Georgia Wilderness Society
Buffalo National River, Arkansas

GWS Buffalo River Trip, March 27-April 3, 2010
By Curt Cole

Five GWS members, Tom Payne, Basil Youman, Dave Buchholz, & I & Irene Cole, plus George James, a friend of Tom’s, got together for an 8-day trip to the Buffalo River in Arkansas.

On Saturday, Mar. 27, all but George camped at T. O. Fuller State Park in Memphis. We then went downtown to carouse on Beale Street. That’s Memphis’ answer to Bourbon Street. Had a good time eating & listening to a good Blues band at Rum Boogies Cafe.

On Sunday, we arrived at Tyler Bend, the main visitor center for the Buffalo National River. George was already there. Very few sights were occupied. It was early enough that we hiked a 5-mile loop around the camp, getting a nice view of the river from the bluffs. Each campsite was $12, with a maximum of 6 people per site. So we spent $2 each, & showers were included. Stayed there 3 nights.

The mornings were around freezing early in the week but warmed into the 50s as the week wore on. Daytime temperatures eventually reached around 80. Amelanchiers & redbuds were flowering, but other trees were still bare.

Monday, we paddled 15.3 miles from Woolum to Tyler Bend. Water level was a little higher than normal from recent rains, about 8.8’ on the US 65 gauge. The river has very few sandbars. They’re gravel instead. Lots of high bluffs. Many 200’-300’ high. Throughout the week, we rarely saw other paddlers on the water.

Tuesday, we paddled about 17.5 miles, from Tyler Bend to Maumee South. In the little community of Gilbert, we ate lunch on the porch of the old Gilbert General Store. Paddled leisurely, averaging about 4.1 mph, excluding the lunch stop.

Wednesday, winds of 20-30 mph were predicted for much of the rest of the week, so we took the day off to hike. Went to Liles & Triple (Twin) Falls, then hiked up Lost Valley to Eden Falls. Dave & I explored a couple hundred feet into Eden Cave to see the water falling from the ceiling of the cave. Next we sought out the elk near Boxley Bridge, before setting up camp at Steele Creek. A beautiful site with an open campground & impressive bluffs along the river. $10/night. Lightly occupied, but at least one site’s occupants were noisy until nearly dawn.

Thursday, still windy, Dave went birding; the rest of us hiked to Big Bluff. The trail in was about 3 miles, with a loss of 1,000’ in elevation. The ledge we stopped on for lunch is about 300’ above the river, & presents a beautiful view of the river & valley. Watched paddlers & equestrians in the river. After the hike, we stopped at the Ponca low-water bridge & on the spur of the moment, Basil & I paddled 2.5 miles from Ponca to Steele Creek. It was such a pretty, easy paddle, that we convinced the rest of the guys to paddle it.

Friday, after breakfast at the neat old Ozark Café in Jasper, our last paddle was from Mt. Hersey to Woolum, 8.6 miles. The shuttle took 1.5 hours, 42 miles. We passed the "Nars", where only a narrow ridge separates the Buffalo from Richland Creek. Also paused at Skull Bluff, with large pockets in the rock at water level. After that, we all split up & headed home. Basil, (who rode with us for the trip) Irene & I camped at Village Creek State Park, in Forrest City, Arkansas, & returned home Saturday. 

One lesson I learned was not to help load other people’s gear unless asked. I grabbed Dave’s bag (with his wallet in it) thinking it was Basil’s. We returned it at breakfast the next day.

Our speed on the middle river was generally a little over 4 mph, while on the upper river it was just over 3 mph. Only on the run from Ponca to Steel Creek was the level barely adequate. In summer, it would commonly be too low to paddle that far up river without dragging the boat from time to time.

We all had a good time, although we would liked to have paddled more, & would have were it not for the wind. There’s lots of paddling & hiking opportunities in the Ozarks. I encourage everyone to take a trip there sometime. Thanks to Basil for organizing the trip & to all who participated.