Buffalo River Kayak Advice

I am planning a 7 day kayaking trip on the Buffalo River in late April 2016. I kayak regularly here in Texas and even on very slow, flat rivers here can cover 20 miles in 6-8 hours depending on flow rates. I’m trying to figure how many miles a day I should be able to cover on the Buffalo and am looking for advice from those who have made the trip. I’d love to start at Ponca and do the entire 125 miles to the end, but I’m not sure how the flow is on the river in late April and if that’s possible or not. I would have no problem paddling 6-8 hours each day if necesary. Just looking for some advice from those who know. The Buffalo Outdoor Center said I should plan on covering only 10 miles per day and I find that to be a very low number. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Depends on river flows
I have done it several times.

The Buffalo reacts strongly to rain. Its a small watershed without upstream dams.

It has been a five- six day trip for me. But each time has been beset with high water at some point and its hard to stop! Paddling days were only three to four hours…the water moving along so quick

Taking ten days would be nice. I can see at low water where ten days is appropriate. There is lots to see and hikes off the river to take. Low water can indeed slow down your speed.

The last trip from Ponca started at low water and we only got 11 miles the first day. Then it rained overnight and two days later we were at Buffalo Point.

April water levels are variable

– Last Updated: Dec-15-15 2:07 PM EST –

Here is the USGS gauge info for the upper Buffalo River at Ponca:


Best levels for the upper Buffalo from Ponca down are about 3 feet on this gauge. Once the river drops down to 2.5ft or below, you are likely to do a fair bit of scraping in a loaded boat, at least down to Kyle's Landing, and that can slow you down a good bit.

If you look at the flow data from the last half of last April you will find that the water level was below 3 ft for the latter half of that time period and that median flows over the last 6 yrs were at or below around 2.7 ft from April 22 to the end of the month.

If water levels are reasonable, I don't think you would have any difficulty doing 20 miles a day, perhaps more. The outfitters usually give mileage recommendations appropriate for floaters. There should be plenty of daylight hours in late April. Below Kyle's landing, dragging will be less of an issue except at very low water levels.

You know what they say about opinions…

Here are a couple of mine:

Put in at Ponca, and take out at Gilbert.

Use outfitter at Ponca to shuttle your vehicle to Gilbert on the morning of the day you plan to take out.

Check the weather forecast religiously. If rain is in the forecast & you choose to go ahead with your trip; you damn well better pick a camping spot with an escape route. More than a few paddlers (usually rookies & drunks) have lost their gear, and their boats. Some have lost their vehicles to the river.

Some have lost their life. With heavy rain, the river can rise very quickly.

Carry rain gear, a spare paddle, multiple fire starters, a first aid kit & weather radio.

Obey the regulations. Rangers will give you a ticket, and they are expensive, if you ignore the regulations.

The suggested trip is about 71 miles.

I’d forget longer trips, and “stop & smell the roses”

along the way. Lots to see there that most pass by, in a big hurry to get from point A to point B.

Don’t even think about taking a loaded boat above Boxley; you’ll regret it if you do.

My opinions are based on experience.


Buffalo River Regulations
Do NOT carry ANY glass containers with you.

Make sure your cooler lid is tied shut, locked, fastened, or secured in some manner.

Attach to your boat and use a mesh litter bag for all trash, refuse.

Use a floating beverage holder when a beverage is not secured in a cooler or mesh bag.

Dispose of trash in proper location.

Each violation shall be a misdemeanor, and each violation may be prosecuted as a separate offense.

Each violation shall be punishable by a fine of not more than $500.00.

Don’t be a limit tester; it can cost you plenty.

Practice leave no trace techniques on the river.


P.S. There are over a hundred miles of maintained trails within the park. There are some elk running free out there. Some beautiful scenery.

There are Timber Rattlers, Copperheads and Water Moccasins on the Buffalo. Watch your step!

Good luck; have fun…

I agree with most

– Last Updated: Dec-15-15 2:57 PM EST –

Of the advice already given.

20 miles per day would be full days but doable. You could easily cover 10 miles per per day in an aluminum canoe with low water levels. That recommendation is ment for the typical recreational paddlers that do day trips.

