Buffalo River Trail
Length: 37 miles - but can be broken down into smaller sections for day trips
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
Buffalo River Trail Google Maps
From Boxley Valley to Pruitt, the Buffalo River Trail (BRT) winds through scenic overlooks, old homesites, and rugged wild areas that best characterize the park. Hiking is most strenuous between Boxley Valley and Erbie, where steep gradients and switchbacks lead to spectacular views of the river. The terrain gradually gives way to a nicer river corridor and terrain which is more forgiving to hikers.
The Buffalo River Trail is presently 37 miles long. Unlike the old river road trail, which follows the river more closely, the BRT does not have river crossings. Also unlike the old river road trail, use on the BRT is limited to hikers only.
Trailheads to Buffalo River Trail are located at the south end of Boxley Valley, Ponca Low Water Bridge, Steel Creek, Kyles Landing, Erbie, Ozark, and Pruitt Ranger Station. All trailheads but Ponca Low Water Bridge have overnight parking areas available.
The newest addition to the BRT is the 18-mile section from Woolum to Highway 65, near Tyler Bend, then ending up at Gilbert. Trail maps and guides are available for sale through the Eastern National Bookstore, park headquarters and at all visitor contact station locations.
Dogs and other pets are not permitted on park trails.
The Old River Trail criss-crosses back and forth across the Buffalo National River from Ponca to Pruitt. Long before this was a national park, the river was home to pioneer families who moved up and down the river by horse-drawn wagon and eventually automobile or truck. You can still see skeletal remains of some of these abandoned vehicles as you travel the Old River Trail.
This trail is for those who don't mind getting their feet wet, as even in summertime low water there's just some places that always offer a wet crossing. The trail is most commonly used by trail riders, however, it is not unusual for a backpacker to travel the Old River Trail as well. The advantage to this trail is it keeps you in the riverbed where you can enjoy the scenic beauty of the Buffalo River closeup and personal. In contrast, the Buffalo River Trail traverses the eastern upper mountain benches above---and oftentimes out of sight---of the river below.
In summer, the trail can become more than a bit gnarly as the undergrowth, along with assorted ticks, chiggers and mosquitos, can keep you challenged in between river crossings. For this reason, fall and winter are glorious times to enjoy the Old River Trail with the main challenge being that of keeping your feet warm and dry, at least for part of the time.
Springtime can be wonderful, too, before the undergrowth and bugs become overwhelming; however, the downside is that this is the season for rain---sometimes heavy rain---and counting on being able to stay down in the riverbed is unpredictable at best. Due to rising water, you may be forced out at a place or on a day that didn't fit into your original plan.
That all being said, the Old River Trail is a beautiful place and worth exploring, if even to a small extent. One way to perhaps have your cake and eat it, too, is to hike from Centerpoint Trailhead down to Jim Bluff and camp for a couple of nights. Then you can roam up and down the river, but always come back "home" to base camp for dry socks and shoes. To hike out, either return the way you came (exploring Big Bluff perhaps on the way out) or hike up the Hemmed-In Hollow trail to Compton. Centerpoint to Compton is about 7.6 miles R/T and gives you the best of the Buffalo National River to explore!