Canoeing Down the Buffalo National River {Arkansas}


I went back to my hotel in Denver professionally tired from the non stop days at the conference I had attended and carrying notebooks full of conference notes of all that I learned. I was looking forward to enjoying having a hotel room to myself for one last night. I had big plans to stay up late, watch whatever I wanted to on tv, and have dinner down at the restaurant, and then sleep in before my flight at 11:30.

my last night with a view of Denver

I hadn’t gotten to really see much of Denver itself but that was okay as my feelings about the city are ambivalent due to my negative feelings about the airport. We all have that one airport that is the bane of our traveling existence, the one that we will pay extra to not have a layover at, and for me that airport has always been Denver. I have spent too many sleepless nights curled up on those floors while the fiery eyes of the creepy bronco outside glared at me.

the scary bronco outside the Denver airport (photo : outtherecolorado.com)

So you can imagine the grumbling when at 1:30 in the morning I was awakened by a text saying that my flight had been canceled. I turned on the light and fumbled on my phone finding another flight. I was able to find a different flight but it would be leaving at 6:30. I set my alarm for a couple hours later with visions of the bronco dancing through my head. But when my alarm went off and I was on my way, I found a surprising feeling of gratitude on how things had turned out. I was glad for my hotel that was so close to the airport and glad that I still had my rental car and didn’t have to rely on finding a shuttle or driver at such an unearthly hour of the morning. And more than anything, I would be coming in hours sooner than anticipated which was the best.

I was not flying back into Nashville, but instead flew into the Little Rock Arkansas airport where my family was waiting to pick me up. They had spent the week at my in-laws in Missouri and we were all heading to a few days along the Buffalo National River. This river has been an important part of my in-laws relationship. They came here 50 years ago when they were first married and have since been bringing family and friends to enjoy the river that has meant so much to them. This visit came with the added milestone of my father in-law finishing his tenure as the president of the Ozark Highland Trail Association and their group was having a send off party for him.

Buffalo National River

The Buffalo River is the first of the country’s national rivers. And this river, like my in-laws, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. This river is 153 miles long and provides ample places to get in and enjoy the water and the incredible views of the bluffs surrounding it. The river was designated national river in March 1972 in response to an initiative of creation of dams set up along the river. By designating it a national river it protected the resources and put the area under the maintenance of the national park service.

The best way to see the river is by getting on it and riding its slow peaceful current as far as you want to go. People can bring their own vessel or they can rent one from one of the many businesses. The shuttles will pick you up and take you up the river with your chosen floating device. When you are done floating you just leave your canoe, kayak, or raft sitting on the beach and they will come and get it later on. Because of this the beaches are generally full of waiting vessels to be picked up.

kayaks and canoes waiting to be retrieved

While the Buffalo is beautiful during the day, one of the real treats of the river is seeing it at night. In 2019 the Buffalo River gained status as an International Dark Sky Park, a designation given to only a few parks throughout the country. In order to be recognized as a Dark Sky Park the park must adopt responsible outdoor lighting practices that protect the natural beauty of the open skies. They serve as an example on how and why can be protected as natural resources. They offer many programs such as star gazing for people of all ages to educate on this mission.

Buffalo National River- Dark Sky (photo: buffaloriver.com)

We spent a day canoeing down the river. Even with all the canoes, kayaks, and rafts going down the river there was a peacefulness to the experience. The water was slow and calm and a mesmerizing green color. It was clear enough to see all the rocks along the bottom. Because of the calm of the water, this is something that anyone could enjoy. No need to worry about hitting big rapids, just go with the river at its pace.

It was a special experience for my father in-law to get to take Tessa down the river. He patiently showed her how to work the paddle and she was determined to do it right. She even assigned herself the title of Captain for the ride. After having taken all of his kids multiple times down this river he was thrilled to share the experience with a grandchild.

Because of her tenacity to canoe herself down the river, Tessa got to be sworn in as an official Junior Ranger of the park. She was pretty proud of herself as the ranger pined a badge onto her shirt after taking the oath to protect the river and its resources.

After the canoe trip we went to a lookout where the striking bluffs along the river are better viewed. Arkansas is known as the ‘natural state’ and looking out over the river and the rocks it is easy to see why such natural beauty marks this state.

