Doggie Destinations: Rivers

Your number-one travel companion wants more than a vacation. Presenting our favorite trips to satisfy his (and your) wanderlust.

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The Buffalo National River was established by an Act of Congress on March 1, 1972, ending the recurring plans of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct one or more dams on the river. The National River designation protects natural rivers from industrial uses, impoundments and other obstructions that may change the natural character of the river or disrupt the natural habitat for the flora and fauna that live in or near the river. The Buffalo River, located in northern Arkansas, was the first National River to be designated in the United States. The Buffalo River is slightly more than 150 miles long. The Buffalo National River gets its start in national forest country, nearly within rock-throwing distance of the highest point in the Ozarks. Some floating takes place in the headwaters area (the 'Hailstone' trip from Dixon Road to Arkansas 21 is almost legendary among serious paddlers), but, for most, this is a good place to put on the hiking boots. A real treat is the Upper Buffalo Wilderness, a 14,200-acre tract managed by the Ozark National Forest and the Buffalo National River. Visitors to the area can expect to see caves, bluffs, waterfalls, old cabin sites, natural springs and maybe even a local black bear.   

Buffalo National River, Ark.

The Buffalo National River (nps.gov/buff) was the first river in the United States to be protected by the park service, and with good reason. The 135-mile waterway is one of the few undammed rivers left in the Lower 48, winding its way through huge limestone cliffs cut from the Ozark Mountains and through shady forested stretches, some of the last untouched wilderness in the mid-south. It’s also home to one of the country’s best canoe float trips, with Class II riffles, some of the most diverse fishing in the country, and plenty of campsites along the way. Paddlers can opt for a one-day 7- to 10-mile trips, or 26-mile multi-day trips, like the stretch between Ponca to Pruitt, with stops for man and dog to gape at natural wonders like Big Bluff, a 550-foot sheer rock face, and Hemmed-In Hollow Waterfall. Canoe rentals with Buffalo Outdoor Center (buffaloriver.com) begin at $60 per day. Shuttle rates from Ponca range from $20 all the way up to $240 if you conquer the whole river.

When to Go: The water is usually floatable from March to July, but rain can shorten or extend the trip. Check river levels with an outfitter or the National Park Service before planning a trip.

Know This: Pups are fine on the sandbars and riverbanks, but the Buffalo winds through three sensitive wilderness areas that exclude dogs. Know where you are on the river and keep your dog in check or face fines.

Doggie Diner: The Boardwalk Café at the Arkansas House in Jasper, on the banks of the Little Buffalo, is a great spot to try an elk burger or wild razorback chop, two local specialties. thearkhouse.com


A golden retriever rides a raft with Colleen Mullins on the Middle Fork Salmon River. Photo: William Mullins/Idaho Stock Images

Plan B: The Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho

The Middle Fork is perhaps the ultimate float trip in the United States, with over 300 rated rapids including Class III and IV drops as it drops 3,000 feet in 110 miles through the Salmon-Challis National Forest. Experienced DIY rafters and their four-legged co-captains can set up a five- to six-day trip by renting gear from Riverwear (riverwear.com) in Stanley. Pups are more than welcome, just remember to bring a wilderness-grade doggie bag to pack out their tailings. River permits available from the Forest Service (fs.usda.gov).

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