The Upper Buffalo River
Welcome to the Upper Buffalo River where you can explore the most beautiful parts of the Ozark Mountains! Here in the Boxley and Ponca areas of Northwest Arkansas, you will find the headwaters of the Buffalo National River, the Buffalo National River park, and Ozark National Forest. The Upper Buffalo River Association consists of Upper Buffalo River businesses that offer everything you need to make this the perfect place for your next adventure!
Whether you are alone or in a large group, we’ve got lodging for everyone! There are some great cabin choices, as well as lodges, camps, and hotels for larger groups, and even campgrounds if you prefer. When you get hungry, head to our restaurants page for dining choices, and use the shopping page when you need supplies, gas, or even artwork!
For the outdoor enthusiasts, there is something to do in every season. The Buffalo River offers challenging kayaking and canoeing in the spring, or a relaxing float in the summer. The Buffalo River National Park is home to numerous caves and hiking trails to explore, with some of the most renowned hikes such as Hemmed-In-Hollow, Lost Valley Park, and picturesque Hawksbill Crag.
The terrain of the upper Buffalo River area provides great mountain biking and ATV trails in Ozark National Forest. Rock climbing enthusiasts can enjoy 40 miles of singletrack surrounding the highest point in the Ozark Mountains. The Buffalo National River park also offers some of the finest horseback riding in the entire US. There are miles and miles of well-groomed trails offering the riding adventure of a lifetime.
The Upper Buffalo River area is also home to the largest and most viewable Arkansas elk herd. Each fall the annual elk rut runs from mid-September to mid-November. During the rut, over a hundred elk pool in Boxley Valley. Lucky visitors may witness dramatic bull elk fights for domination and mating rights. Elk viewing draws photographers and wildlife watchers from many states. Elk viewing in the Upper Buffalo River area is the equal of anywhere in the US.
November – February
- Hiking (no bugs or snakes!)
- Elk Viewing
March – early June
- Canoe, kayak or raft on the Buffalo River beginning from Ponca Low Water Bridge, Steel Creek or Pruitt Landing.
- Wildflower blooms especially at Lost Valley Trail and Smith Creek Preserve
- Hiking on all area trails. Be prepared for wet crossings.
- Waterfall viewing
- Horseback Riding
- Elk Viewing
Early June – August
- Canoe or kayak on the Buffalo River down river beginning Pruitt, Gilbert and Carver put-ins. River level gets too low in upper end to start your float trip near us during summer and fall months
- Hiking – be prepared for hot weather, ticks, chiggers and snakes
- Horseback Riding
- Elk Viewing
Late Sept. – early Nov.
- Elk Rut in the Boxley Valley
- Fall Colors
- Horseback Riding
Upper Buffalo Hiking Trails
Lost Valley Trail
If you had to pick one hiking trail to visit, the clear choice would be the Lost Valley trail. It is barrier-free for a half mile, and has resting benches for those who tire easily. The trail is relatively flat for this area, considered easy to moderate. It is beautiful in every season. Clark Creek flows through the valley. In the wet seasons there are beautiful cascades, including two falls, Eden Falls and the Eye of the Needle. The Lost Valley canyon, while not large is beautiful with many excellent vistas. Spring wildflowers are legendary in Lost Valley. In the cold season, elk occaionally can be found along the entrance road near the old Clark homestead.
EASY HIKING TRAILS
Ponca/Boxley Valley Area Hiking Trails
2.3 mile round trip Estimated time 2.5 hours
Notes: This is a fairly easy trail and very popular. It is scenic from end to end. In the spring, Lost Valley is famous for the wild flower bloom. Eden Falls is also a popular destination. Suitable for families. It is barrier free for a half mile and has resting benches. Toilets at trailhead located in Lost Valley Campground and follows Clark Creek.
Directions: Take highway 43 south out of Ponca, follow the sign for Lost Valley Campground on the west side of the road about 3 miles from Ponca.
Other Features: The Lost Valley area is just about in the middle of the best elk viewing in Boxley Valley. Plan to arrive at daybreak or view the elk herd in the evenings.
Buffalo River Trail from Ponca to Steel Creek
2.3 mile round trip. Estimated time 1.5 hours.
Notes: This is a very popular segment of the Buffalo River Trail. It has great overlooks of the river in many places. This is another easy to moderate trail. It is out and back. On both ends of the trail there are pit toilets. The trail starts at the Ponca Buffalo River Access and ends in Steel Creek Campground.
