Buffalo River, Arkansas
April 19-24, 2015
by John C. Clark
This was a perfectly timed trip. The river was up, but not too much. There was rain, but not too much. Temperatures were cool, but not too much. The group was great, quite congenial, and just about the right size. We had intended to be a party of seven, but a couple people had to drop out at the last minute.
The paddling part of the trip began from Steel Creek campground on a Sunday morning. Water level had come up from the previous week – the Ponca bridge “air gap” was 15 inches, which is about 9” higher than mean level at this time of year, and high enough for the authorities to post danger signs warning that only experienced floaters should be on the river. Our group consisted of five experienced paddlers: John Clark, Paul Nitz and Kent Walters in kayaks, and Christy Long and Jaimie Peck in canoes. Each carried gear and victuals sufficient for 6 days on the river. Air temperatures were in mid to low 60’s daytime, mid to low 40’s nighttime. Water temps were in the mid to low 50’s. Blasting through the numerous class III stretches got us wet, and the coolness of the air temps was felt. But everyone had a dry hair week. After the first day’s paddling we experienced several successive rain storms, one which included hail. Two young ladies in the adjacent campsite built a nice fire and invited us all over for hot dogs, chili, beer and tall stories.
First day we paddled from Steel Creek to Kyle’s Landing, taking time out for a hike up Bear Cave Hollow. Mileage was 8 miles on water, 2.5 miles hiking. Second day we paddled 17 miles, stopping where the Little Buffalo joins the Buffalo. Third day we continued another 14 miles, to Mt Hersey. Fourth day, after more rain and a forecast of even cooler temperatures we called the outfitter for our vehicles and drove back to the campground at Kyle’s Landing, where we set up camp, and Jaimie left us. Fifth day we hiked Lost Valley to Eden Falls Cave (2.5 miles), and then paddled from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing, with another hike at Hemmed-In Hollow (1.5 miles) to see the beautiful water fall at its head. That night more rain visited us, and Christy departed for home at first light. The three of us remaining made another run from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing (10.5 miles), then we also started for home.
The fourth and fifth nights we drove to near-by Low Gap Café for a gourmet dining experience. (Highly recommended.)
The Buffalo is one of the most beautiful rivers in the country, with tall bluffs, clear water, good fishing and bird-watching, good campgrounds situated on the banks of the river for easy access by paddlers, and plenty of impromptu campsites all up and down the river. The water is mostly class I and II, well within the capabilities of most paddlers. Everyone should consider making this trip at least once in their life. If you need more convincing, check out our photos.
Individual paddling mileages were: Jaimie: 39.0; Christy: 49.5; John, Kent and Paul: 60.0.
We had a great time, and we’re already planning to do it again next year.
John C. Clark
Photo album by Kent Walters, here.
|The author, John C. Clark