Buffalo National River is a National Park in Arkansas, in case you were not already aware of it. I sure wasn’t until I saw a post about it in another forum. My dad and I were planning a backpacking trip, and BNR looked like the perfect spot.
We had planned on backpacking for 5-6 days along the river. When we got to the outfitter, they told us that the river was low but floatable. Couple that with the topo map that made the hikes look pretty brutal to two out of shape guys, and lazily meandering down a calm river seemed awfully appealing. Plus, the trails were mostly loops on top of the bluffs and none really follow the river for its entire length. If I am going to a national park for a river, I want to be on or right next to the river, damnit.
Five days turned into three days because of a weather report we heard from a ranger at one of the pull outs. We had planned to cover most of the 34 miles of our route in the first couple of days, and spend the other days fishing and wandering around in the woods and caves of the area. We knew it was supposed to lightly rain on Monday afternoon and planned accordingly. The ranger informed us that in the past couple of days that the forecast had changed to heavy rain and thunderstorms on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday (after we left Arkansas, we went to my grandparent’s house 1.5 hours north in Springfield, MO, and the forecast proved to be pretty accurate). Backpacks dry bags, so we hauled ass down the river to our pull out point and had the outfitter pick us up a couple of days early. Next time, I will definitely take a kayak with the appropriate gear so we do not have to worry about crappy weather. My dad would have probably killed me if he had to spend three rainy nights in my Mountain Hardwear single walled tent, so there was also the issue of self preservation.
Backpacking gear canoing gear, but our stuff seemed to work fine as long as it wasn’t raining. There were a few issues on the last day when we were paddling in the rain, but nothing that sitting in a dry garage when we got back didn’t fix. I definitely would have brought more than food bars and dehydrated meals for food, and probably some things to make the trip more comfortable. We did not really lack for anything though, and had no major problems with any of the gear. The custom fixed blade I took on the trip did all of the wood splitting (batoning) and the pocket chainsaw, of course, did all of the cutting. There is a post over in the shelter forum that gives some more detail on the tent and hammock used. I’ll make some separate posts about the other gear used.
The river winds through some breathtaking areas, with high bluffs every mile or so. The river is one of the cleanest in the nation, and you could look in the water and see how true that was. There was definitely the occasional beer can and car tire, but nothing like any of the rivers around here with their Superfund looking surfaces. The sunrises and sunsets were amazing (my pics don’t do them justice). As with here in the southeast, the drought severely affected the leaves. They should have been in their color peak, but only part of the ridges and valleys had turned. Everything in between was still green. It was beautiful as it was, so I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like if the area had had enough water.
The wildlife is plentiful, with huge fish jumping out of the water regularly. Turtles are also all over the place, and ducks bob in the water. We saw hundreds of turkey buzzards in some areas, several herons, and even a few bald eagles. There are supposedly elk and otters as well, but we were too far down the river for the elk and only saw the otters’ slides. We had too much food to fit in my bear canister and it is a waste of time to hang food with raccoons and possums, so we just left the food in bags in a pile away from our tent and hammock. Surprisingly, we had zero problems even though we heard critters wandering around the campsite both nights.
On Saturday and Sunday, we would pass by a group every hour or two. At night, we would have huge gravel or sand banks to ourselves. On Monday, we passed by a guy in the morning, a fisherman in the afternoon, and that was it. During the summer, you apparently can see someone around you at pretty much any point in the river. Late fall during the week is definitely the time to go.
Pics of the trip are over in the forum.