Directions: Take highway 43 south out of Ponca past the highway 74 junction. Take the first left on a dirt road to the Ponca Buffalo River Access and park. The trail head is across the low water bridge and to the left up a grade. It follows the river on the bluffs.
Other Features: Just upstream from the Ponca Low Water bridge is a popular Buffalo River swimming hole, a nice place to take a dip after a hike. Just to the right of the trailhead is a path leading to the old Villines Homestead. It is a short side trip and will be of interest to fans of old buildings. Elk are often visible in the first fields just south of the Ponca Access.
Hawksbill Crag (Whitaker Point)
3.0 round trip, Estimated time: 3.0 hours
Notes: One of the most recognizable spots in Arkansas. It is a large outcropping jutting out over a valley with Whitaker Creek far below. STAY AWAY from the bluff lines as they can be dangerous and slippery. There is no emergency cell service.
Directions: From Highway 43/21 intersection go south on 21 for 1.2 miles. Look for the brown direction sign and turn right on County Road #9560 (Cave Mountain Road) BEFORE you cross over the Buffalo River. Drive up the mountain road for 6 miles to the trailhead. Limited parking is on the right near the info kiosk and the trailhead begins on the left side of the road. Parking is also allowed along the road. You may need 4-wheel drive in wet weather conditions.
Features: Most hikers come to get their photo taken as they stand on top.
The Glory Hole
Notes: One of the most unique waterfalls in Arkansas. The stream drilled a large opening in the overhanging bluff resulting in a waterfall through the hole. The trail begins along a jeep road and heads downhill. It gets a bit steep and there may be water crossings in wet seasons. You will hike along the creek as you reach the top of the Glory Hole. Be extremely careful to stay away from the top of the Hole and keep to the trail to the right to make your way to the bottom of the hole to see the waterfall.
Directions: Take Highway 21 south and bear right at intersection of 21 and 16. Keep an eye out for Cassville Baptist Church on the left. Trailhead is .7 miles on the left. Park along the roadway. No parking area is available.
Other Features: The trail is in the Ozark National Forest. Best time to see it is after a good rain.
Erbie Area Hiking Trails
Koen Interpretive Trail
.4 mile Estimated time 1 hour (if you spend time looking at the trees.)
Notes: This is part of the Koen experimental forest center. It is an educational opportunity for kids on a short nature hike. It is wheelchair accessible.
Directions: Take the entrance road to the Erbie Campground west off of highway 7 and follow it until you reach the center. The building is well marked and on the right side of the road with a parking area. The center has picnic tables and toilets.
Other Features: Just a bit further on on the Erbie Road is the Cedar Grove (Glade) picnic area. This is a nice shaded area with picnic tables and fire grates. Directly across the road is another short trail called the Ponds Trail (.4 mile). It is part wheelchair accessible. Also, follow the Erbie road past the campground and you can visit the historic Parker-Hickman Homestead, a popular destination.
Pruitt Area Hiking Trails
Mill Creek Trail
2.2 mile out and back trail. Estimated time 1 to 2 hours.
Notes: This is an extremely easy trail. It ends at an old log cabin. Toilets available at access.
Directions: Take highway 7 south out of Jasper, cross the Buffalo River at Pruitt, turn right into the Pruitt Access area. Stay left and park at the trail head.
Other Features: The nearby Pruit Access is a popular swimming hole. Visit the Pruit Ranger station exhibits across the river on the west side of the road. Picnic area with grates, and toilets by Pruit Ranger Station.
Smith Creek Preserve
Smith Creek Preserve is 1,316 acres of Ozark forest in Newton County which is bisected by Smith Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River. The surrounding forest is home to bats, turkeys, deer, black bear and elk. It is a valuable property because the preserve helps keep the water flowing from Smith Creek into the Buffalo River clean and is a vital connector between the 1.2 million acre Ozark National Forest and the 95,000 acre Buffalo River National River Wilderness Area. The preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy.
The preserve is protected by a locked gate at the end of the parking area just off Highway 21 and is 3 miles south of Boxley Valley Church. The trails are well marked and you will be treated to a wildflower bloom, Elise Falls and the chance to see the 3 springs that feed the creek in the spring and early summer months. The trail is steep and remote and there are no facilities available. An information kiosk with maps is at the start of the trailhead.