Despite a lack of rain, floating season isn’t over on the Buffalo National River. The lower section can still be floated and is actually easily navigated year round unless there is a severe drought.
“We’re on the high end of the low but floatable scale,” said Bill Scruggs, owner of Wild Bill Outfitter’s. “With the weather like it is, it’s just a great time to float.”
Scruggs is one of three concessionaires for the lower Buffalo National River. Meandering through the Arkansas Ozarks for almost 135 miles, the Buffalo was designated the country’s first national river in 1972, and is celebrating its 40th anniversary. This park encompasses more than 95,000 acres along the corridor of this free-flowing stream used for various activities such as floating, fishing, camping, horseback riding, and hunting.
While the water is currently low, Scruggs said it’s at a great level for family outings and the general public not looking for fast water.
There are three main day floats on the lower Buffalo.
The short float from Spring Creek down to Dillard’s Ferry (Highway 14 Bridge) is 4.6 miles. “If someone put in and paddled at a slow pace and didn’t stop, that’s about a two and a half hour trip,” Scruggs explained. “You’re floating back to your vehicle. A lot of people do that float and make it last all day because they want to get out and play and stuff.”
“That’s a good trip for people with kids. The river is still quite enjoyable,” added Little Leo Somerville of Buffalo River Float Service. “It’s very refreshing to swim in. Families actually spend all day on that little trip.”
People interested in a longer float can go the 9 miles from Dillard’s Ferry to Rush. “I’d say a normal paddle time on that is four and a half to five hours,” said Scruggs.
“Both of those are still good floats,” he added. “We’re putting lots of people in every day. We put in about 350 to 400 boats this weekend and we had no complaints. People still had a great time.”
In addition to good swimming holes, Scruggs said fishing on the Buffalo is great too. He said people are catching small mouth bass on sturdy twin tail grubs or a tube jig in a pumpkin seed color. “Using about an one-eighth ounce jig head has been successful and also a black jitterbug fishing at night.” he added.
The third, and slightly longer trip is from North Maumee to Dillard’s Ferry. “Most people are spending five to six hours on that trip,” explained Somerville.
He added, “People need to understand that even on the day floats you might have to step out once or twice or three times and pull the boat a couple feet, but you don’t have to carry the canoe or anything like that. Folks that can read the water, that know what they are doing, can float down it without getting out of it at all.”
Kari Layton of Dirst Canoe Rental said that in addition to the day floats, people can take overnight trips, like Rush to Ship’s Ferry, which is about 30 miles or three days. “We have two-day trips or three-day float trips,” she said. “We do have people that like to do overnight trips, like right now we have people putting in at Rush and taking out at Buffalo City.”
Licensed by the National Parks Service, concessionaires for the upper, middle and lower sections of the Buffalo River rent canoes, kayaks, rafts, and johnboats and provide shuttle services. Typically, the float season begins in spring with ample water to float the upper section on down. Spring rains make the river attractive for people seeking a higher level of challenge with whitewater rapids. The float season moves downstream with the months. But, because the Buffalo is largely rainfall dependent, floating opportunities for each section change not only from season to season, but week to week with precipitation.
Somerville said the water level is currently at 2.9, which is more typical for the end of July or early August. Scruggs has been on the river more than 20 years and said he’s never seen it not floatable. “Some years it gets low. You have to pull through a couple shoals,” he explained.
Scruggs said the best way to get information about water levels is to call an outfitter in the section you want to float. All concessionaires are listed on the NPS website, www.nps.gov/buff/index.htm, where you can also click on “River Levels.” This takes you to a map that shows current floating conditions along the length of the river, as well as additional information on campsites and trails. Many concessionaires also have websites that show river levels.
All concessionaires recommend people call ahead to reserve boats, especially on weekends or holidays. Scruggs said week days are the best time to visit the river for fishermen or people that want to avoid crowds.
“Make sure you have plenty of water for drinking on the river and plenty of sunscreen,” Layton added. “It does get hot out there when you’re in those canoes.”
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Lower River (N. Maumee to Buffalo City) Concessionaires
Buffalo River Float Service
11637 Suite 1, Highway 14 South
Yellville, AR 72687
Dirst Canoe Rental
538 Highway 268 E.
Yellville, AR 72687
Wild Bill’s Outfitter
23 Highway 268 E.