Though it has a low national profile, Arkansas’ Buffalo National River is a huge regional draw—the national park service unit saw 1.16 million visitors in 2011, more than Arches, Everglades, and 307 other parks and monuments.
No wonder—one of the country’s longest free-flowing rivers at 150 miles from its origin to it’s confluence with the White River, the Buffalo tumbles 2,000 feet through the blocky Ozark mountains, beneath 400-foot limestone cliffs and past broad gravel bar campsites. A dozen access points means it’s possible to do floats of anywhere from one to seven days. Or hike on more than 100 miles of trail through 95,000 protected acres of oak and hickory country so crenulated that dozens of civil war guerillas found havens along the Buffalo.
Start at the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca, where you can begin or end your explorations in one of the 18 smartly decorated cabins, many with hot tubs and expansive views stretching across the surrounding hollers. (Check out the Presidential Cabin, which once hosted Bill Clinton; $269). The Outdoor Center can rent you canoes ($60/day), provide backcountry permits, and set shuttle to any one of the access points. Or set off on a three-night backpack of the 36.5-mile long Buffalo River Trail (the trailhead lies 200 yards from the main office). Save an afternoon for the 3-mile hike to the iconic overhang Whittaker Point, looking for blooming fire pink and mountain azalea.
STAY: 4 days