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Buffalo National River Wilderness

General Location Maps Contacts Area Management Wilderness Laws Trip Planning Images


The United States Congress designated the Buffalo National River Wilderness (map) in 1978 and it now has a total of 34,933 acres. All of this wilderness is located in Arkansas and is managed by the National Park Service. The Buffalo National River Wilderness is bordered by the Leatherwood Wilderness to the east.


Canoeists paddling the Buffalo find themselves on what may be one of the most scenic rivers in the eastern United States. From its headwaters in the Boston Mountains to its confluence with the White River, 135 miles of the Buffalo's 153 miles are managed by the National Park Service as a National River. Most of the upper 18 miles are managed by the Ozark National Forest as a Wild and Scenic River. Flowing through the Arkansas Ozarks, the river has carved a path out of an ancient seabed, leaving bluffs of sandstone, limestone, and dolomite towering as high as 440 feet above the water. Quiet, languid pools stand between runs of swifter water, often disguising the river’s drop of over 2,000 feet during its long journey. You’ll see glens that trap noon shadows and hollows hiding curtains of ferns fed by secret waterfalls. While the Buffalo is one of the cleanest rivers in America, you should always purify its water before drinking.

Wildlife watchers frequently spot elk, white-tailed deer, mink, river otters, beavers, raccoons, opossums, bobcats, black bears, turkey vultures, black vultures, bald eagles and osprey. Eastern elk, exterminated in the 1840s, were replaced with Rocky Mountain elk in 1981, and the herd has been growing slowly ever since.

Buffalo National River Wilderness is divided into three sections (all managed by the National Park Service). The Upper Buffalo Unit adjoins Upper Buffalo Wilderness (managed by Ozark National Forest). Here you’ll find the river at its wildest and most primitive. From Ponca to below Kyles Landing, a distance of 11 miles, the Ponca Unit protects the most used section of the river. Watch for storms: the river has been known to rise 25 feet in 24 hours. The Lower Buffalo Unit is the largest, stretching from Buffalo Point Ranger Station to the town of Buffalo City on the White River, a distance of 32 miles. Here the water runs smooth and has few human visitors. The Lower Buffalo Unit adjoins Leatherwood Wilderness (managed by Ozark National Forest). Several trails provide access from the river into the Wilderness areas. The Buffalo River Trail winds along scenic overlooks and through isolated forestland. Hiking on the upper trail is strenuous. Camping is allowed anywhere in the Wilderness.

Planning to Visit the Buffalo National River Wilderness?

Leave No Trace

How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Buffalo National River Wilderness.
  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors
For more information on Leave No Trace, Visit the Leave No Trace, Inc. website.

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