Biking Buffalo River
Some think the Buffalo River was named for the small number of bison living in the river valley when the first settlers came. Others think it was named for the buffalo fish, a sucker that lived in the river in the old days. Another theory says that because the valley's earliest settlers were from Tennessee, they named the stream for the Buffalo River in their home state. No one knows the answer for sure. But it's certain that a lot of people care about this beautiful Ozark stream.
In the 1960s, a proposal for a dam and reservoir in the Tyler Bend reach of the Buffalo led to the formation of the Ozark Society. The society took action to preserve this wild river area. Their efforts bore fruit in 1972, when Congress designated the Buffalo a national river. Most of the land along the river was then purchased by the park service, and is being allowed to revert to its natural state.
The result is a unique combination of wild land and history. Hiking or riding in the area, you'll pass through hollows used as hideouts for guerrilla bands during the Civil War. Abandoned homesteads dot Buffalo River country. Several of these, like the Parker-Hickman Homestead on the Erbie Loop, have been stabilized, and look much as they did in the late 1800s. Others leave only old foundations, or tangled piles of lumber or logs to tell where the buildings once stood.
Especially interesting is the small town of Gilbert. The Gilbert Ferry operated there until around 1930, when a bridge was built nearby. A railroad spur once ran to Gilbert, where it picked up timber logged upstream on the Buffalo and floated down to the railhead. The Gilbert Store is still open. In addition to food and other supplies for river runners, this old general store has a collection of antiques and artifacts from past times on the Buffalo.
The scenery along the river is fantastic. Bluffs tower over 500 feet above the river. Peter Cave Bluff on the Snowball Loop has several overlooks where you can relax and watch the river snake through the valleys below. On the Woolum Ford and Richland Creek Tour, you'll ride next to The Nars, a razor-thin bluff separating the Buffalo from the Richland Creek Valley on the other side. Scramble to the top of The Nars and enjoy the view. Skull Rock, also known as Bat Cave, is a set of holes in a bluff you could paddle a canoe into when the river is at the right level. It's so beautiful here you shouldn't limit yourself to biking- take time out and float part of this beautiful Ozark river. While the many miles of hiking trails in the park are not open to bikes, don't let that keep you from enjoying them, either. Leave your bike behind one day and put on your hiking boots. The trail to Hemmed In Hollow takes you to a beautiful waterfall. It's the tallest between the Rockies and the Appalachians. On the way you can hike the goat trail, a ledge 300 feet above the river, partway up the side of Big Bluff. From Cave Mountain Road above Boxley, a 1.5-mile spur trail leads to Hawk's Bill Crag in the Upper Buffalo Wilderness. The Crag offers one of the most dramatic vistas in Arkansas.
When you're through exploring the Buffalo National River's hiking trails, go get your bike and head for the many miles of old double-track that fan out over the hills on each side of the river. Once used to reach the homesteads along the Buffalo, they now bless mountain bikers with some first-class fun. When combined with surrounding county roads and forest roads, these tracks make scenic loops that can be ridden by cyclists of all skill levels.
There are 14 campgrounds in the Buffalo National River. Buffalo Point campground has cabins for rent, and canoe rentals are available from outfitters up and down the river. The Buffalo Outdoor Center in Silver Hill rents mountain bikes. The Buffalo is a great place to spend an entire week, enjoying a myriad of activities.
Just be careful of a couple of things. Never dive into the river from the bluffs or trees above. Every year there are injuries or deaths from people diving into the river, not aware of rocks just below the surface. If you plan to float on or camp next to the river, don't bring any glass containers. The park service wants future river users to be able to wade in the Buffalo without worrying about deep cuts on their feet. No glass containers are allowed on the river, on trails, in caves, or within 50 feet of any shoreline.
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Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication