The Buffalo River, located in northern Arkansas, was the first National River to be so designated in the United States. The Buffalo River is slightly more than 150 miles (240 km) in length, with the lower 135 miles (217 km) flowing within the boundaries of an area managed by the National Park Service, where it is designated the Buffalo National River. The river flows through Newton, Searcy, Marion, and Baxter Counties, from west to east. The river originates in the highest part of Boston Mountains of the Ozarks, flows out onto the Springfield Plateau near the historic community of Erbie, and finally crosses the Salem Plateau just before joining the White River. The Park is home to the state's only elk herd. The upper section of the river in the Ozark National Forest is managed by the U.S. Forest Service and is designated as a National Scenic River and a National Wild River.
The Buffalo National River was established by an Act of Congress on March 1, 1972, ending the recurring plans of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct one or more dams on the river. The National River designation protects natural rivers from industrial uses, impoundments and other obstructions that may change the natural character of the river or disrupt the natural habitat for the flora and fauna that live in or near the river. At a point about 15 miles (24 km) above the Park boundary in Newton County, Arkansas, the Buffalo River begins as the Main Prong of Big Buffalo Creek. On 1:24,000 scale United States Geological Survey topographic maps, the Buffalo River is shown to form at the confluence of Reeves Fork and Big Buffalo Creek north of Fallsville, Arkansas. The river flows north through Boxley to Ponca, where it then begins an eastward trek across northern Arkansas to its confluence with the White River on the Marion-Baxter County line. Advanced canoeists and kayakers often refer to the 15-mile (24 km) section upriver from Boxley, Arkansas as the Hailstone River. This extremely challenging section of the river is floatable only during periods of high water and should be attempted only by those with solid whitewater skills.
Along the upper river, the gradient is steep and the water is fast, leveling and slowing as the river runs its course. The upper section has most of the whitewater rapids to be found along the river, and features dramatic topography including sink holes and caves, springs, and waterfalls, over 500-foot (150 m) tall sandstone and limestone bluffs, and many interesting rock formations. At one point, a 0.65-mile (1.05 km) hike from the river up a narrow, boxed canyon leads to a 209-foot (64 m) waterfall, Hemmed-In-Hollow Falls, the highest of its kind between the Southern Appalachians and the Rockies. The river's ancient current also gives life to well over 300 species of fish, insects, freshwater mussels, and aquatic plants.
The Buffalo National River is a popular camping, canoeing, and fishing destination. Visitors may bring their own canoes or rent from several independent concessioners. Camping is generally allowed throughout the park with the following exceptions: the Hemmed-in-Hollow area, on Big Bluff, in historical structures, on private property within the park, or within 100 feet (30 m) of any trail or watercourse. Camping is, however, permitted on gravel bars and sand bars along the river. In addition, the National Park Service has a number of "developed" campgrounds along the river.
The National Park Service headquarters for the Buffalo National River is located in Harrison, Arkansas.
Buffalo River Access From St. Joe
The St. Joe reign of the Buffalo National River has some of the best access points available.
Woolum Ford is located 1.5 miles downstream of Skull Bluff and is reached via Arkansas Highway 374 from St. Joe, AR. Richland Creek enters the Buffalo at Woolum Ford.
The Nars (Narrows) is approximately eight miles from Mount Hersey. This is an unusual bluff formed by Richland Creek and the Buffalo River wearing away the rock over millions of years but never quite destroying the last saddle-backed, four-foot-wide dividing bluff. A long gravel bar provides an excellent place to camp and explore the Nars. If you hike the trail that extends up the backbone of the bluff, you will be treated to spectacular views of the Buffalo River and Richland Valley.
Skull Bluff is just downstream of the Nars. This bluff has several cavities at water level that make it look like a skull. At low to moderate water levels one can paddle into the skull.
The town of Gilbert Arkansas is laid out along the banks of the Buffalo National River in the Ozark Mountains. The main road in Gilbert ends at the soft gravel bar providing access to the scenic river. The middle section of the Buffalo is noted for its beautiful limestone bluffs, small mouth bass, and year-round floating. Canoe rental and shuttle service is available.
The Gilbert General Store, built in 1901, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places under the name Mays Store. The community was founded in 1902 when a railroad construction camp for the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad was built and named in honor of Charles W. Gilbert, secretary-treasurer of Allegheny Supply Company, which was building the railroad. In 1906, William Mays moved his store and post office from Duff, located a few miles away.
This view from a bluff overlooking Tyler Bend gives a good idea of what America's first National Scenic and Wild River is all about. The Buffalo River flows freely through northern Arkansas farmlands, thick forests of the Ozarks, nearby pioneer home sites and alongside towering limestone cliffs.
Said to be just more than a river, the parkland totals nearly 100,000 acres and is teaming with wildlife. Whether it's over a woodland trail or going with the flow in a canoe, deer, elk, turkey, beaver and mink are frequently sighted.
Nearing 40 years with national river status, the park's Tyler Bend and Buffalo Point have become the favorite camping and recreation areas. Homesteader's cabins, an excellent network of hiking trails and 150 miles of scenic river make this park in the Ozarks a special place.
Grinder's Ferry is an oustanding swimming hole in the middle of a popular area for fishermen. It has parking and toilets. It is on the southeast side of the Buffalo River where it is crossed by Highway 65. It is well marked and easy to see from the bridge. It is between Gilbert and Marshall near Tyler Bend.
Information provided by Buffalo River Chamber
Grinder's Ferry Access Point