Buffalo River Canoe trip Planning

Hey there, I am planning a trip to Canoe the Buffalo River from Ponca, AR to Buffalo City, AR. I have looked around and haven’t seen anything saying that this is possible or impossible. So I am reaching out to you all for advice on this trip. I do have a couple questions for yall.

  1. Can a canoe make it the 130-140 something miles it is from Ponca to Buffalo City?
  2. How long do you think it would take to complete with conditions being perfect and not so perfect? Of course we would be paddling the entirety of the trip. Not casually floating the river.
  3. What is the highest level of rapids we would encounter in the month of April and how much can a canoe go through before it becomes dangerous?
  4. What is the best map to use that would actually show me where rapids would be? Or is there even such a map?
  5. Is there any other information that you think I should know? I am not a first time canoe/ kayak trip taker… just never to this length.

Thank you!

Your questions are difficult to answer. The Buffalo River is a natural flow river largely dependent on rainfall. In any given day in any given April, the water level at Ponca could be too high, perfect, or too low, especially for loaded open boats. Most of the rapids on the upper Buffalo are above the Pruitt access. The most potentially challenging is probably Gray Rock Shoals, which is a little more than a quarter mile above Kyle’s Landing. Gray Rock has three relatively closely spaced ledges, and at healthy spring water levels these can kick up some sizable standing waves and at least one good sized hole, any of which can potentially souse an open canoe. At low water levels, this particular rapid can become quite technical with the best route for a loaded boat not at all apparent from the top of the rapid. At the usual water levels that Ponca to Pruitt is paddled at, the rapids are all Class I or II.

Below Pruitt the rapids become relatively mild but rootwads and strainers can still pose significant hazards. The National Park Service map of the Buffalo River is available on-line and shows roads and access points as well as river miles and a few major river features:


You can enlarge and pan the map for details.

There are some topo maps of the upper and middle Buffalo available on-line primarily geared towards hikers:


National Geographic sells some reasonable topo maps of the Western and Eastern Buffalo which might be worth having along:


I am unaware of any maps that actually show the location of specific rapids.

Your trip is certainly doable but it is impossible for anyone to predict your average daily mileage. This will depend greatly on water levels, how many hours a day you plan to paddle, which will depend on how efficiently you can break camp, load up and get going in the morning, how many stops you make, etc. It may also depend on weather conditions. Do you plan to paddle if it rains all day? Even if you do, thunderstorms or high winds could drive you off the water.

Thank you for the Information you have provided about the Gray Rock Shoals as well as The Pruitt access area. I understand there are many factors that can affect everything on my trip… I am just trying to get a base line on what to expect. As for weather yes we will push through till it becomes unsafe and are prepared for it to happen. Didn’t plan on doing much hiking in order to complete the distance as quickly as we could.

You might want to stop at Hemmed-in Hollow and hike up to the waterfall. It is not a long trip and worth the time. Assuming decent water levels and no mishaps, I would figure on making somewhere in the neighborhood of 2.5-3.0 river miles per hour if you are paddling steadily and not stopping. So if you spend 6 hours a day on the water actually paddling (not counting stops) 15-18 miles per day is quite doable. If you have decent boats and are strong paddlers you may be able to do a bit better still.