The Buffalo became the Buffalo National River by Act of Congress on March 1, 1972, as was the first river ever designated as a "national river", a designation that protects natural rivers from dams, empoundments and other obstructions or development that change the character of the river and disrupt the natural land and water life that flourishes there.
The Lower Buffalo, running about 54.1 miles from Gilbert to Buffalo City on the White River, is a popular spot for almost any recreational boater who wants to appreciate one of the most beautiful and serene rivers to be found anywhere. Rapids and other hazards are almost non-existent on the lower section of the river, a section marked by flatwater, high bluffs, dense forest and incredible scenic beauty. The photo opportunities are many, so be sure to come properly prepared with a waterproof camera (or other cameras in waterproof containers.) There are numerous small towns in close proximity to the river so fresh supplies can be acquired if needed while on a river trip, though not by walking except to Gilbert. Several liveries are located near the river offering boat rentals, shuttles, guide services, cabins and campgrounds and other services. While not as wildly popular as the Upper and Middle Buffalo above, this reach still has significant traffic during summer months, though most of it takes out no lower than Rush landing at 29.9 miles below Gilbert because the next access point is Buffalo City on the White River at 54.1 miles. Fishing becomes better as you approach the White River confluence due to the deeper and colder waters flowing down from Bull Shoals Reservoir on the Missouri state line. And, if electricity is being generated at Bull Shoals, then there will be a strong downriver current on the White making paddling upriver (about seven tenths mile) to the Buffalo City boat ramp difficult, but there are downriver optional take-outs at Cartney and Shipps Ferry at 3.6 and 5.6 miles, respectively, below the White River confluence. The Lower Buffalo tends to run low and slow during periods of prolonged drought, though it will usually be running long after the Upper Buffalo has become too low to paddle, so plan your trips carefully. Allow adequate time for the distance you plan to paddle with consideration given to flow rate, weather, season and other important factors that can make or break a trip. Also, beware of the potential for flash flooding in the event of heavy rains - many upstream creeks can quickly dump a lot of water into the river rasiing the Buffalo at a rate of about 1 foot per hour with very strong currents that may be dangerous for inexperienced boaters.
Because the Buffalo National River sits within US Forest Service land camping along the river can be done anywhere there is a suitable spot available. Numerous improved camping areas have been developed along the Buffalo River for the benefit of those paddling the river (most are not all that hospitable to access via cars due to long, narrow, unpaved roads.) With seven public access points along the Buffalo River and three more on the White River trips of various lengths, ranging froma half day to several days, can be taken. You will camp among many species of trees, wildflowers, towering multi-colored cliffs and bluffs and a beautiful river. Fishing for smallmouth, largemouth, spotted and rock bass, sunfish, perch, catfish and about 50 other species is excellent in the cool, clear waters of the Buffalo. Be sure you have a valid Arkansas fishing license if you plan on wetting a line!
The Buffalo National River stretches some 150 miles from the headwaters near Boxley in the Boston Mountains range of the Ozark Mountains across northeastern Arkansas to its confluence with the White River. It is situated in Newton, Searcy, Marion and Baxter Counties. The Lower Buffalo flows through Searcy, Marion and Baxter Counties in a generally east-west direction.
Little Rock 111 miles; Texarkana 247 miles; Memphis 255 miles; Dallas 422 miles; Austin 618 miles; San Antonio 706 miles; Houston 670 miles; Oklahoma City 339 miles; Kansas City 275 miles; St. Louis 318 miles; Albuquerque 881 miles; Phoenix 1,344 miles; Denver 876 miles; Salt Lake City 1,367 miles; (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point and destination point on the river.)
The Lower Buffalo River is not as seasonal as the upper and middle sections, and can generally be floated when the other sections are too low to enjoy, especially during the hot summer months. Look for a minimum reading of 0.9 feet at the gauge on Highway 14 near Harriet. Best paddling level is 1.5 - 4.0 feet on the same gauge. The gradient on the Lower Buffalo is a mere 3 feet per mile, so don't expect fast moving water or big rapids.
This section of the Buffalo National River is not subject to the same low water conditions as the other two sections, and enjoyable paddling can be done year around, weather permitting. The Arkansas Ozarks can get quite cold in winter and fairly hot in the summer, so plan your trip and pack your gear and clothing accordingly.
There are no hazards of any significance on the Lower Buffalo River. This is a section that anybody, regardless of paddling skills, can readily enjoy. What the river lacks in "excitement" is more than offset by the natural beauty of the surrounding hills, bluffs and banks.
