Buffalo National River

Discover America's First National River

  • Length: 150 miles
  • Duration: Variety of trip options
  • Difficulty: Class I
  • Best Rapid: Ponca to Kyle's Run
  • Rec. Level: NA
  • Put-in: Dependent on water level
  • Take-out: Based on trip length
  • Season: Canoeing is March - June

Buffalo National River with Buffalo Outdoor CenterThe Buffalo National River begins as a trickle in Boston Mountains of Arkansas, where it flows north and then eastward through the Ozark Mountains, merging 150 miles later with the White River at Buffalo City.

The Ponca “headwaters” area (and where we’re located) offers the Buffalo National River’s finest scenic beauty. With its massive towering bluffs, countless waterfalls, grazing elk herds, pioneer homesteads, early Native American bluff shelters, and remote unspoiled location, the upper Buffalo National River wilderness is considered a prime outdoor destination by adventure enthusiasts.

In fact, the river is such a special place that in 1972, Congress designated it as America’s first national river. This unique status protects the Buffalo from commercial or residential development, along with other destructive operations such as damming and gravel mining, thus preserving its scenic beauty and natural wild state forever.

Buffalo Outdoor Center outfits for the Buffalo’s upper district, which begins at Ponca and continues downriver 52 miles to a remote river access called Woolum. The river’s most scenic stretch is the 24-mile Ponca-to-Pruitt section, offering more than 50 Class I and II rapids in the first 10 miles, as well as numerous hiking opportunities along the way. Two of the river’s most prominent geological features are located on this stretch of river: Hemmed-In Hollow and Big Bluff, respectively, the tallest waterfall (250 feet) and bluff face (550 feet) between the Appalachians and the Rockies.

Canoeing the Buffalo National River with Buffalo Outdoor CenterCanoes and kayaks are the preferred boats of choice on the Buffalo National River, although higher water levels permit rafting from time to time. All three boat types can be rented at BOC and vehicle shuttle services are also provided. The typical day-trip is 8 to 10 miles in length, depending upon the launch site. Multi-day trips can be arranged for as many days as you like and your takeout can be anywhere on the Buffalo, including the middle and lower river. Use our helpful interactive Buffalo National River map to learn more about river access points, mileage, and scenic highlights.

March through June is the season for the upper Buffalo, as our section of river is highly rainfall dependent. Weekends in May and June are very popular, so advance reservations are recommended if your trip includes a Saturday or Sunday. Otherwise, a reservation isn’t necessary for weekday trips.

Buffalo Outdoor Center has been outfitting on the river for well over 30 years. We’d love to put our knowledge and expertise to work for you, helping you plan a Buffalo National River adventure that makes the most of your valuable vacation time.