Float #34 & #35: Buffalo River

17 May

Steel Creek to Pruitt

Buffalo River

Buffalo River
Newton County, Arkansas
Friday, April 6 & Saturday, April 7
21 Miles

The Buffalo National River is notable for both its history and its beauty. Located in the rough and rural Boston Mountains of Northern Arkansas, the Buffalo is the jewel of the Ozarks. It was the first National Scenic Riverway, established by an act of congress in 1972. In addition to 135 miles of floatable stream, the Buffalo National River has 100 miles of hiking trails and horse trails, historic homesteads and a sizable elk population. The water is the clearest I’ve ever seen outside of a spring and there are multiple bluffs towering above the river. It’s also home to Hemmed-In-Hollow Falls, the tallest waterfall between the Mississippi and the Rockies.

The majestic Buffalo River was this year’s destination for our annual Easter float trip. Normally Easter float trips are either wet or cold, or both. So the Buffalo seemed like a good idea. Surely the water would be up and the weather would deter most people from coming out. Not this year! It had been dry all week and the weather was warm and sunny. The Buffalo is mostly rain fed and doesn’t have as many springs as most Missouri streams. We scraped our butts down the river with many other canoes and kayaks, but it was still an awesome trip, as the Buffalo usually is.

DW and I headed down on the Thursday before Easter. The Buffalo is about 5.25 hours from our house, so we don’t go every year. We arrived at Kyle’s Landing campground in the late afternoon. The campground was crowded, but not yet full. There are no commercial campgrounds on the Buffalo and the NPS campgrounds aren’t that big, so finding a camp spot can be tricky on busy weekends. The best opportunity to really enjoy the river and find a good camp spot is to float Monday – Thursday.

Our friends Matt and Greg met up with us that night and we hit the river Friday morning. Matt brought his whitewater canoe and Greg borrowed our red kayak. We put in at Steel Creek and floated back to camp at Kyle’s Landing, an 8 mile float. Steel Creek has a nice little shelf rapid at the very start that’s fun to play in. Since the water was so low, there weren’t any real rapids, but there were many ripples and lots of rocks to dodge. It was actually more challenging to slalom through the rocks than it would have been at normal or higher water.

Buffalo River

Steel Creek landing

Buffalo River

The rapid at Steel Creek landing

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Clear Ozark mountain water

The horse trail crosses the river at multiple points along this float. We saw one couple with a horse who was scared of kayaks. Every time he saw one floating down he would buck and throw a hissy fit. They had to wait until no kayaks were in sight to cross the water. It was entertaining for us, but not so much for the rider!

After lunch we stopped at a popular swimming hole on the right side of the river. There is a short bluff with a jumping spot about 15 feet above the water. Matt and Greg refer to it as “Yeti Bluff” although I don’t know the true name. There is a great camping spot on top of the bluff and an easy, short trail up. DW took a plunge into the cold, turquoise water. I abstained (as usual) because anything above 8 feet high makes my knees weak!

Buffalo River

DW races by on a ripple

Buffalo River

Jim Bluff

Buffalo river

The jumping rock at “Yeti Bluff”

Buffalo River

The view atop “Yeti Bluff”

Buffalo River

Buffalo river

The top of “Yeti Bluff”

Around the bend from “Yeti Bluff” is the trail to Hemmed-In-Hollow on the left side of the river. It is a very short hike from the river, but there is also a backpacking trail that leads to it. At 209 feet, Hemmed-In-Hollow is the tallest waterfall between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains. It was just a trickle when we were there, but I bet it gets pretty impressive in wet weather!

Buffalo river

Hemmed-In-Hollow

We pulled up to Kyle’s Landing with plenty of daylight to spare, cooked up some camp spaghetti (my specialty) and hit the bedroll. The next morning we put in at Kyle’s and floated down to Pruitt. Around the first bend we came upon a downed tree spanning the entire river channel. It was relatively easy to pull our kayaks over it, but it would be nearly impossible with a fully loaded canoe. The banks are steep on both sides and the only place to pull a boat over the tree was in chest-deep water. Since blocked waterways are pretty rare on a maintained river, we theorized that the tree must have fallen very recently. We talked to some people breaking camp on a gravel bar just downstream. They had put on the river the night before and hadn’t seen any downed trees. It’s pretty amazing that a tree that large could fall in the river overnight with no rain or winds to help it along! We informed a Park Ranger of the blockage when we arrived back at camp that evening.

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Baby snake

Buffalo River

Erbie landing

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Buffalo River

Pruitt landing

The second day of floating was pretty uneventful. We saw a baby snake sunning itself on the riverbank rocks. I could not identify it, but I’m not too good at herpetology. There was not much wildlife to be seen on this trip. I think if we were on the water in the early morning, or it had not been as crowded we would have seen more. We usually see some Bald Eagles on this river. In October of 2010 we floated the middle section of the Buffalo and saw 8 eagles on one river bend! There were no eagles sighted this time though.

We took out at Pruitt access and went back to Kyle’s to camp. A loud thunderstorm rolled through just after dusk. It rained for about half an hour, just enough to get everything wet. The lightning and thunder seem so close and so loud echoing off the bluffs! I’m glad we were off the river by then. After the rain we cooked up a meal of spicy beans and rice. Matt grilled some excellent venison jalapeno bratwurst to round out the evening.

Critter Count: 1 baby snake, Turtles, Herons, Ducks

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