Floating the Buffalo National River
Floating the Buffalo National River

Learning the Buffalo River basics

Learning the Buffalo River basics

In a place renowned for outdoor adventures, one is so much a part of the Arkansas experience that it’s practically mandatory. Floating the Buffalo National River is an Arkansas rite of passage. Why do so many canoers, kayakers and campers make the pilgrimage? Because this 132-mile stretch of crystal rapids and rocky bluffs is heaven on the water. Ready to get your float on? Get started with this Buffalo River beginner's guide!

Dog on a floating trip on the Buffalo National River

Planning and timing

The Buffalo National River is a stunning destination any time of the year, but floating has a season, typically from late March until late July. The river is usually described in three parts: the upper, middle and lower sections. The best months for the upper section are April and May. For June and July, start your float in the middle section for better water flow. If you want to float the whole thing, plan your trip in late spring for the best experience. Remember to keep an eye on water levels and river conditions when planning your trip.

Choosing your gear

Kayaks, canoes, rafts and tubes are all popular ways to float the Buffalo. Choosing the right float depends on several factors, including how far you’re going, how much stuff you’re carrying, and how many people are in your party. Rafts and tubes are good for shorter floats and day trips, especially with larger groups. Canoes and kayaks are fun for any occasion and are especially good for longer and multi-day floats with camping cargo. Whatever you want to try, you’ll find rentals available nearby. Visit the Ozark Mountain Region website to learn more.

Packing essentials

Bring these items along to make your float trip safer and more fun. You can easily find everything you need once you arrive. 

  • Life jackets — required by law for everyone on the water
  • Sun protection — sunscreen, sunglasses, hats
  • Dry bags — protect your phone and valuables from tipovers
  • Snacks and drinks — stay energized and hydrated in the sunshine

Putting in, taking out

A float trip requires two points — one upriver where you get in the water, and another downstream where you get out. Doing this manually requires you to have a vehicle at both locations. Luckily, shuttle services are available to make everything easy. They’ll haul your canoe, kayak or raft right down to the water. When you reach your designated endpoint, they’ll be waiting to take you back. If you rent your vessel, the shuttle is typically included. If you bring your own kayak or canoe, you can still pay to use the shuttle service, and you’ll be glad you did. It’s just so much easier.

Floating the Buffalo National River

Choosing a route

The Buffalo National River has floating routes for paddlers of every skill level. Plan your trip with a local outfitter for expert advice and easy access wherever you decide to put in and take out. Half-day floats are the most popular, and there are a variety of routes to check out during the same trip. For more of a challenge, plan a multi-day float and camp as you go. For the ultimate Arkansas adventure, take on the whole Buffalo National River from top to bottom, a trip that usually takes 7 days or more.

Floating must-knows

While on the water, keep these guidelines in mind to ensure a fun and safe time for you and everyone else.

  • Leave No Trace — take what you bring and nothing else
  • Watch the Weather — be aware that water levels can change quickly
  • Tipping Over — be prepared to fall in the water, it happens
  • Life Jackets — these are required at all times on the water

Floating the Buffalo National River

Camping and lodging

When the sun goes down and the paddles go up, you have lots of options on the Buffalo National River. Choose a lodging option that fits your float trip, from luxury cabins to campsites to even sleeping in your own canoe!

  • Cabins – There are lots of cabin rentals around the area, so take your time when planning. You’ll find one with exactly the right amenities. Find lodging ideas here.
  • Backcountry Camping – Imagine stargazing under the bluffs to the soundtrack of rushing water. Camp as you go. Just follow all the rules and leave no trace.
  • Primitive Camping – Campsites are available for reservation all around the area for those who want the thrill of the outdoors but with bathrooms. 

Camping along the Buffalo National River


Off the water, the main attraction at the Buffalo National River is hiking, and the trails are fantastic! Definitely check out the view from Whitaker Point and see Hemmed-In Hollow Falls. The Goat Trail to Big Bluff is a challenge worth taking if you can handle it, as is the more accessible Lost Valley Trail with its awesome waterfall and cave features.

Book your trip!

Ready to get your float on? Make your reservations now and get ready for primetime floating season on Buffalo National River! Find all the local hot spots, equipment rentals, information about water access, trail descriptions and more. Visit ozarkmountainregion.com today and plan your Buffalo River adventure!