By Jeremy Tryon of Dvineblu.com.
Date: April 13, 2015
Departing: Steel Creek campground
Duration: Five days Four Nights
Crew: (Chelsea (sister in law), Andrew (Brother/first time kayakers), (Tiffane (friend), Nicole(Fiancé) and My self-experienced kayakers)
The Buffalo National River, Americas first National River is one of the few free flowing rivers remaining in the lower 48 states. It is a very commonly floated river that is fun for all ages. Our five day trip was planned and anticipated for months. For weeks prior I checked the weather to see what we would be looking forward to on our trip as well as checking the water levels. Typical Arkansas weather in April changes day to day. The plan was to float 25 miles of the Buffalo Nation River from Steel Creek campground to Pruitt. Five people, five kayaks, and a lot of dry bags!
We loaded the boats in my truck and put our gear in Chelsea’s SUV. Out of nowhere, Layla – my Husky – comes and jumps into the back of the truck and is determined to stay there. It killed me to take her back in the house but there would be no room for her in my kayak.
We were half way down highway 7 between Dover and Jasper and the raindrops started hitting the windshield. Just after passing the overlook pull off it began to really come down. It wasn’t much further and we had reached Buffalo River Canoes. We got our paperwork singed and it was off to steel creek. It was nearly 1pm when we hit the water, it was raining gently but had no signs of easing up. The water was ice cold and there was no sight of the sun but we were all smiles because our journey had begun. We were 25 river miles from our destination with 4 days of steaks, waterfalls, beer, and floating ahead of us. Because of the nonstop rainfall and late start we only made it a few miles downriver before finding a place to settle in for the night. Elevated about 8 feet above the water it was as good as any to protect us from the rising river. Getting to the camp spot turned into more of a challenge than we had anticipated. The bank was so high from the water level we had to stop on the other side of the river, hike back up stream a couple hundred yards, and help each other to the other side across a small rapid.
Once we had made it up the embankment Drew and I started to hunt for the “driest” wood we could find. While we did this the girls set up the tent and got everything ready. It took us half and a hour to get the fire started with the wet rainy conditions. You could feel the immediate boost in moral as we all sat around the fire and felt the heat on our cold wet bodies. The first night we grilled steaks and wrapped potatoes in tinfoil and threw them in the fire. I feel like food is so much better when cooked and prepared in the woods. Nothing is better than good food with good friends sitting around a camp fire. The rain started to pick up after dinner so we took shelter in the tent where we played a couple card games before calling it a night.
Waking up on day two I stepped outside of the tent to see sunshine. I was so emerged in the sunshine I didn’t realize I was sinking into the mud. The entire area surrounding our tent was a huge soft mud pit. This made packing up camp a little more difficult, but getting the boats down to the water much easier. We slid down the muddy embankment into a much deeper Buffalo River on day two. Day two’s float wasn’t much longer than day one because we had planned on hiking to Hemmed-In Hollow falls. Just about a quarter of a mile past Jim Bluff we came to a trailhead on the North side of the river. We pulled our boats into the little cove and tied them up and got our hiking gear out. This hike is 2 miles round trip. An easy hike with only some smaller elevation changes since we were coming from the river rather than the top of the valley. On the trail we passed a very pretty smaller set of twin waterfalls where we stopped to take a few pictures.
Just around the bend and there she stood, Hemmed-In Hollow falls, 209 feet of pure beauty. This is the largest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachian Mountain range. Thanks to last night’s rain she was flowing well. We hung out for a while, took some pictures, and just enjoyed the landscape. After hiking back to the river we carried the boats up the embankment to camp. We used a preexisting camp that already had a fire pit so we wouldn’t cause any more damage to this beautiful area. We set up the tent, hung the hammocks, and just relaxed to the sound of Sneeds creek flowing beside us.
