Wear Your Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
This is perhaps the most under-valued safety tip of them all. “If you don’t wear it, it won’t work” is how the old boating safety adage goes. Take the advice of boating safety experts around the nation and wear your PFD. Important Note: Arkansas law requires children under the age of 12 to wear a PFD when floating any waterway, including the Buffalo National River.
Be Aware of Current River Conditions
You can check current Buffalo National River levels and paddling conditions throughout the day on our website. The river’s water level can change quickly, especially if the headwaters area receives a sizeable rain, so checking the river level the day before you launch, as well as the morning of your float trip, is prudent.
Be Weather Aware
A river is a moving, living entity influenced greatly by weather. It is a good idea to check weather before launching, especially if you are overnighting on the river. If you’re using an online weather service, here are some handy local zip code numbers: Ponca / 72670 – Harrison / 72601 – Jasper / 72641.
Floating With Children
Floating a river with kids is entirely a personal decision. No one can recommend to you whether you should or shouldn’t take them along, as only you know your paddling skill level and your ability to handle whatever river conditions you are presented with, including dealing with obstacles that can cause you to turn over. Children can also be unpredictable in their movements or behaviors, so you also have to factor this into the equation.
The National Park Service rates the Buffalo National River as a Class I/II river, which by common river rating standards means the river is suitable for most any paddling skill level. We personally feel that for Buffalo National River trips, CHILDREN SHOULD BE AT LEAST AGE 6 AND OLDER, be capable swimmers, wear personal floatation devices (PFDs) at all times and be carefully supervised anytime around or on a body of water. Please note that we do not screen you during the boat rental process for whether or not you will have children along. We assume that when you rent a boat(s), you have carefully considered who the members of your party are and the risks associated with them coming along. If you have any doubts as to whether or not your kids should float with you, especially young tots and pre-schoolers, consider enjoying time with them at one of the river’s pretty swimming holes where they can splash at water’s edge or swim. Even at a swimming hole, a snugged-on PFD and adult supervision are musts. Click here for directions to a swimming hole near Ponca or see us in the office for directions.
BE AWARE: ARKANSAS LAW REQUIRES that children 12 years old and younger must wear a USCG–approved PFD securely fastened to their persons at all times while on any vessel.
High Water Guidelines
Launching in high water or flood stage is a personal decision of risk that you must carefully make, especially if you have other people in your party. Whatever the conditions, be sure your paddling and swift-water rescue skills are up to the challenge and that you are properly geared.
If you’re a novice paddler, please take a look at the river and visit with one of our staff members before deciding to get on the river. There are no take-outs between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing (8 miles), so it can be a long day of paddling when faced with turning over frequently. On the other hand, experience improves skill level. If you’re a novice, choose to go paddling on a day when the water is on the low side. You may drag your canoe or kayak a few times on those days, but you should also stay upright in your boat more often than not. 🙂
For parents: The kids may be jumping up and down, screaming and hollering to go, but if you’ve not run this river before and the water is on the high or cold side, this may be the day to stand your ground and take everyone on a family hike. Besides, the Ponca area is home to the best hiking in Arkansas (and arguably mid-America!) and we’d welcome the chance to point you to some of the best trailheads for family adventure!
Tips On How Not to Turn Over
We highly recommend that novice paddlers take 4 minutes to watch our short video of “Tips On How Not to Turn Over.” More than 80,000 people have viewed and been helped by this video; we encourage you to join that number!