Guide To Exploring Buffalo National River: Hiking, Camping, Floating & More


We’re sharing the best trails to hike, places to camp, and other things to do in Buffalo National River. We also provide trip ideas to help you plan an awesome adventure during every season.

Buffalo National River is one of the most impressive national parks in the U.S. if you love outdoor adventures in wild, rural, and untamed natural spaces.

The National Park Service manages the park in north central Arkansas. It protects 135 miles of the Buffalo National River, which wanders through the Ozark Mountains.

There’s no denying that Arkansas is an outdoor paradise, and the Buffalo is one of the state’s crown jewels.

Best Things To Do in Buffalo National River + Where To Stay

Pablo and I at Big Bluff Overlook

Buffalo National River in Arkansas is the perfect destination for an adventure-packed outdoorsy weekend.

It is one of our favorite places to visit, and it is relatively close to our home.

Trip Planning

Heads up on trip planning. The massive park stretches over 135 miles and consists of three districts.

  • Upper District: Located near Ponca and Jasper, Arkansas
  • Middle District: Located near St. Joe and Marshall, Arkansas
  • Lower District: Located near Yellville and Harriet, Arkansas

Hiking Trails

Lost Valley Trail

There are miles and miles of trails to explore. Some of the best and most popular trails to hike are:

Hemmed-in-Hollow Trail: The trail to Hemmed-in-Hollow takes hikers to one of the tallest waterfalls in mid-America. The falls cascade over 200 feet from the bluffs, and they are truly a sight to see.

The trail can be accessed via floating in on the Buffalo River or from the Compton Trailhead near Compton in the Upper District.

The terrain is for experienced hikers only, as the trail is rated as strenuous due to its steep bluffs and elevation gain.

Centerpoint to Big Bluff: Called “The Goat Trail” by locals, the hike along the Centerpoint Trail to Big Bluff leads hikers to a huge bluff overlooking the Buffalo River Valley. Known for its million-dollar views, you’ll want to add this famous hike in the Upper District to your list.

Hideout Hollow – Located near Compton in the Upper District, the trail to Hideout Hollow ends with a large waterfall cascading over a bluff shelter. It is an easy hike, and the falls at the end are cool to see.

Lost Valley Trail – Known for being one of the most popular hikes in the Upper District, hikers can see multiple caves and waterfalls along the Lost Valley Trail. The bluff shelter is enormous and a sight to see.

Indian Rock House: This popular hike, accessible from Buffalo Point Campground in the Lower District, was once a prehistoric bluff dwelling and is cool to experience.

Hiking with Dogs

Buffalo Point

Dogs are not allowed on most trails within the park, but they are permitted on a few.

Hiking trails allowing dogs:

  • Buffalo River Trail (BRT) between Ponca and Steel Creek
  • Villines Homestead Trail at Ponca
  • The trails at Tyler Bend Campground
  • Specific trails at Buffalo Point Campground


The Buffalo River Trail (BRT) is a popular backpacking trail.

No permits are required to backpack or camp in primitive sites in the backcountry at Buffalo National River.

Remember that the area is rural and rugged when planning a trip. Some of the trails aren’t marked well, and cell phone reception is poor. Be sure to plan your route and have a good map or GPS.

Hemmed-in-Hollow waterfall

Horseback Riding

There are over 75 miles of trails for horseback riding, with many of the popular trails located in the Upper District.

Steel Creek Campground allows horse trailers, but the road into the campground is winding and steep.

Be sure to have a map when exploring the backcountry. Cell phone reception is limited unless you are high up on a mountaintop and close to a town.

Stargazing and Night Photography

The park is in a rural area, so the night sky is truly a sight to see.

The best places, in my opinion, to view the night sky are from the campgrounds in the Upper District.

Floating the River

The river is a popular destination for kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and swimming. With its multiple launch points and local outfitters, Buffalo National River is a great place for folks who love floating the river.

Planning a trip is easy with one of the local guiding outfits, or you can bring your kayak or canoe.

Floating the lower section


If you enjoy fly fishing, you’ll appreciate fishing on the Buffalo. It has some of the best fishing in the state.

