Buffalo River Kayaking Guide – Read This Before Your Trip

All you need to know in order to plan a paddling trip down the Buffalo River

Here’s the deal: With two parts (upper and lower), the Buffalo River is a kayaker’s dream exploration area, but might be a nightmare come true if you have no clue about where to launch and where to paddle to.


That’s where this handy guide comes in. We’ll tell you all you need to know to plan a kickass kayaking trip on the Buffalo River.


Starting Your Paddling Trip

The best launch point for you would be to start at Ponca, at the upper part of the river. At the launch site, you’ll have to fill out the national park contract, from where you’ll be able to drive off to the launch site.


If you’re looking for a calm and easy to navigate launch site, it would be wise to consider using the lower section. A trip of the whole river can be done in roughly 5 or 6 days, depending on your pace of course.


If you’re planning a short and sweet trip, you might want to consider the trail leading from Ponca to Pruitt, which can be done in 10 or 11 hours flat on a good day. To make the most of it, you’d be wise to convert the trip into a 2-day pursuit and camp out when you’re half way through.


Before You Paddle

  • The Buffalo River is rated as a Class I river, which means it’s an easy-to-paddle waterway. Depending on how deep the waters are, some sections of the river do cross over into the Class II stage at certain times of the year.
  • At the beginning of 2016, a new regulation came into place which prohibits the playing of music via portable devices while paddling on certain areas of the river. These sections include the stretch between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing accesses.
  • Make sure you keep an eye out on the weather before your trip since the topography affects a paddling experience at the drop of a hat. Low water levels could mean exposed sand bars, and the higher the water levels, the higher the risks of rapids affecting your trip.


Where Is Buffalo River Located?

The Buffalo River is located in Northern Arkansas.


When Is The Best Time To Go?

Peak season for kayaking or canoeing on the Buffalo River runs from March through to June since that’s when the rainfall ensures that the upper part of the river is deep enough for paddling adventures.



How Much Experience Should I Have to Paddle the Buffalo River?

Well, this really depends on where you plan to kayak. The upper section of the river will suit experienced paddlers much better since it requires a little more technical skill and endurance. The lower section on the other hand is calm enough to accommodate paddlers of all skill levels.


How About Wild Life in the Area?

The Buffalo River National Park has a lot to see if you’re keen on spotting some wildlife. Species in the area include elk, turkey, hogs, and bald eagles to name but a few.


What Are My Options for Camping?

There are various camping spots located along the river way. The upper part of the river offers 6 camp sites, which all operate on a first-come-first-serve basis. They are primitive sites, which mean that you shouldn’t expect electricity, washrooms or reception.


Most camp sites also have great walking trails that lead along the edges of the river banks. If you aren’t up for a night of rough camping, you may consider sleeping over at a cabin in the area. Buffalo River Cabins and Steel Creek Cabin are good options for lodging.


Here’s a word of warning: When you make camp, aim to do so as high as possible. The risk of sudden changes in the water level is level, but when it does happen, the water can rise as high as 30 feet at night, which should totally rule out sand bar camping for you.


Where Can I Rent a Kayak or Canoe?

Three of the most popular rental agencies include Buffalo River Canoes, Silver Hill Canoe, and Buffalo River Float Service.


How Diverse is the Area?

In one word…very! The Buffalo River area ranges from waterfalls to caves and water surfaces that are almost flat in some areas.


Can I Fish?

Sure, as long as you obtain a fishing license and stick to the permitted catch limit. Fishing licenses can be obtained through the National Park, and allows for anglers to try their luck at catching bluegill, catfish, and crawdads.


Are There Tour Operators in the Area?

Yes, two of the most reputable tour companies in the Buffalo River area is Buffalo River Outfitters and Wild Bill’s.


Where Are The Best Take-Out Points?

There are various take-out points located along the river, but one of the best spots still is the Rush area, since it has a “ghost town” appearance, complete with rundown cabins, which will have you exploring for a little while after you get out of the waters.


Are There Kid-Friendly Spots?

Yes, and plenty of them too. Around every bend of the river you’ll find swimming holes, which are great for family swimming escapades.


Need More Info?

We’ve done our best to include as much information in this guide as possible, but hey, we’re all human, right? If you feel like you need a little more information to plan that perfect trip, here are a few cool websites which might be able to lend a helping hand:

  • The Art of Manliness provides some great tips in this article.
  • This review provides some information that you might not have heard about before.
  • Looking for a map of campsites around the river? Find it here.
  • This article provides a bunch of tips that might come in handy for planning a multi-day kayaking trip on the Buffalo River.
  • You can find some great pointers for general camping along the river here.
  • To learn more about water levels on the Buffalo River and to see if you should be concerned about seasonal rainfall, you can check out this link.
  • If you’re planning on doing a little hammock camping along the river, make sure you read this post.