Hiking Arkansas; A Shakedown on the Buffalo River Trail

Which state has the most pirates? Arrrrrrrkansas.

Located north of the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas is the Buffalo River. Along a 40 mile section of the river lies the Buffalo River Trail (BRT). The BRT stretches from Boxley to Pruitt.  Meandering on edge of the Buffalo, the BRT offers mountain scenery, great hiking, and a nice view of the river. During last spring break, Kaci and I, along with a few friends, decided that we would thru-hike the BRT to shake down our gear before the Appalachian Trail. The Ozarks and the Buffalo River are pristine natural areas. Furthermore, this area is not visited by large amounts of tourists. Because of this, it is perfect for those looking for a remote area to enjoy. So, here is the summary/review of our shakedown hike on the BRT.

Day One

Our first day was mostly driving. The drive takes seven to eight hours with stops. We decided we would hike east so we drove to Boxley, the western terminus. Arriving at 4 p.m., we gathered our packs out of the truck at the trailhead parking lot and set off. Immediately we forded a shallow, cold creek to get to the trail. We walked around the edge of a cow pasture and eventually made our first climb. During the first couple of miles, we encountered a few deer and Ken (one of our friends) got ambushed by a massive red squirrel (no injuries, haha).  Since it was later in the evening and the sunset was around 6 p.m., we hike about two miles before setting up camp. We had a dinner of mashed potatoes and chicken risotto. Then we called it a day.

Day Two

We did not sleep the best, which caused us to get a late start. Despite this, we started down the bald that we camped on and saw some epic views of Boxley Valley. After the first few miles, we had several tough climbs and another creek to ford. Crossing an old logging road, we saw a few turkeys along the trail. Even cooler, we walked along the ridge overlooking the fields of Boxley Valley and saw a herd of elk that inhabit the area. The elks were reintroduced to the area in the 1930s and have thrived ever since. After a 13-mile day, we stopped at Steel Creek Campground. The campground is right on the Buffalo and is my favorite place to camp along the BRT. We were able to set up our tent  before it began to drizzle rain. After eating dinner, we got some sleep.

Day Three

Day three was an amazing day for us. Leaving Steel Creek Campground, we saw some of the greatest views of the Buffalo River on the trail. The water was a beautiful greenish-blue. We planned to stop at Kyle’s Landing for the day but made a game-time decision at lunch. This extended our day to 17 miles. We did this to beat the rain that was coming the next day. Lunch was at Beach Creek. This creek gave us a great chance to soak our feet in the water. Ahhh, nature’s therapy. We felt very strong so we headed out after the small break. Starting late, we knew we would have to do some night hiking to make it 17 miles. So we moved quickly. Even though we hiked this section quickly, we enjoyed the views of this section’s river bluffs.

As we continued after lunch, we had the steepest climbs of the trail. At the highest point, we were able to get cell service. On the BRT cell service is zero. With a limited area of service, we made a few calls to some family and friends. After that, we continued on our way. As we passed Kyle’s Landing we still felt really strong. We pushed on toward Erbie. We made our biggest climbs earlier in the day so the toughest elevation gain and losses were behind us. As night crept in we strapped on our headlamps and powered on. During the night hike, we encountered a cemetery and an old farmstead. Although tired, we rolled into Erbie that night with huge smiles on our faces. With the long day over and a belly full of garlic parmesan ramen we slept like rocks.

Day Four

Waking up to rain and storms, we knew we would have an uncomfortable morning of walking. As soon as our breakfast of oatmeal, protein powder, and raw coconut oil was eaten, we packed up and headed for the eastern terminus at Pruitt. The day’s elevation was not difficult and the views of the Buffalo River in this section were like no other. The final nine to ten miles the trail rolls along the edge of the bluff over the river. This made the walk enjoyable even in the rain. The river got enough rain that it swelled along the banks and moved rapidly through the woods. The roar of the river gave us a feeling of tranquility. After the first few miles, the rain stopped and we strolled onto the Pruitt trailhead, finishing the BRT. Still smiling.

Final Thoughts

Arkansas is known as “The Natural State.”  It has a lot of hidden gems as far as outdoor/natural areas. The BRT is one of these hidden gems. So, for anyone looking for a remote wilderness area to get away from it all, this is the place. Additionally, the rugged terrain and beautiful views make this thru-hike memorable. The trail has plenty of water and the campsites are top-notch. Altogether, the BRT is a great shakedown hike and can be completed in a just few days. I can’t wait to revisit the Buffalo River and the BRT. Here is a video of our thru-hike. https://youtu.be/T-DEPsKPlSY

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Comments 6

  • Robert Krupp : Oct 22nd

    Thanks for the insight on the Buffalo Trail. As a north Florida resident I am always looking for hiking opportunities in the south. Good Luck on your AT adventure!!

    • Kristopher McDill : Oct 24th

      No problem! Arkansas has some great hiking.

  • Tommy Morrow : Oct 22nd

    About to complete the Ozark Highlands Trail (OHT) that connects to the BHT at Woolsey on the Buffalo River in mid November. Thanks for the insight and I can’t wait to get started on this trail as well as additional trails in the area and it’s all in my back yard being from NWA…

  • Michael Davidson : Jul 1st

    Did you get to see Hemmed-In Hollow near Kyle’s Landing? It is a stunning spot and a really high waterfall if the water is flowing

  • Heather janke : Jul 22nd

    The BRT has 3 sections.
    Looks like you only hiked the western section of BRT.

    You missed the Eastern section
    at Woolum And the Maumee section completed in 2010
    The BRT ends at the Highway 14 bridge at Dillards Ferry..

  • Robert Purdy : Oct 24th

    One small correction. Elk were restored to the Buffalo National River in 1981, not the 1930s. This occurred when Rocky Mountain Elk were introduced to the river basin, replacing the Eastern Elk which was declared extinct by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1880. Other than that, great article. We love our Buffalo National River and are glad you do too!


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