Wildlife Watching

Fall is one of the best times to see the elk herds in the Upper District near Boxley and Ponca, AR. Visitors may even see them near the Erbie Campground (link to our YouTube video) in the fields.

While hiking, keep your eyes peeled for deer and wild boars. We have seen the boars while hiking in the Upper District along the Centerpoint Trail.

Where To Stay in Buffalo National River

There are quite a few areas to stay while exploring the park. Below are some of our favorites, along with other popular places.

Camping at Buffalo Point

Tent Camping

There are fantastic places to camp along the river in the Upper District if you are tent camping.

Check out Steel Creek, Kyles Landing, Erbie, or the Ozark Campground.

All of these campgrounds have easy access to the river and nice swimming holes.

RV Camping

The Buffalo Outdoor Center has a full hookup RV park. It is located just outside the park, north of Ponca in the Upper District. This is our go-to place to camp with our Aliner.

In the Lower District, Buffalo Point Campground is tent and RV-friendly. It has water and electric hookups, multiple bathhouses, flush toilets, and hot showers.

We LOVE camping here during the summer because it is an awesome place to swim.


Visitors can rent rustic cabins at Buffalo Point in the Lower District.

Outside the park, near Ponca in the Upper District, cabins are available to rent from Buffalo Outdoor Center.

Our Experience Exploring the Area

We have been exploring this park for years, and it has taken us many different weekend road trips from Tulsa to write about all the best trails to hike, places to camp, and other things to do here.

We wrote this article to help you see many of the highlights.

Since the park is so spread out and in rural areas, we recommend picking a district to explore, finding trails to hike, and finding a camp location to base yourself in.

Ozark Campground

Best Time To Visit + Trip Planning Examples

We have explored the park in all four seasons, with each season offering something magical.


Winters in Buffalo National River are awesome. The foliage is off the hardwoods and allows you to see through the trees while hiking, offering unique views of the mountains you might not typically see. During the winter, the forest is quiet, and traffic on the trails is sparse.

During December, we hiked Centerpoint to Goat Trail, Hideout Hollow, Balanced Rock, Lost Valley, and Whitaker Point (outside the park boundaries but close) and were the only ones on the trails.

The Buffalo Outdoor Center is an excellent place to camp near the park boundaries if you have an RV. It is a private campground but has a nice bathhouse with hot water and flushing toilets while dry camping in the winter.

Steel Creek in the winter


Spring is the best time to float the Upper Buffalo from Ponca when water levels are high. You can bring your kayak (YouTube about our kayaks) or canoe, rent gear from a local outfitting company, or take a guided float tour down the river.

Spring is also the best time to hike the waterfall trails, Hemmed-in-Hollow being one of the most epic.

March through May is an excellent time to enjoy cooler temperatures while hiking and camping.


Summers are hot and humid, but visitors can still enjoy hiking here, with many trails in the shade. We enjoy camping at Buffalo Point in the Lower District, where we can get in the water and float the river, but we also use the A/C in our Aliner Camper.

We have also camped at the Buffalo Outdoor Center RV Park near Ponca in the Upper District. It is right on the park boundary and has full hookups.

All the campgrounds inside the park are right on the water and have great places to swim.

Buffalo Point area


Fall is notoriously one of the best times to explore the park – specifically in October.

The Ozarks put on a grand display of fall colors, the temperatures are cooler, and you might even see the resident elk roaming the fields in the Upper District near Ponca.

The trails are busier this time of year, and you’ll want to make reservations to camp ahead of time because fall is one of the most popular times to visit.

We hope you have the best time.

Ashlee & Pablo

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Ashlee Fechino

Ashlee Fechino is an outdoor recreation and travel writer sharing the best-kept secrets that aren’t in your typical guidebook. Her goal is to inspire people to travel with a sense of adventure by sharing hidden gems across the U.S. and beyond. She is married to an expat Argentine, Pablo. They camp in their Aliner often and love wandering the world. Follow their latest adventures on Instagram @thehappinessfxn.


  1. Burt Randall on November 28, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    This state really moves me. It’s a good read, Ashlee and Pablo.

    Have a good time next time you go.

    • Ashlee Fechino on December 27, 2022 at 5:51 pm

      Thanks, Uncle Burt. We love Arkansas! 🙂