One of the best things about the state of Arkansas is the Buffalo River.

This river is beloved by locals and visitors alike for its natural beauty and camping and opportunities for relaxation and recreation.

I can honestly tell you that it is one of my favorite places anywhere in the world!

A young  woman and her daughter on the banks of the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Pin

Interesting facts about the buffalo river in Arkansas

Here are some interesting facts about the Buffalo River in Arkansas.

These are in no particular order of importance. They are just some tidbits that I find interesting about my favorite river in the world. You might enjoy them, too!

It was the First National River in the United States:

The Buffalo River in Arkansas was the first river to receive the designation of being a National River in the United States.

It earned this status in 1972.

The Buffalo National River is an International Dark Sky Park

In 2019 the park was designated status as an International Dark Sky Park by the  International Dark-Sky Association (IDA).

To achieve this honor they had to adopt outdoor lighting practices to protect the parks naturally dark skies. Believe it or not dark skies are a valuable and increasingly scarce natural resource.

The park also offers a variety of night sky programs throughout the year and is a great place for photographers to photograph the stars.

You might be interested in learning more about the town of Jasper which is a great base for exploring the Buffalo River Region.

It is one of the longest free-flowing rivers in the lower 48

There are only a few rivers in the lower 48 states that have no dams. The Buffalo River is one of them.

It stretches 135 free-flowing miles through the Ozark Mountains.

(By the way, the Yellowstone is the longest free-flowing river in the US)

Gravel bar on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. The photographer is standing on the gravel bar looking across the river at a high bluff and green trees. Pin

The park is home to the state’s only elk herd.

Did you know that elk used to be plentiful in Arkansas? However, they were over-hunted and by the 1840’s had all but disappeared from the state.

They were successfully reintroduced in the 1980’s and now can be found roaming the forests and fields around the Buffalo National River. You can spot them best at dawn or dusk in the fields that line the road through Boxley Valley.

We saw the herd in the photo below at Steel Creek Campground early in the morning.

A herd of  elk in the distance with fall trees behind them. Pin

You might be interested in reading more about the elk in Arkansas here!

Amazing fossil record

According to the park service there is an amazing fossil record in the limestone bluffs and surrounding areas of the Buffalo River.

There was even a significant fossil site near the park that was excavated in 1908.

It yielded fifteen specimens of saber-tooth cats, giant armadillos, and many other animals and bones. Most of these specimens are at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

It was originally named Buffalo Fork

It was originally named Buffalo Fork…but why? Because there were bison that used to live in the northern and western parts of Arkansas!

The French trappers in the area didn’t know the difference between buffalo and bison so they called the animals boeuf which became buffalo.

As early as 1810 the river was called “The Buffalo Fork of the White River” on topographical maps.

Designated by Audubon Arkansas as an “Important Bird Area”

If you have ever spent much time on the Buffalo River then you know that birds are a vital part of the eco-system.

The Buffalo National River is home to approximately 200 bird species and serves as a critical habitat for breeding, wintering, and migrating birds.

In 2016 Audubon Arkansas announced the designation of Important Bird Area (IBA) status for the Buffalo National River.

No entry fees

There are no fees to enter the area of the Buffalo National River.

It is one of the leading tourist destinations in the state

The Buffalo River is one of the leading tourist destinations in the state and it is estimated that park visitation averages about 800,000 per year.

The park includes more than just the river

In addition to the river, the park encompasses about 95,000 of the surrounding acres.

Trails and overlooks

On the land that surrounds the river are some of the most gorgeous trails, waterfalls, and overlooks in the state of Arkansas.

One of our favorites is the glorious Lost Valley Trail. But there are many, many more.

The park website has a list of the trails that you can check out.

Wild camping is allowed on many of the trails, but is not allowed on others. Always check to find out where you can wild camp.

A young man and woman with their daughter in front of Eden falls in Lost Valley in Arkansas. Pin

The river can be too low for floating

Almost all Arkansans know this fact but visitors may not.

The water levels on the Buffalo vary significantly depending on the weather.

This is not a spring fed river and it is very rain dependent. When there is less rain the “float-ability” of the river moves downstream.

Typically, the paddle season begins on the upper Buffalo in the early spring then moves downstream as we head into summer, varying with rainfall.

In dry years, the paddling season may be quite short moving quickly into the middle and lower sections.

Always check the water levels before embarking because if it is too low for floating you may find yourself dragging your canoe or kayak and that’s not much fun!

(The photo below was taken in May and we were dragging a little bit on this day – however you never know – it all depends on the rain.)

People in kayaks on the Buffalo River in Arkansas. Behind them are huge limestone bluffs and they are floating in the river. Pin

The river can be too high for floating!

There can be too much water in the river for safe floating! Always check the water levels.

Even if the water levels are fine there can be unexpected events.

This is a wild river. You might encounter a “sweeper” or a “strainer.” These are trees that have fallen across or along the edge of the river and may be above the river level, partially submerged, or lie just under the surface of the water.

They can cause a canoe or kayak to capsize and require extra care to avoid.

Always keep an eye out for unexpected obstacles.

Root balls are especially scary in my opinion. I am always watching for those when I float the Buffalo.

Camping is permitted on the sand and gravel bars

Many floaters love to camp on the gravel bars along the river and it is allowed!

You can bring your tent or hammocks, camp, and also have a campfire on the gravel bars. They are also wonderful for picnicking and resting during a float.

In addition there are a number of truly lovely “developed” campgrounds along the river. We enjoy both Steel Creek Campground and Kyle’s Landing Campground but there are other great ones.

Pets are welcome – with restrictions

Pets are allowed in all campgrounds, on the river, and on the gravel bars, but must be under physical control at all times.

We do see many dogs kayaking with their people.

However, pets are not allowed on MOST of the trails in the area surrounding the river. You can learn more by check the pets section of the national park website here.

Floating is beautiful year round

You can float the river in every season.

Of course spring and summer are most popular, but you can experience extreme beauty with a fall float and extreme solitude in the winter.

Phot of the Buffalo river in the fall. Pin

The fight to save the free-flowing river

There was a decade long argument during the 1960’s between those who wanted to dam the river for its hydroelectric potential and the Arkansas conservation groups and individuals who wanted to preserve and keep it free-flowing.

Keeping the river clean is an ongoing issue

In April 2017, the river was ranked as one of America’s ten most endangered rivers. This was mostly due to runoff from a huge hog farm.

That particular issue has been taken care of…but people are always watching.

Recently the Walton family began buying up large tracts of land in the area and proposing some changes that made local groups fearful of future plans for the area.

We hope that you have enjoyed learning a few of these facts about the Buffalo River in Arkansas!

It is truly a special place and a vital part of what makes Arkansas, “the Natural State!”

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