We only had one day to experience this beautiful river. The next day we went to the farewell picnic of the Ozark Highland Trail Association before beginning the drive home. This group are life long hikers and admirers of this area. They volunteer their time to help maintain the trails, teach safety classes, and educate people on the incredible area that they protect. My father in-law has been proudly serving in the capacity of president for many years and he has done so much good in the organization as he has shared his passion with others. He was glad that we could be there to honor that achievement, but more than anything I think he loved getting to take Tessa on her first canoe ride down the river.


Looking for some more of the country’s best rivers? Then you may be interested in these :

Gauley River – West Virginia

Chattahoochee River – Georgia

Eagle River – Alaska


Thanks for coming along on a float down the Buffalo National River! May you have clear water for paddling and dark skies for gazing.

26 thoughts on “Canoeing Down the Buffalo National River {Arkansas}

  1. So beautiful Meg. The sky at night looks amazing. What a wonderful treat after your time away. It’s great you have such a positive attitude to negative events like your flight being canceled.

  2. That Bronco really is something! I actually find it really impressive and photogenic but agree that it has a sinister look. And I can see how terrifying it might be when viewed through sleep-deprived eyes from a hotel window. And oh what a contrast from that to the lazy delights of The Buffalo National River. I’ve only been canoeing once, in Vietnam, and it was great fun. Not sure why I’ve never done it since. How cool that Tessa got Official Junior Ranger Status. And even cooler about the oath, there should be more of this stuff going on in all walks of life I feel. Say congrats to your father-in-law for me, it sounded like a great way to sign off.

    1. The bronco is impressive but just looks so creepy. Because of my feelings about the airport and the Bronco I could never be a fan of the football team the Broncos even though they should have been my team. But the canoe trip down the river absolutely made up for the creepy bronco. We want to go back this fall and see it in all the color. Maybe if all of us took being a junior ranger as seriously as Tessa did then the world would be in a better way. If you ever decide on a canoe trip in Arkansas I know a great guide. Thanks for your thoughts Leighton ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. The area really is incredible. It was such a peaceful joy canoeing down the river. She was thrilled to pieces about her new role and took her oath very seriously. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. We have started making plans to be there at night sometime this fall. Beautiful colors by day and glorious stars by night. Tessa was really thrilled about becoming a junior ranger and took her oath very seriously. They really have made being there a great experience for anyone of any age.

    1. It was a really beautiful setting for a peaceful canoe trip down the river. The plan is to go again this fall to see it in the colorful finery of the season. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Thank you Marion, it was such a great experience. Beautiful scenery and time with family always makes a great combination. I loved the confidence it gave her and how seriously she took that oath of protecting the natural beauty of the river. Thanks for you kind words ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Gosh, I keep hearing about people’s airline horror stories lately. Did they say why it was cancelled? Glad it all worked out for you in the end. We have evil thoughts about Memphis’ airport after being stranded there for 11 hours many years ago. And I avoid connecting through NYC like the plague because one time we flew there and had the worst turbulence I’ve ever had the displeasure of experiencing.

    1. I think that specific airport anxiety is a real thing. I’ll know to put NYC on the last possible option list. They didn’t say why it was canceled…although sometimes I wonder if it wasn’t canceled they just bumped me off…but I was glad that at least they didn’t cancel it as I was there at the airport waiting to take off like it seems with other people.

  4. This is a wonderful story with lovely photos about a happy and fun adventure!
    Isnโ€™t our wonderful nature always impressive? I love our planet!
    Have a nice day! ๐ŸŒž ๐Ÿž๐ŸŒท
    Rosie from Germany

    1. Hello Rosie from Germany! I agree, being out in the natural beauty is always impressive and inspiring. I was so glad to discover a new such corner to enjoy. Thanks for stopping by and your thoughtful comments ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. What a lovely tradition for your in-laws to bring family and friends to the Buffalo National River to share their love of the area with. Going for a paddle one-way with the current sounds like a leisurely adventure where you donโ€™t have to work too hard, so you can just focus on the scenery.

    1. I think it is my favorite of their families traditions that they are sharing with us. It was really special for my father in law to take his first grandchild down the river that they love so much. The river is nice and slow so anybody can enjoy it. We would love to go back this fall and see the river in all of its colorful splendor. Thank you for reading ๐Ÿ™‚ Meg

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