Kayaking Buffalo River, AR

Hoping to get a little last minute advice. This will be my first kayak trip and I want it to be great. I have planned a trip to the buffalo river in Arkansas for a 3 day kayaking/fishing/camping adventure and we’re leaving on Thursday… I have a few questions for people in this region or are familiar with this river.

  1. How far can you travel down river at a leisurely pace? We would like to see as much of the river as possible but do not want to kill ourselves either. Which leads me to my next two questions…

  2. Where is the best place to launch? Where would you launch if you had 3 days?

  3. I have heard recently that parts of the river are dried up and are not able to be passed in a kayak. I have contacted some outfitters and Im not sure I can completely trust them since they are trying to sell their services. This will be about a 7-8 hr drive from where I live and would hate to get up there and the trip be a bust due to low water levels.

    Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

American Whitewater.org has 13 sections of the Buffalo listed. 12 of the 13 are noted as “Below Recom” (i.e. too low in thier opinion) and the 13th section is “Lower Runnable”

in any case, you can see the start/end locations and mileage for each section, and the class rating they have

you might want to court those outfitters a little more and see if there are other options - maybe the White ? or shift to Missouri where there are spring fed rivers that are likely more runnable right now

you can also just google for the USGS Buffalo River gauges - they will present the current cfs with an indication of where nortmal flow would be for the same days over the history of the gauge, but that does not give you any idication that it is too low or not.

500 miles
I usually paddle at a leisurely 500mph, so that would be leisurely for me

“1. How far can you travel down river at a leisurely pace? We would like to see as much of the river as possible but do not want to kill ourselves either”

this is really a dumb question if you think about it.

everyone paddles at a different speed, with a different boat on different rivers with different current speed, and no one is going to know how fast your “leisurely pace” would be.

so figure it out yourself. if you don’t have any idea of how fast you paddle, just assume 3mph flatwater spee; so assuming you actually paddle 3 hours, you would go 9 miles; add to that, any speed of the current which is likely to be at least 1 mph or could be 5 or 10 miles an hour. just drifting with a 5 mph current will cover 5 miles in an hour, 15 miles in 3 hours etc

better to back into how hard you need to paddle to get from putin to takeout - for example, if its 20 miles, and no current then figure 7 hours of steady paddling to cover that distance. if you don’t consider that to be a leisurely pace, then you need to cut the distance to whatever you like. that all assumes zero time for fishing or lunch stops or P-stops - adjust your time/distance to take those into account

Ozark Streams
We are in an extreme drought right now. I wouldn’t try to paddle the Buff. The Current here in MO is paddleable as is the Eleven Point if you want to do a few nights on a river. Check river gauges. Here’s a link to mo streams.


I have worked with a couple of the local
outfitters on the Buffalo and I recommend you leave your cynicism at home.

If its not good paddling they will say so. Most of them offer alternate non paddling services.

In any case hope for rain. The Buffalo can spring back quickly. I have seen it go from famine to flood in one day. I would heed wildernesswebbs suggestions to stick with more spring fed waters.

Excellent trip
I’m probably too late, but just in case you’re still able to check tonight:

The lower half of the river should still be relatively paddle-worthy, just not very exciting. I would stay away from anything in the upper third for sure, as it will require a lot of boat-dragging through gravel bars and over or around low rapids. For the future, your best bet for exciting water is the upper third in late April or early May when the river is fed by spring storms. I would definitely avoid putting in above Pruitt, and would recommend going even farther down stream for your starting point this late in the year. If you start at Grinders Ferry, you will miss the inevitable cluster of activity that takes place at Tyler Bend State Park, and you’ll be ahead of the hordes of larger groups that start their trip there.

As far as a ‘liesurly pace’… we’ve easily covered 15-18 miles in short days (sleep late, take our time packing up camp, start paddling around 10 or so, start looking for ideal campsites around 4:30 or 5:00 and stop when we find one.) If you really want to slow it down, you can probably shoot for 7-10 miles per day, stopping frequently, take a long lunch, stop early and enjoy an early evening campsite. If you travel TOO fast, you may find yourself at your destination a day ahead of the shuttle service dropping off your vehicle. That happened to us our first time, we paddled way faster than we thought we would, reached our last day’s take out point the night before, had to spend the night at the noisy Maumee campground. So my advice is to end your day early if you have reached your day’s mileage. Better to spend the evening relaxing in your private campsite than to hurry and push yourself for maximum mileage and wind up reaching your end point 18 hours early.

True. I caught the Red River in TN
at about 800 cfs because of recent local storms, and it had been dirt low in the recent past. We were just driving through on I-24, coming slowly back from Lake Superior.

One does have to be within a days drive and watching the radar and satellite gauges closely.