In late May, I finally got to do a three day, two night, 50 mile trip on the Buffalo River from Ozark to Gilbert with my buddy Zach, who also happens to be our in house boat tech. Our goals were to see as much of the river as possible, catch some fish for dinner, scramble up some canyon walls, not flip the canoe and have fun exploring.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Wow, 50 miles seems like a lot in three days!” Well, it is; so I’m going to go ahead and recommend you to not do the same, unless you want to paddle hard. (Now, I’m not saying we’re hard core, although we certainly aim to be; we didn’t want to paddle hard but we wanted to see as much of the river as possible in three days; so we were definitely pushing it.) Under average river conditions, it takes about 4-6 hours to paddle 8-10 miles. Of course, this all depends on the water level, how you paddle, and how much fishing, hiking, climbing, swimming and resting you plan on doing. For a fun 25 mile run, I would suggest Carver to Baker Ford. In this stretch you will come across a cool rock formation called Skull Bluff, and if you so choose, you can climb to the top and jump off of this 60ft bluff. But I’m a climber, not a jumper. Also, on the south side (or right side) of the river is the Narrows Bluff (aka the Narrs) that you can hike up to and get a cool view of the Buffalo River and the Richland Creek Valley. And some of the best fishing is between Skull Bluff and Woolum. Although, I’m not the best fisher; I caught several baby brim, some trout (which I couldn’t keep because I didn’t have a trout license) and some small, small-mouth bass. But I did catch this one keeper!
Water safety, and knowing how to paddle and swim are a great plus; there are some small rapids, and sharp, rapid flowing turns, along with fallen branches where boats can easily flip if you don’t know what you’re doing. You should check the weather and water levels several days in advance; you could even call the outfitter you plan on using. May through July are prime time for paddling the Buffalo. If you are going to fish make sure you get a fishing license and know the legal size and quantity of what you will be catching. Arkansas has a general fishing license and then a whole separate one for trout. I highly recommend paying the additional cost for a trout license; we caught plenty we couldn’t keep. And remember, rivers have laws too!
We booked our canoe and shuttle service through Buffalo River Outfitters; they were very helpful answering all of our questions leading up to the trip. We camped only a few minutes from Buffalo River Outfitters at Tyler Bend the night before we got on the river.
Our first day on the river didn’t start till about noon. But that’s mostly because we both left straight from work at 7pm the day before and drove all night; so, everything we needed was in my car but it wasn’t organized. We slept about four hours at the campground (although seriously considered sleeping in the outfitters parking lot) and when we checked in at the outfitters around 9am they had our shuttle driver come meet us in the parking lot just a few minutes later. But the thing was when we opened my car doors, our gear just came tumbling out everywhere. It took us a good hour to organize what we were bringing and what we were leaving behind. Because after our three days on the river we were planning on doing some rock climbing and a waterfall rappel. When the driver saw how much gear we had, his eyes got really big, but he kept his mouth shut and just watched as we scrambled around. When we were finally done, the only comment the guy had was, “Wait, is that all the water you’re bringing?” as he stared at us holding only three water bottles total. We both just smiled, “No man, we’ve got a whole river!”
So, how did we narrow it down for three days, two people, and one canoe?
The 50L bag seen here in yellow carried our Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 tent, 2 Marmot Nanowave 45 sleeping bags and 2 sleeping pads (Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus and a NeoAir Trekker) and 2 Helinox Chair Ones.
The 40L bag in orange was our kitchen: 1 Jetboil, 1 MSR Pocket Rocket, 2 pots, 1 pan, a cutting board, fillet knife, utensils, mess kit, coffee, spices, a handful of large ziplocks, Campsuds, olive oil, heavy duty foil, and fire starters for all of the damp wood we collected from the river banks. We used the grate for cooking, too.
AO 48 pack vinyl cooler: ice, some perishable foods, ziplocks and extra room for all the fish we didn’t catch, and of course whiskey kept in a Platypreserve Portable Storage Bottle (no glass).
The 35L clear bag carried all non perishable foods and rain jackets just in case. The clear bag is great for storing all your snacks, easy to see what your food options are and how deep you have to dig to get what you want. So keep the day snacks and hand sanitizer right on top; breakfast and dinner foods on bottom or maybe even in a separate bag.
The 120L Grand Trunk Duffel has two 20L bags with our clothes, toiletries and pack towels. Warmer clothes were needed at night; it got down to about 50 degrees. It was good that I also brought an extra shirt, because it was foggy and overcast most of our trip; so, when our clothes got wet, they weren’t drying anytime soon, even if they are labeled “quick drying.” And it rained on us the first night; it was drizzling all through dinner and then it rained into the middle of the night.The duffel also held a 10L bag of electronics: Goal Zero flip charger, phone cords, Goal Zero speakers, extra batteries, headphones. And then there was our tackle box and maps. We had two waterproof National Geographic maps that were great: Buffalo National River West and East. The West covers the beginning of the river up to mile 66. The Carver put in is at mile 63.5. The East covers mile 66 up to the end of the river at mile 152. The duffel also had an old pair of climbing shoes, we thought we’d use to do some deep water soloing on all these amazing cliffs!
And lastly, a 5L bag held a bandana, my phone, sunscreen, chapstick, harmonicas, and most importantly our Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter! My phone was in a case and used mostly for pictures. Cell reception was spotty, but the closer we were to towns, the better.