An Outdoorsy Guide to Buffalo National River, Arkansas

buffalo national river hiking

Visiting Buffalo National River, Arkansas

The more we visit the region, the more we are convinced that Arkansas is shamefully overlooked as an outdoorsy destination.

The region offers untouched landscapes of clear waters, limestone bluffs, dense forests, and stunning panoramas, all without the crowds that accompany other outdoor-centered regions.

In this guide, we’ll share suggestions for how to make the most of your time in the region.

This visit occurred in the spring – we recommend you visit in spring, summer, or autumn. We brought along our pup, Jordy, on this visit and found the area to be very dog-friendly!

Most visitors choose to stay near the town of Jasper, Arkansas, which provides easy access to different areas of the river.

While there is some driving involved (the Buffalo River spans over 100 miles), the scenic routes and charming countryside make it a pretty journey.

History of the Buffalo National River

The Buffalo National River, winding its way through the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas, is more than just a stunning stretch of untouched natural beauty, it’s also a testament to the importance of conservation efforts. 

During the Industrial Revolution, plans were made to dam the river. This angered conservationists and local communities, sparking a grassroots effort to protect the river.

They were successful, and in 1972, legislation was passed designating the area as the nation’s first national river. 

Overseen by the National Park Service, the Buffalo National River stretches over 150 miles.

buffalo national river national park sign

Day One in Buffalo National River

Jasper, Arkansas

Jasper, Arkansas is the small-town seat of Newton County, Arkansas and serves as the gateway for the Buffalo National River.

The town embodies the spirit of the Ozarks: a blend of rugged history, natural splendor, and enduring community.

Jasper has a small-town charm with historic buildings, local eateries, and shops, as well as outfitters and guides for the region’s many recreational activities.

Breakfast at Ozark Cafe

Start your morning strolling around the town square. When you’re ready for breakfast, stop in Ozark Cafe.

This historic cafe, established in 1909, features Americana decor, a soda fountain, and live music on the weekends. It is true homestyle cooking – just like most places around this region. 

The coffee, served in a hefty mug, is a great start to the day.

coffee at ozark cafe in jasper arkansas

After breakfast, stop into some of the shops in town – we liked Bubba’s Buffalo River Store.

buffalo river store in jasper, arkansas

Hike Lost Valley Trail

Buffalo National River has several hiking trails – over fifty, in fact – for all levels and interests.

Lost Valley Trail is a moderate 2.3-mile out-and-back trail and is ideal for a shorter morning hike, which pairs well with plans for afternoon canoeing.

The trail features many of the Ozark’s natural wonders: groves of beech trees, emerald-blue pools of water, wildflowers, limestone bluffs, caves, and stunning waterfalls.

You’ll want to hike to the end where you’ll be rewarded with a 200-foot cave with a waterfall hidden inside.

buffalo national river hiking

Canoeing the Buffalo River

Make your way to Buffalo River Canoes where you can rent canoes, kayaks, and rafts for an afternoon on the Buffalo River.

Because of water levels, the floating season spans from March through June.

For a day trip, canoes can be rented for $77 per canoe, and for an added $45 fee, the outfitter will conveniently shuttle your vehicle to the end point. 

canoeing buffalo national river

For an afternoon float, you’ll want to opt for the Ponca to Kyle’s Landing route, a scenic journey that takes approximately five hours to complete.

There are several rocky beach areas along the route where you can pull off and sit amongst the stunning surroundings. Consider bringing a cooler of brews, perhaps sandwiches as well, to enjoy on the beach. 

Note: Newton County is actually a dry county, meaning alcohol is not sold anywhere in the county. Yes, really. Don’t be like us and not realize that until you are deep in the Ozarks. Fortunately, our route to the region took us through Springfield, Missouri where we stopped at the locally beloved Mother’s Brewery and grabbed some brews to bring with us. You’ll need to do the same wherever you’re driving through on your route to Nelson County. 

During the float, don’t miss the point to disembark and explore Hemmed in Hollow, a beautiful waterfall at the end of a short hike into the forest. The outfitter guides can provide instructions of where to pull off for the waterfall hike.

Be sure to rent a dry bag for your belongings just in case your canoe takes a tumble over the rapids – not speaking from experience or anything.

The float from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing is serene and complete with stunning views – it will be a highlight of your time in Buffalo National River.

Dinner at Cliff House Inn

As dusk approaches, make your way to the Cliff House Inn.

Overlooking the Ozark Valley – known by locals as the Arkansas Grand Canyon – this restaurant offers sprawling views of the deepest valley in the state. You’ll want to make a reservation. 

The menu features the regional cuisine of hearty home-style cooking, including homemade biscuits and country-fried steak. You won’t be able to leave without their freshly homemade cobbler!

Day Two in Buffalo National River

Sunrise at Boxley Valley Historic District

Begin your day with a sunrise sighting of herds of elk at Boxley Valley Historic District.

After appreciating the grazing elk, stroll around the historic buildings in the valley – some date back to the 1800’s. 

Breakfast at Ozark Cafe (yes, again)

Buffalo National River has endless natural beauty, and that makes up for its lack of eateries.

Trust us, Ozark Cafe is the best breakfast in town – this was confirmed to us when we visited our second morning and saw the same locals there from the day before.

If there’s anything we have learned from our travels, it is to be like the locals. 

Ziplining at Buffalo Outdoor Center

The Ozark Mountains are the ideal location for wilderness ziplining.

You’ll find yourself immersed in the Ozark forest as you glide through the canopy. Along the route, guides will introduce you to the local bird, plant, and animal species.

Plan for two to three hours to complete the entire course.

Hike Tyler Bend Riverview Trail

The picturesque hike at Tyler Bend Riverview Trail alone is worth the drive from Jasper – it also happens to be near Craw Billy’s, which is the best eatery in the area.

And before you gripe about the 45 minute drive – first of all, it’s a beautiful route. And to us, eating at Craw Billy’s was worth it.

The 2.1-mile out-and-back Tyler Bend Riverview Trail is moderately challenging with overlooks along the way that provide panoramic views of the turquoise river below. 

Dinner at Craw Billy’s

Craw Billy’s is eclectic, somehow being both an Ozark antique shop and a Cajun kitchen.

There are several options for outdoor seating – or you could opt to sit inside near the crackling fireplace during colder months.

Indulge in seafood boil buckets paired with fried green tomatoes, boiled peanuts, hushpuppies, red beans and rice – you name it.

The dishes are excellent and the ambiance completes the experience. You’ll definitely want your Ozark Mountain visit to include Craw Billy’s.

Don’t leave without ordering the pie.

craw billys buffalo national river

International Dark Sky Stargazing

The untouched wilderness of Buffalo National River makes it an ideal destination for stargazing.

In 2019, the park gained status as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). 

Steel Creek is a popular area for stargazing, but anywhere along the river will provide stunning views of the night sky. 

Where to Stay in Buffalo National River

It’s not a true Arkansas visit if you aren’t staying in a cabin. You’ll want to choose one with great views, like the Arkansas Grand Canyon View Cabin.

cabin for visiting Buffalo National River

When to Visit Buffalo National River

The scenery just isn’t as beautiful in the winter – we recommend spring, summer, or autumn for travels to the region. If you want to canoe or kayak, you’ll need to visit from March to June.

Similar Posts