Float the Buffalo

Floating FAQs

New to floating the upper Buffalo National River? Let our FAQ help fast-forward your paddling plans!


When is canoe season for the upper district of the Buffalo National River?

Canoe season for the upper Buffalo National River is usually March through June, although we sometimes have canoeing water into July. If you are going to be our summertime cabin guest, we can help you arrange for a float trip on a section of river that is floatable in July and August.

What class rating is the Buffalo National River considered to be?

The National Park Service states in its publication “Currents” that the Buffalo National River is viewed as a Class I river, which is generally accepted as the least difficult river rating. However, our section can move into the Class II rating in times of high water. We regularly update our Buffalo River Level Report during canoe season, as well as other times of the year when the river level comes up high enough for floating. Check this report for current conditions as well as an indication of the paddling skill level required to run a specific section of the river.

Do I need an advance reservation for canoeing?

For Saturdays and the days of Memorial Day weekend, you will definitely want to reserve your canoes and/or kayaks in advance. Advance payment is required for these days; we accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover or American Express. If you plan to float during the week, we still recommend you making a reservation.  Having said that, it is typically fairly easy to walk in and reserve a canoe on a weekday.  Kayaks book fast, so you will always want to make advance reservations for those.

What is your boat cancellation policy?

Review our boat cancellation policy and our boat rental/risk agreement form in a pdf download.

Where do I come for my canoe, kayak or raft?

You will come to our store in Ponca (on Hwy 43) first to complete your National Park Service rental agreement and acknowledgment of risk, as well as arrange for your car shuttle should you need one (most folks do, especially if they are traveling in only one vehicle). You can preview the rental contract language here, which will help expedite your time in our office. Once you’ve completed your contract, you will drive to the launch site (we’ll be sure to give you directions) where you and your party will receive a safety talk, then be issued your boat(s), paddles, PFDs and mesh trash bag(s).

What day trips do you offer?

Water level dictates our launch site, which is either the access at Ponca, Steel Creek or Pruitt. Please visit our One-Day Float Trips page for more information.

How many hours does it take to paddle the day trip?

With average river conditions, you can generally factor a speed of about 2 mph, which equals around 4 to 6 hours of paddling time for the typical 8- to 10-mile float trip. This, of course, also depends on such factors as water level, one’s paddling skills, and how much extra-curricular activity (such as fishing or hiking) one does along the way. Boat rentals must arrive at the takeout by 6:30PM the day of rental. Any boat that arrives after 6:30PM will be charged for another rental day.

How late may I launch?

Depending upon the month, launch times may vary somewhat. For example, in March when days are shorter, the latest launch time may be Noon or earlier. In April, May and June, when there’s more daylight to be had, we may launch boats as late as 1:00 PM. Boat rentals must arrive at the takeout by 6:30PM the day of rental. Any boat that arrives after 6:30PM will be charged for another rental day.

How does the car shuttle work?

For your convenience, we shuttle your vehicle to a pre-set take-out access while you enjoy your float trip. In most cases, you come to the BOC store to arrange your shuttle. Once your paperwork and payment are complete, you will drive to the launch site and leave your car keys with our river staff. We then move cars in the order in which the keys have been handed to us (basically, a first-come/first-serve process). PLEASE NOTE THAT ON HIGH-DEMAND SATURDAYS & MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND, ALL OUTFITTERS CAN EXPERIENCE DELAYS IN MOVING VEHICLES. So, take your time on the river—that’s what you came for anyway! Also, our shuttle drivers are carefully selected—all have good driving records and are versed in BOC policies regarding property that is placed in our care. Your insurance carrier, however, is responsible for any damages that might occur in the process of a vehicle being shuttled.

NOTE: Please let the office staff know if your vehicle is electric so that we can accommodate you accordingly.

If I have a motorcycle, sports car or RV, how does the shuttle process work?

As each vehicle and river trip is different, please call us at 1-870-861-5514 to discuss arrangements for shuttles involving special types of vehicles.

What age minimum is recommended for floating the river?

We suggest a person be at least age six and able to swim, although there is no official National Park Service age limit for floating on or swimming in the river. View more information about canoeing / floating with kids here, as well as other safety tips.

