Buffalo River?

I’ve run Bull Sluice a few times, and
I would consider Bull Sluice to be a “low” class 4 even at the easiest levels one can run it.

Was that the one big boulder…
downstream of the low water bridge at Ponca? I ran it several times but it was gone last coupla trips. I paddled a Mohawk Solo 13 3 or 4 times out of Ponca and a composite Wildfire 3 times at Kyles and other put-ins below there. Never had a problem with the composite but I was careful.

I’ve known several folks who got caught by fast rising water on the Buffalo. They were awakened early in the a.m. by water coming into their tents. Yikes!

Had a coupla buds teaching a swiftwater rescue class a few years back on the Guadalupe River in Texas. They were on the river bank having a discussion when they realized the water was unusually high and rising unbelievably fast. They headed back toward their cars but were cut off and could only watch as their vehicles were swept downstream. This was a record flash flood that swept a schoolbus full of teens and many drowned.

Ozark whitewater…
The upper ends of Ozark streams vary so much with water levels that the rapids are very difficult to accurately classify. But if you look at the usual definitions of the different classes, I think you should be able to judge rapids on Ozark streams fairly well.

Class I–moving water with a few riffles and small waves. Few or no obstructions. This describes most generally floatable Ozark streams at normal water levels.

Class II–Easy rapids with small waves, clear channels that are obvious without scouting. Some maneuvering might be required. This describes the occasional rapid on a few Ozark streams at normal water levels, and I’d say quite a few rapids on some of the headwater streams at higher water levels. It also describes some of the rapids on the Boxley to Ponca section at optimum water levels. On the St. Francis River in MO, the most well-known MO whitewater river, it describes a lot of the rapids at “barely floatable” levels, and the easier ones at optimum levels.

Class III–Rapids with high, irregular waves. Narrow passages that often require precise maneuvering. I’ve never floated the Hailstone section, but from the descriptions and pictures I’ve seen, this describes most of the tougher rapids up there at optimum levels. It also describes most of the best rapids on the St. Francis at optimum levels. But here’s where the descriptions start getting sticky. On the Boxley to Ponca section, and even the Ponca to Kyles section of the Buffalo, when the water is higher than optimum, a lot of rapids have high waves but don’t require a lot of precise maneuvering, just riding it out. Class II or not?

Class IV–Long, difficult rapids with constricted passages that often require complex maneuvering in turbulent water. The course may be hard to determine and scouting is often necessary. Most of the rapids on Ozark headwater streams like the Hailstone section are difficult in high water and definitely have constricted passages, but they usually aren’t long, and while scouting is nice, the course is not usually difficult to determine. On the other hand, while there isn’t a LOT of complex maneuvering required, often you have to do one or two very precise moves. Low Class IV? High Class III? The St. Francis in the Hwy. 72 to Sivermines section would definitely qualify here at higher than optimum levels.

Class V–Extremely difficult, long, and very violent rapids with highly congested routes, which should be scouted from shore. Rescue conditions are difficult and there is a significant hazard to life in the event of a mishap. In really high water, say 5 or more feet over the Ponca bridge, the Buffalo above Ponca might qualify, except that routes are seldom really congested and you often CAN’T scout from shore. The St. Francis is similar, though easier to scout. Low Class V? High Class IV? Class V is supposed to be the upper limit for a commercial raft. A good whitewater rafter would have little problem on a stream the size of the St. Francis, but true headwater rapids like in the Hailstone section in really high water would be very difficult to raft.

For what it’s worth, I’m not a serious whitewater enthusiast by any means, but I’ve spent a lot of time on and around Ozark streams at all levels. I’ve seen the Tieman Shut-in section of the St. Francis with 25 feet of water roaring through it, and the haystacks and holes were enormous, enough to eat a big raft and spit kayaks like watermelon seeds. No way I’d get on it in anything at that level. And I’ve floated little creeks that usually flow less than 10 cfs when they had a 6 foot rise, and the wave trains are impressive…I wouldn’t do THAT again in an open canoe!

Tried to do that run last year in June but the water was too low. Instead, did Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. It appears low water prevents that section from being run after spring time. Going early in the year and/or after heavy rain is best. Whichever section you do it is beautiful and an easy run. Good for families in different sections as well. Good luck!

I have seen a big water 2
on the Buffalo…Not a 3…but the section around Gray Rocks was pounding as the Buffalo came off flood. We left Ponca with 0 inches space under the bridge. The wave trains were pretty severe…but there were sneak routes.

Because of my eagerness to get a wild ride, I filled my tripping boat. Another similar boat whose paddler chose the route down the left side rode it out successfully.

Dodging willows or at least avoiding broaching was the chief obstacle. We pulled plenty of people out of the river who swamped. The Buffalo was not kind.

It mattered less about the boat than your ability to front and backferry and avoid sweepers.

Never done Boxley to Ponca…no comment.

relative terms
If you look at the descriptors used to catagorize rapids in the I through V scheme, you will see that virtually all of them are relative and without precise definition.

Adjectives such as “high irregular waves”, “narrow passages”, “complex maneuvering”, “long, difficult rapids”, “turbulent water”, “constricted passages”, “very violent rapids” all may mean one thing to one person and something quite different to another person of a different skill level and experience.

There’s no way to nail the class of any single rapid. when I started paddling eastern WW I fell in with a group of canoe instructors, guides, and outfitters. After running a rapid I would always ask their opinions on classification. Every single one would use a range, such as “that was a class II-III”. Classifications varied according to water levels, skill, and often downstream consequences. Paddlers from different regions of the country also differed. We even see in this thread some differing opinions on Bull Sluice. So, bottom line, there is no definite answer, a range is about the best that should be hoped for.


Buffalo River
Hello Bob,

Obstacles pose the greatest problems on the Boxley to ponca run. Please check in with the local outfitters. They will provide you information you need. I love the Buffalo River. I have ocean experience and no river experience. It is fun. Gray Rock can be quite challenging in High water. Water levels are critical. I have paddled 9"; 16" and 25" or less. 9&16 are a blast. 25 is fun as well. Call the outfitters. They will advise. Have fun !!! We deal with Buffalo Outdoor Center and Lost Valley Canoe for info you seek.