The men and women of Buffalo River National Park love their river
By Laura Miller, National Park Service
Ask just about anyone—even non-paddlers—to name a river in the state of Arkansas and we guarantee that the two answers will be “Arkansas” and “Buffalo.” The former is a mighty thoroughfare that cuts across the state, carrying water from the Rocky Mountains down to the Mississippi. The latter, however, is a clean, clear mountain stream that has become a symbol of just how important our natural spaces are in the Natural State. We sat down with several National Park Service employees who have dedicated their lives to keeping the Buffalo National River open, accessible, clean—and most of all, first in the hearts of Arkansans. Here are their favorite hidden gem paddle runs for visitors who come to their home river:
Hasty to Carver (4 miles)
Fly fishing with my son near the Carver put-in brought us in touch with shoals of darters so thick they looked like a reddish moss on the gravel bar. Spawning gar were upstream thrashing in the shallows, but below in the pool it was a feeding frenzy of gar and darters. We hooked smallmouth under the watchful eye of eagles, but delighted more at the American redstarts in the willows. As we worked upstream, sunfish emerged from numerous hiding spots in the clear water. It was a beautiful day.
—Caven Clark, Chief of Interpretation and Resource Management
Carver to Mt. Hersey (6.8 miles)
Having a fisheries background, many people will ask me, “Where’s the best place to go fishing on the river?” I give the same answer every time—Carver to Mt. Hersey. This stretch is prime habitat for smallmouth bass, making it a fisherman’s paradise. People come to the river for many reasons, but my top two are fishing and solitude. When I am able to get away, I want to make every cast count. So when I hit the river on my personal time I want quiet, calm sections that have fish ready to bite. I can’t think of a better way to spend a relaxing day than paddling through a pool, casting my favorite top-water lure, waiting for the next bite, all while enjoying the beauty of America’s first national river.
—Shawn Hodges, Ecologist
Mt. Hersey to Woolum (8.5 miles)
I love this section of river. Even on a busy spring weekend, you can have long stretches all to yourself. Around every bend lies either a long, quiet pool or a beautiful towering bluff, or both. Heron and eagles will accompany you on your trip, and there are just enough rapids to keep things interesting. At almost the end, you will be rewarded with views of The Narrows (or N’ars), a knife-edge cliff with its own great view from the top, and Skull Bluff where, when the water levels are right, you can paddle in and out of its partially submerged cave openings.
—Laura Miller, Deputy Superintendent
Gilbert to North Maumee (11.8 miles)
This is the second longest river stretch between take-outs so come prepared to stay a while. This section is loaded with large bluffs, is joined by three tributaries and boasts numerous gravel and sand bars that are perfect for camping. But what really makes this section stand out for me is that this is where I experienced being in the middle of a mayfly hatch. We had a horrible time getting our gear ready that day so we got a late start on the night. We were heading upstream to our campsite when the mayflies began to choke out our view of the river. The mayflies were so thick, we couldn’t see the water or the shore. It was an amazing experience. Every stretch of river has its unique qualities, but for paddlers willing to go the “extra mile” this section offers a great deal of solitude and excellent fishing. A once-in-a-lifetime experience can occur around any bend, but for it to happen at all, you must first get out on the water.
—Shawn Hodges, Ecologist
Dillard's Ferry to Rush Landing (9 miles)
The nine miles of striking geology and placid pools from Dillard’s Ferry to Rush Landing are ideal for the novice paddler. The Lower Buffalo’s slow current can require quite a bit of self-propulsion, so plan to begin this float early in the morning to allow a full day to paddle and explore scenic rock formations, hidden box canyons, and the abandoned World War I mining town of Rush. Don’t miss the takeout at Rush, however, unless you’re prepared and equipped to experience the Lower Wilderness!
—Lauren Ray, Park Guid
Lower Wilderness – Rush to the White River (24 miles)
The Lower Wilderness, from Rush to Buffalo City, in winter. This is my favorite section of river and it is the best time to experience the essence of the river as it flows through the largest section of wilderness in Buffalo National River. In the winter, the river is yours. You can move up or downstream with ease, exploring or doing nothing but sitting and looking. This is wilderness: remote, wild, a little risky, a place that demands that you have some wilderness and river skills. In winter it can be brutal, but it offers great reward to those ready for the elements and prepared with outdoor skills honed in other, less wild places.
—Faron Usrey, Aquatic Ecologist