With high, fast water, the trip ended sooner than we expected and rather than car camping on Sunday night as planned, we decided to hit the road and head home early.  There was a lot of wet, sandy gear to deal with.  While we took turns showering, we tried to dry out gear as best we could before packing it up for the 10 hour drive back home.

Trying to dry everything out before the long drive home

All in all, this was a really fun trip with a great group of friends.  My only regret is that we didn’t plan a longer trip as it was over too soon.  With so many bucket list spots left to be explored, I’m not sure if I’ll make it back here, but I would definitely recommend it to any of my paddling friends!

For more pictures, click here!


Buffalo River

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