The Buffalo River, a unit of the National Park Service in northwest Arkansas, is a natural flowing river famous for both easy and challenging canoeing and kayaking, especially during the spring. While some sections of the river can be floated this time of year, hiking in the wilderness area surrounding the river reigns supreme in October thru the winter months. There are often sunny days comfortable enough for day hikes and backpacking, ticks and snakes are irrelevant, and the leaves have fallen, allowing easy views of this mountainous wilderness and its towering bluffs hugging the river’s edge.
The Buffalo River Trail (BRT) in the upper district can be accessed via beautiful Boxley valley, not far from the well-known Ponca access. The trail stretches about 40 miles to the Pruitt ranger station and access area near Jasper. Jasper is a small town along scenic highway 7, where you can find outfitters, good restaurants, and a few shops. In Boxley, a designated National Historic District, there’s a good chance you’ll see elk grazing in the meadows early in the morning or at dusk. These are Rocky Mountain elk that were relocated to this region during the 1980s.
There are several places to access the BRT. At Pruitt, hike 7 miles to the Erbie campground. At Erbie, hike a short distance to the abandoned Parker-Hickman farmstead and take the BRT back to the campground, an easy 2-mile loop. Another one to try is the scenic Steel Creek to Kyle’s Landing, 7.9 miles one way. If you’re short on time, cut that in half and you won’t be disappointed. Erbie and Steel Creek are flat areas by the river and are perfect spots for a picnic.
The Ponca to Steel Creek trail (2 miles one way) is one of my favorite short hikes with spectacular views of the river from above. Lost Valley, near the Ponca access, is a popular trail with a cave and waterfall, and is usually more crowded than the other sections–it’s about 2.3 miles round trip.
The Hemmed-in Hollow trail is considered to be strenuous, but if you’re fit it’s worth the climb to see the highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians. Remember: pets are not allowed on the trails in the Buffalo National River area, and hiking trails atop bluffs can be dangerous if you venture too far off the trail and aren’t attentive.
For more information about this section of the Ozarks check the National Park Service for maps and trailhead locations of the trails mentioned above. If you’re unfamiliar with this area, contact the Pruitt Visitor Center for more details. A trip here will reward you with incredible views, a serene forested environment, and opportunities to see magnificent fauna and avifauna–well worth the long drive south.