Celebrate the Ozarks: The Buffalo River is the national treasure of northern Arkansas

Around Arkansas

It's a national treasure for anyone who loves to camp, hike, float, or fish

HARRISON, Ark. (KNWA) — Harrison is the gateway to one of the most beautiful sights in the Ozarks.

The Buffalo National River.

The river is south of town, but the National Parks Service headquarters for that natural wonder is in Harrison and if you’ve never been on a trip to the Buffalo, you’re missing a sight that really represents what the Ozarks is all about.

It’s a national treasure for anyone who loves to camp, hike, float, or fish.

If you love the outdoors the Buffalo River might just be your idea of heaven.

“We like to think we have a little something for everyone here at the Buffalo,” said Casey Johannsen, a Park Ranger on the lower end of the river. “The river changes with every season, with every rainfall, with every dry spell.”

Established as our country’s very first national river by Congress in 1972 in order to stop efforts to dam the waterway, the Buffalo’s natural habitat of wooded hillsides, waterfalls, and high river bluffs are a breathtaking part of this wild mountain beauty.

“You couldn’t come here and float in a canoe or kayak past these amazing bluffs had it not been for those efforts to protect this river and keep it dam free,” Johannsen said. “Floating by a bluff is kind of like taking a look at a cross-section of time. Some of these layers are thousands and thousands and thousands of years old and so it’s really impressive to float by and imagine this place that was under a shallow sea at one time and all the little critters that were compressed into this limestone.”

The hills and hollers around the Buffalo River also have some history. Rush Landing in the lower region was once a bustling town of over 5,000 men, women and children after zinc ore was discovered there and mines sprung up from the 1880’s into the early 1900’s. Now the place is a ghost town with several houses, the remains of the general store, a smelter, and trails that take you to the areas where the mines were located.

“You sure had to have a lot of grit and tenacity to live in this rural area of the Ozarks,” Johannsen said. “So coming down here to the Rush historic area reminds you of the special places we preserve in terms of Ozark culture.”

From this ghost town at the lower end of the Buffalo we head two hours to the upper end of the river that stretches over 150 miles through Baxter, Marion, Searcy and Newton counties. It’s at the western upper section where you’ll find the state’s only elk herd, introduced in the 1980’s. The best viewing of elk is during October and November and on this particular evening we were joined by other folks anxious to get their own photos including Ronald Duvall, who’d driven almost two hours to an area that’s become a popular tourist attraction.

“This time of year the elk are really starting to rut and the bulls are moving in this valley,” Duvall said. “I’ve seen as many as a hundred in this valley. This time of year there will be a lot of people here. I’ve seen gridlock traffic where you couldn’t move.”

From grazing elk to spiders weaving their webs , the Buffalo is a true back to nature experience.

A place to mellow out away from the work-day world.

“I think just the more and more we’re connected with technology and the more urban our environments become makes these landscapes that much more important for people to have access to.”

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