And just like that it was already day three. We reached the half way point on our trip yet we hadn’t made it near as far as I had planned. We got on the river early in the morning because for the first time on our trip we had somewhere to be. Waking up to the sunshine was a huge blessing since we had 10 river miles to float to reach Erbie campground. Dustin and Evan a couple friends of mine had planned to drive into Erbie and finish the float from there with us. So on this day we were a little less cautious until just around Horseshoe Bend. Tiffane leaned a little hard into the rocks and went tumbling over. Her boat which contained the majority of the food was quickly moving down stream. As the others helped Tiffane to the bank I rushed to catch up to her boat and pull it to the side. We got her water drained and had her back on the water without losing anything except a few degrees in body temperature. Despite the delay we were back on the water still making great time. All the rain had brought the water level up so we were just cruising down the river. We floated past Kyle’s landing and Camp Orr. We had originally planned to spend some time and hike up to triple falls but to ensure our arrival time at Erbie we chose to keep going forward. Just before reaching Erbie we passed the Goat Bluff trail were we could see a few hikers up above us making their way across the bluff. We came around the bind and were shocked to see that we had already arrived at our destination.
We weren’t sure about the layout of the campground so we sat up camp right there where we had come to shore. After setting up camp Drew and I did some exploring around the campground to find there was not a current camp host staying there. It seemed as though we had the entire campground to ourselves. Shortly after returning to the campsite with some firewood we were passed by a group of backpackers. Being the first outsiders we had seen in days and for them possibly even longer we began sharing stories of our journey on and along the buffalo river. These guys had done nearly 13 miles hiking through the rain the last two days and with only their backpacking meals to eat. We invited them to join us since we had some extra food in preparation of Evan and Dustin’s arrival, but decided these guys looked as if they could really use it. We had a blast sitting around the campfire sharing stories of our adventure. It was around 9PM when Evan and Dustin came rolling in. They had a flat on Highway 7 which had delayed their arrival. Our friends had finally joined us so we partied under the stars and celebrated their arrival to the trip.
Waking up on day four was by far the hottest day we had seen on our trip. We were rushed by the heat of the sun’s rays shinning down on us and it was sure to be a good day. We had got a bit of a late start after sleeping in from the night of celebrations. Dustin and Evan loaded up their canoe and we got the boats loaded and launched out from Erbie around 11. Back on the water everyone was laughing having a good time. We had nowhere to be and two days to float about 7 river miles. Between Erbie and Pruitt, there was a definite change in scenery from the first three days of the float. The Bluffs were much farther back off the river in this area and the forest was much denser, making it difficult to find a camping spot for our final night of the trip. We decided to keep floating in search for that perfect spot until we came upon Ozark. Ozark is a campground built to accommodate horses. It is a very beautiful campground crossed by the Buffalo National River trail as well as a nice swimming area. We sat up our tent and hammocks then cooked a smorgasbord of food. We decided that being our last night out on the river and with only a short two mile float ahead of us we would have a feast. We cooked all the remainder of our food including our backpacker pantry meals which I highly recommend. After diner we all hung out around the campfire laughing and sharing stories of other camping trips we had been on in the past.
Waking up the final day was bitter sweet for me. Knowing that we were about to finish our first multi-day float was going to be a huge accomplishment. The weather conditions we had been through also made it that much more rewarding. But the thought of our trip being over and going back to the working world just wasn’t what I was ready for. Nevertheless we all got together down by the beach with our rain gear on (because it was starting to rain on us again) and we took a few group photos to remember our final day. Shortly after that we loaded up the last of our stuff and cast off for Pruitt. With only a couple of miles of river between us and the end of our journey the rain started to fall hard again. It didn’t seem to bother anyone at this point we were just concerned with taking our time and making the most of the short trip we had to go. Coming under the Green Bridge was also a bitter sweet moment. On one hand we had accomplished our first multi-day float and would get to sleep in our own beds that night, but the thought of the journey being over just left me itching for more.
The Buffalo National River is a great place to go and enjoy a day float, a multi-day, or even a great hike with some of Arkansas most wonderful scenery. The five days we spent on the river created great memories that we will never forget. It was a huge learning experience for future floating trips. The biggest challenge we faced was keeping things dry, so good quality dry bags are something you must have! I’ve listed below the sites I used to help prepare for this trip. There are tips from planning the trip, gaging water levels, finding water falls, preparing food and so much more.