Speaking of paddling safety, do you have any tips to offer?

We’re so glad you asked! Whether you’re a seasoned paddler or just getting started, here are some must-read paddling safety tips to know before you put a paddle in the water or someone in your boat.

I’m afraid of turning over… any suggestions for how to stay upright?

Absolutely! Just watch our video of helpful tips that, if followed, should greatly improve your chances of staying upright!

Where can I get online Ponca weather information?

Use the zip code 72670 in your choice of online weather service.

Where can I find a Buffalo National River map?

Visit River Maps to find a full-length map of the Buffalo National River, along with PDF map downloads of three upper Buffalo River sections, including the popular Ponca-to-Kyle’s-Landing trip.  You can also purchase the popular West Half of the Buffalo National River Map in our store or in our online shop!

How do I get to the Hemmed-In Hollow waterfall from the river?

This beautiful 250-foot waterfall is located about 1/2 mile from the river and requires about 20 minutes of moderate hiking to reach. Visit our page about the Hemmed-In Hollow trail for how to locate the trail from the river.

What clothing material is best to wear on the river?

Clothing made of quick-dry materials, such as lightweight poly-pro for warmer air/water temperatures and fleece when the water and/or air temperatures are chilly. Cotton is to be avoided, especially denim jeans. For shoes, wear something you don’t mind getting wet, that provide a sturdy footbed and will strap securely to your foot.  Sandals made for river wear or even tennis shoes are better than flip flops or slide-on sandals.

Can I canoe with my dog?

Yes, but please be advised that dogs are not permitted on trails within the national park and must be kept on a leash at all times when in campgrounds. You do not have to keep your dog on a leash while it is riding in a canoe.

May I play a radio or other music device in a designated wilderness area?

New in 2016 is an NPS position of zero tolerance for music audibly played by radio or other device within a specified wilderness area. For the upper Buffalo National River, that area lies between the Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing accesses. This helps promote a more peaceful, wilderness-like environment for all to enjoy. The NPS can write you a ticket for violating the “sound barrier,” so pack some headphones if you plan to enjoy tunes while on the river between Steel Creek and Kyle’s!

Are there other key National Park Service regulations of which I need to be aware?

Yes, for example, you must have a life vest (PFD) for every person in the boat, and children age 12 and under MUST wear one while paddling. (PFDs are provided with your rental.) Here are some other important regulations of which to be aware.  Please know these are LAWS, not options, and you can be fined by the National Park Service for not adhering to them.

  • Glass containers are prohibited on the Buffalo National River.
  • Ice chests must have the lids secured so that contents stay put in the event of an overturned boat.
  • Open beverages must be placed in a floatable holder, such as a can koozie (available for purchase in our store).
  • You must have a mesh trash bag on board (1 per boat). If you are renting from us, this is included with your rental.
  • Each person must have a Personal Floatation Device (PFD) on board; children under age 12 MUST WEAR THEM while floating.
  • Dogs must be on a leash in campgrounds and are not permitted on park trails unless official NPS trail information states otherwise.
  • As of 2016, the NPS has adopted a “zero-tolerance” position on music played on radios, boomboxes and other devices that interfere with the natural quiet ambience of the wilderness surroundings.

For complete regulations or for clarification of a regulation, call the National Park Service Headquarters for the Buffalo National River in Harrison, AR at 870-365-2700.

How can I contact the NPS / Buffalo National River about my floating experience?

Do you have any comments and concerns regarding park operations? You can give a full report about your experience floating America’s First National River using this form.

What are area emergency numbers and information I should have on hand?

View list of upper Buffalo National River emergency numbers that are essential to have readily at hand, whether it’s in your pack, dry bag or vehicle. If you are staying with us, this list should also be available in your Cabin Guidebook, which is typically located on your cabin’s coffeetable.

The information provided here is based on our 40+ years of experience and what we observe as being the typical experiences of our river trip guests. Please note, however, that each individual and/or group is different, varying in paddling skills and personal judgment styles, so this information should be used as a guideline, not necessarily as an absolute.

Buffalo Outdoor Center is authorized within Buffalo National River to provide canoe rentals and transportation services.

Close up of rocks in a river

Other Questions?

Let us know how we can help you plan a float trip on America’s First National River!

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