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This is the fifth year running that I have paddled some or all of the Buffalo National River. The previous trips were with groups from two to twenty but I wanted to solo so after a 1 ½ days of driving I arrived at Woodsman's store in Norfolk, AR. I had made arrangements for a driver to ride up to the put-in at Steel Creek and drop me, canoe and gear then return my car to the Woodsman's store which was my take out on the White River. I paid the driver $80 which is a fortune in the Ozarks.
I had my canoe packed and was on the river by 2:00 PM The driver asked me when I would finish and I respond with 8 to 12 days. I was in no hurry and on each previous trip rain had made an appearance influencing the number of days. The first day I covered about five miles and found a nice camping spot. The forecast was for rain that evening and next morning, so I set up my 14' para wing with my tent underneath. The wind was about 20 mph which made for a challenge as the camping is done on gravel bars which are challenging to stake. There was a little rain during the night but not enough to influence the river level. The weather during the total trip was evenings in the 40-50 and days in 70's.
Day two the river caught me not able to maneuver around a rock while paddling through a dogleg rapid and my canoe tipped filling with water. I am diligent about double dry bagging and tying everything in my canoe and wearing a PFD at all times, but I did have a inexpensive digital camera without a waterproof case which is now being replaced.
The two aspects of the Buffalo River that make it special are that it is natural, no development, 400 foot rock bluffs where the river has carved its path over millions of years and because it is the first and only NATIONAL River, it is in a natural state as it has been for hundreds of years. The second aspect is that it is a swift water river meaning that over the 125 miles there are many shoals and Class 1+ rapids and shortly after the Rush landing is a dogleg that can be a treacherous class II.
My reason for paddling solo is that I like to paddle and generally only stop to take a pee, then continue down the river whereas most of friends enjoy sitting and visiting and exploring the many short hiking experiences available from the river.
Other then trying to keep my canoe up right for the trip, I had one other desire and that was met when I stopped at the only town on the river which is Gilbert. I think the population is about 27 people and three old dogs that lay in the middle of the road. The dogs not the people.
Gilbert has a ancient General Store and a ancient but newly named GILBERT Cafe. On a Saturday night there are several times the population of the town eating. I especially enjoy breakfast but as it was about 1 PM when I paddled by. I enjoyed a great burger and a huge slab of bread pudding. About two years ago the folks that ran the restaurant for many years decided to take it easy and sold to an individual from NYC. This did not work out and it is now owned by a nice lady who has returned the restaurant to it's original grandeur.
Back on the river about 3 PM I decided that I was just moving too fast down the river and tried to slow my pace. That lasted for about ½ a day. Then I was back paddling rather than floating and finished about noon on my 7th day on the river.
The Buffalo river actually ends when it dumps into the WHITE River at Buffalo City. The White river is used to generate electricity and the takeout is reached by paddling up river against the current, depending upon the number of generators running it can be difficult, so last year I started to head down the White River and paddle/float an additional 11 miles to Norfolk.
The Buffalo National River has so much to offer that I am including an Internet site I found that has a comprehensive description. http://www.hikercentral.com/parks/buff/
One caution is that the river can rise very quickly. Last year it started to rain and we made a dash to Manumee South as the river rose 7 ft. in about four hours. Four years ago it rose 17 feet in a day. You need to have a NOAA radio and know where the high camping spots are.
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