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HomeNL-2012-07 Buffalo River

Thoughts on the Buffalo River

July, 2012
Ken Anderson

This April I lead a group five HCC paddlers on Arkansas’s Buffalo River.  The five were myself, Ken Anderson, Ken McDowell, Joe Coker, Kevin Carpenter, and Robert Killian.   It was a good group to paddle with!  Everyone got along and pretty much did what they wanted to do and see.  Some went to paddle, some to fish, and some for a combination including a bit of spelunking. 

Robert Killian and
Kevin Carpenter,
ready to fish
  Ken Anderson's
boat "at work" on
the Buffalo
  Joe Coker and
Ken McDowell
surviving another

I’m planning to paddle the Buffalo next year with a tentative date of early April.  The planned paddle is for 130 miles over a 7-day period; two additional days are set aside as travel time (10 to 12 hours) to and from Houston.  In other words, I’m planning a 9-day trip.

I’ve paddled this river twice and found it not only beautiful but a river a relatively inexperienced paddler can negotiate.  I’d say it's roughly comparable to our own Llano.

The Buffalo flows for roughly 140 miles (some sources claim 150 miles but who’s counting) beginning and ending in Arkansas with a side trip into Missouri; it ends where it meets the White River. Most of that mileage is floatable subject to restrictions imposed by Mother Nature; two significant restrictions for trip-planning are rainfall and gradient.

Torrential rains may force the National Park Service (which is in charge of the river) to close it for any and all recreational use; on the other hand, the lack of rain for extended periods limit where one can “float one’s boat.” For trip-planning purposes one won’t reasonably know if a trip is “on” until the week before when you check the river gauges and phone several outfitters; outfitters, by the way, always tell you the river flow is quite good.

If your trip group includes folks with fixed or limited time schedules you’ll need a Plan B if water flow isn’t acceptable.  Mine is the Rio Grande but that’s something that needs to be worked out in advance.

The other significant restriction is “gradient.”  Remember “gradient”?  Holding the rate of water flow as a constant over time (I’m only saying to cover my proverbial ass to insulate this point in the discussion from those who challenge any conditional statement as wayyyyyyy too digital for their analog way of thinking), gradient determines whether an 8 AM put-in leads to a 10 AM or a 6 PM take-out and how may pieces you and/or your boat are in at the take-out. 

Above Boxley is Class III water for roughly 13 miles; the average gradient is 38+ feet for every mile.  For those interested in Class III rapids ending in 90-degree turns into another Class III drop this just might be the paddle for you. Anyone interested in paddling this stretch need only ask a local about the Hailstone River (the code name for this portion of the Buffalo).  Don’t be surprised if that same local makes the sign of the cross at the mention of the Hailstone River name.

From Boxley to Steel Creek (where I plan to put-in) the gradient is roughly 13 feet per mile. That gradient isn’t too bad BUT the Boxley to Steel Creek stretch is rated Class
II because of sharp turns, rocks, and overhanging willows.  However heavy rains can raise it to Class III.  Paddling this section normally calls for a Class II+ or above boat

Below Kyle there is easy ”pool and drop” paddling leading to Class
I water within 13 miles.  Fisherman can drop behind the group and catch up later for the rest of the trip.

The planned trip calls for canoe camping along the river.  Arkansas has several state parks along the way that can be used for shuttles for those wanting a shorter trip.  There are a number of hiking trails that parallel the river and its possible for some to hike rather than paddle but still meet the group at a campsite. 

There are caves to explore and shopping that can be done. 

I’ll post the trip early next year so if you’re interested consider setting aside some time in early April of 2013.  I might add, if we need to hire a shuttle there is a cost involved. 

 The author,
Ken Anderson