Early April is really the beginning of the spring rain season in that part of the Ozarks so it could be low water or it could be high water or anything in between. Depends on what the weather has been like in the few weeks or even few days before your trip. Upper Buffalo water levels are very sensitive to rainfall or lack thereof. By mid April I would plan for "normal" water levels, watch the river gauges online and alter plans if needed.

You can also call local outfitters or the National park service (find numbers online) and inquire about current water and weather conditions and there recommendation. If you call the park service, ask to speak with a ranger.

I disagree with the comment about not paddling past Gilbert. True enough the upper buffalo has some spectacular scenery, incredible limestone bluffs, deep canyons and lots of fast water but there is still a lot of beautiful scenery, bluffs, mountains and spectacular river below Gilbert and all the way to the confluence with the white river. The last 20 miles of the river are a wilderness area!

Most people consider anything up stream of Gilbert to be the upper Buffalo and below Gilbert the lower Buffalo.

Also note that having water levels deep enough to paddle are much more dependable below Gilbert. The river below Gilbert can be paddled in all but the very dryest conditions.

Do try to get an outffiter that will keep your vehicle at there facility (on high ground) untill near the end of your trip, then deliver it to your takeout access the day you will arrive - just in case. Or, have it shuttled to Rileys station, (my usual takeout access point) at the confluence of the Buffalo and White rivers at Buffalo city. (Secure parking on high ground well above river level).

I have never had any problems with the park service rangers, they have always been extremely helpful in my experience. However following the regulations is always good advice and there are a lot of regs to follow, be sure to read up. Most people are tripped up by the no glass no Styrofoam rules.

Good luck John R

Great Trip
Ponca to Buffalo City is definitely possible in late April. The bad news is you won’t know for sure until 48 hours or so before you plan to launch. I agree with Pete that twenty mile days are perfectly feasible, especially in a kayak. That said, you’ll be sorry if you don’t take time to check out the numerous amazing things to see and soak in the natural splendor. It really is a special place. The fishing’s great too. Here’s a link to a good planning resource.http://www.troop142bsa.org/buffalo_national_river.htm. You may have seen it already, but I like it because it links to maps and gauges all from one page. I’ll also email you a very helpful spreadsheet a friend put together.


– Last Updated: Dec-15-15 1:21 PM EST –

Actually, the river's divided into three sections, not two. Ponca (really Boxley I guess but that's generally only private trips) to Carver (I think) is considered the upper, Carver to Gilbert the middle, and the rest the lower.

My mistake.

I forgot one thing
If the floodgates are all open on the powerdam on the White you womt be able to paddle the 1/4 mile upstream to the state takeout.

Better to take out down the White or have a really strong ferry and arrange to get out at Riley’s Station.

I too like the lower Buffalo very much. Buffalo Point is wonderful as is the wilderness area below Rush.

the lower river from Buffalo Point to the White is not to be missed. Nice thing about the Buffalo is that it’s long enough that even if the water is low you can still do it from Gilbert to the White, which is a good four or five day trip without a lot of lollygagging but also without paddling like heck, and the paddling experience is very nearly as good as the upper river. So too much rain will mess you up more than too little rain.

A couple friends of mine did the whole thing from Ponca early laast spring. Had good water to Rush, then came a gully washer and the river rose 4 feet during the night as they were camped at Rush…they purposely camped there because they knew the rain was coming. Sat in camp the next morning watching the river rise another 4 feet. By the next morning it had dropped about 4 feet and was continuing to drop. They went ahead and floated on down to the White that day, 23 miles in about 3 hours!

Watch those willows when the river is
high… More than once we have had to use throwbags to pull folks out of willow islands.


– Last Updated: Dec-16-15 1:09 PM EST –

True Kayamedic, that's why I always finish my trips at Riley's station. No matter how much water is being dumped through Bull Shoals dam I have always been able to get across the White River to the access. Sometimes I have seen the water moving fast enough that I would not have been able to make it to the upstream access.

WARNING --- if you plan to paddel to the confluence and end your trip at Riley's station don't go down steam where the Buffalo and the White meet! You may only get one chance at your access! If the current is strong when you get to the confluence, aim upstream and cross the White river to the far bank, not there yet this bank is a large island in the White river. Walk your boat upstream about 100 yards to the end of the point, from there you will be able to see across the other fork to your access ramp and boat dock. Paddle upstream of your intended line, the current will probably push you down stream to the boat ramp as you cross.

John R