Interested in exploring the upper Buffalo National River wilderness this fall? If so, here are some must-know tips that will help you successfully plan for an autumn escape to Ponca!
BUFFALO RIVER AUTUMN COLOR
The upper Buffalo National River area is located at a higher elevation than most other parts of Arkansas, so tree leaves tend to change color a little sooner than in less mountainous parts of the state. For example, here in the Ozark Mountains we’re commonly 10 days or so ahead of central and southern Arkansas for prime leaf peeping. When can you expect to see fall color? Well, what’s extra nice about autumn in Buffalo River country is how leaf color tends to linger over several weeks. Sumacs and black gums are the first to turn, with their fiery, hot-red foliage lighting up in late September. Maples and other hardwood trees can turn any time from the end of September to early November. It’s really a roll of nature’s dice as to when the most trees turn on their color simultaneously. Fortunately, most of the time we enjoy an extended season of color here in Ponca, with various trees entering prime color at different times over several weeks.
The shortening of daylight triggers the elk mating season here in Ponca, with cooler temps igniting battles among the bulls for herd domination. It’s Arkansas wildlife watching at its finest and if you’ve never witnessed it, you owe it to yourself to come to Ponca sometime between mid-September and the end of October. Click here to learn more about the Ponca elk herd, including optiumum viewing tips: Ponca elk watching.
There’s still time to make a cabin reservation for your Buffalo River autunn adventure. If a fall weekend cabin escape is on your mind, you’ll want to be making your reservations quickly as availability is narrowing. If you have the ability to plan a trip to Ponca during a Sunday-through-Thursday time frame, you’ll find there is still good cabin availability to be had until mid- to late-September. Bottom line: if you plan on coming to Ponca this fall and need cabin lodging, you’ll want to make those plans soon. To peruse BOC cabin options, click here: BOC Cabin Options & Reservations.
FALL ZIP LINE ADVENTURE
Our Buffalo River Canopy Tour is an awesome way to experience Buffalo River fall color up close and personal! Click here to learn more about Arkansas’ only wilderness zip line experience, including our fall tour schedule: Buffalo River Zip Line Adventure. BOOKING TIP: October and November weekend zip line reservations fill quickly, so advance reservations are highly recommended!
ARKANSAS’ FINEST FALL HIKING LIVES HERE
Hands down, there is no finer hiking scenery in the state of Arkansas than the hardwood forests of upper Buffalo National River country. There are miles and miles of trails to be explored, many of them family friendly! Click here for a list of BOC’s Top Buffalo River Hiking Trails, including trail info and downloadable maps for the Whitaker Point and Lost Valley trails. PLANNING TIP: Trailhead parking can oftentimes be full, especially in the afternoons. Arriving on the early side of morning or the late side of afternoon (as long as you allow yourself plenty of daylight) can help. Weekday hiking plans will help you avoid crowded trails and scenic spots.
BUFFALO RIVER CAMPING
RV Campground: Before long, BOC will open its mountain-top RV campground featuring 14 spacious sites with full hookups (including 100 amp electricity!). The campground will also have a bathhouse and laundrymat, puppy park, and dump station. We will begin accepting site reservations sometime in September. Watch our website, Facebook and Instagram feeds for the official announcement marking the opening of reservations.
Tent Camping: Tent camping in the Buffalo National River wilderness is one of America’s and Arkansas’ finest outdoor experiences. Our personal favorite campground is at the Steel Creek access, located about 10 minutes from Ponca off Hwy 74. Good to Know: Campground sites fill quickly on weekends, especially if the weather is nice. Arriving before 3:00 PM on a Friday helps better insure your ability to get a site for a weekend camping adventure. Also, you cannot reserve a campsite in upper river national park campgrounds. To learn where to find upper Buffalo National River campgrounds and specific info about rates, as well as guidelines for camping, visit this link to the National Park Service website.
MORE THINGS TO DO AROUND PONCA
Scenic Drives: Whether you’re on a motorcycle or in a car, the paved road touring around Newton County is beautiful and some of the finest scenic drives in mid-America. Backroad drives are also extremely lovely; 4WD is recommended for most of these roads and high-clearance for roads in the upper wilderness surrounding the Fallsville and Whitaker Point areas. We like this map book for planning scenic drives in Newton County: Arkansas Road Maps
Horseback Riding: An autumn trail ride on a friendly horse is another great way to enjoy Buffalo River country. Trail rides book in advance for weekends, so you’ll want to call our friends at Rimrock Cove Ranch (870-553-2556) in advance of your getaway if you plan to ride on a Saturday or Sunday.
Dining: Be sure to treat your palette to the fine Italian food at the nearby Low Gap Cafe, open Wed – Sat for lunch and dinner / Sundays for brunch. The picturesque mountain town of Jasper is just 14 miles from Ponca (via Hwy 74 S) and has several restaurants featuring everything from great burgers to organic jambalaya. Check out Trip Advisor for current Jasper, Arkansas dining options.