Gilbert (N 35° 59' 12.10" / W 092° 42' 53.57") NPS Access on river left at 0.0 miles; Maumee North (N 36° 02' 07.23" / W 092° 37' 45.49") NPS North Access from Morning Star off Highway 27 on river left at about 11.4 miles; Maumee South (N 36° 02' 20.79" / W 092° 38' 12.23") NPS Access on river right at about 11.9 miles; Spring Creek (N 36° 01' 50.52" / W 092° 35' 05.20") NPS Access off Hwy. 99 on river right at about 16.4 miles; Dillard's Ferry NPS Access and Campground (N 36° 04' 02.07" / W 092° 34' 40.81") at SH 14 outside Evening Star on river right at about 21.0 miles; Buffalo Point NPS Access and Campground (N 36° 04' 11.32" / W 092° 33' 15.53") off Highway 268 on river left at about 22.5 miles; Rush Landing NPS Access and Campground (N 36° 07' 27.20" / W 092° 32' 54.37") off Highway 26 near Rush on river left at about 29.9 miles (by Clabber Creek); Buffalo City (N 36° 09' 52.05" / W 092° 26' 26.22") NPS Access boat ramp on east side of the White River off Highway 126 on river right (going upriver) at about 54.1 miles; Alternate White River take out at Cartney Public access (N 36° 11' 31.80" / W 092° 22' 51.95") on river right at about 57.0 miles; Alternate White River take out at Shipps Ferry (N 36° 12' 47.68" / W 092° 21' 24.81") boat ramp on river left at about 59.0 miles.
The National Park Service (NPS) has numerous campground facilities, in varying stages of improvement, all along the Buffalo National River. Some of these are free of charge while others are fee-based, and all are available on a first come, space available basis. The campgrounds along this reach of the Buffalo National River incude Maumee South (N 36° 02' 20.79" / W 092° 38' 12.23") NPS Access on river right at about 11.9 miles; Spring Creek (N 36° 01' 50.52" / W 092° 35' 05.20") NPS Access off Hwy. 99 on river right at about 16.4 miles; Buffalo Point NPS Access and Campground (N 36° 04' 11.32" / W 092° 33' 15.53") off Highway 268 on river left at about 22.5 miles; Rush Landing NPS Access and Campground (N 36° 07' 27.20" / W 092° 32' 54.37") off Highway 26 near Rush on river left at about 29.9 miles (by Clabber Creek); Buffalo City (N 36° 09' 52.05" / W 092° 26' 26.22") NPS Access boat ramp on east side of the White River off Highway 126 on river right (going upriver) at about 54.1 miles. There are numerous other undesignated areas where camping along the river can be done. Take precautions against rising water when camping along the Buffalo, or any other river. Some of the roads leading to the above listed campgrounds may not be accessible to large vehicles and/or long trailers. The roads are unimproved, winding and narrow with low hanging tree branches and limbs. Do NOT drive vehicles onto gravel bars near the river unless you have deep pockets or are prepared to self-extract your vehicle. There are at least six commercial campgrounds located near the top of this reach of the Buffalo National River.
Buffalo River Float Service (870-449-2042 / 877-350-6592), located at 11637 Suite 1 Hwy. 14 South, Yellville, AR 72687, offers canoe, kayak, raft and tube rentals, as well as private boat and vehicle shuttle services on the Buffalo National River. There are at least six other commercial outfitters offering rentals and shuttles on this reach of the Buffalo National River. During peak months advanced reservations are strongly recommended for boat rentals. Arkansas liveries charge a fair but high price for personal boat and passenger shuttles, or you may be able to find local drivers who can and will negotiate a fee for such services.
The Lower Buffalo is a quiet river for most of its journey of 54 to 59 miles (depending upon final take-out destination on the White River), though it can rise near the confluence if a dam release is occurring on the White River. With a very gradual gradient, the Lower Buffalo flows slow, but the scenery along the way is spectacular. Usually, this reach of the river has fewer paddlers, and that is especially true below Rush Landing because it is another 24+ miles to the Buffalo City boat ramp on the White River, which is the next access point. here, the bluffs rise 500 or more feet above the river amid a forest of tall trees. If you are looking for a quiet, secluded place to enjoy a river, then the Lower Buffalo is just what the doctor ordered. In addition to several improved campgrounds along the way between Gilbert and Rush Landing there are numerous sand and gravel beaches, some quite large, that make excellent campsites, but be sure to camp well above the edge of the river in the event it rises overnight, especially of going durng spring months when the river can quickly rise by up to about one foot per hour and become very swift.
Arkansas generally gets most of its rain during the winter and early spring months, so this is the time when the level is best, but the Lower Buffalo can usually be paddled or floated when the other sections are too low to enjoy. Expect some walking during prolonged dry spells. And, by all means, be sure to bring your camera! There is much to see and photograph along this remote reach of the river.