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Northwest Bentonville Harrison Jasper Little Rock Marshall Ponca Springdale St. Joe Yellville
Northwest Travel 7

Celebrating 50 years of the Buffalo River


In March, the Buffalo River celebrated 50 years as a recognized national river, the first of its kind in the National Park system. Each fall, the Buffalo River is celebrated as the colors along its shores explode in shades of red, orange, and yellow. Visitors enjoy the cool and quiet waters meandering for 135 miles in the summer. Spring and winter are a little more silent as the more confident hikers, wall climbers, and campers enjoy quiet months along the banks. It’s a year-round experience for adventure seekers, scientists, and historians.

Neil Compton is often called the Guardian of the Buffalo River. He organized the efforts to save the river when the Corp of Engineers began discussing building a hydroelectric dam. Compton was a doctor of obstetrics in Bentonville but loved to hike, climb and paddle throughout the Ozarks.

Compton co-founded The Ozark Society “to preserve wild and scenic rivers, wilderness, and unique natural areas in the Ozark region. Through the campaign to “Save the Buffalo,” Compton served as the organization’s president and led the group through the National Park Service designation process. Because of their efforts, the Buffalo National River is one of the very few undammed rivers in the lower 48 states.

The purpose of the Buffalo National River is to preserve a free-flowing river and to conserve and interpret the combination of natural, scenic, cultural, and scientific features characterized by deep valleys, towering bluffs, wilderness, and landscapes of the Ozark Mountains.

Being visited by more than 1 million visitors each year, the Buffalo River is one of the main attractions people recognize in Arkansas outside the region. And responsible recreation is always recommended. But, did you know these fun facts about the Buffalo National River?

  • More than 59 species of fish fill the waters of the Buffalo National River
  • At least 500 caves have been discovered, mainly developed through limestone walls
  • The river is continuously moving
  • Three endangered bat species live in the caves near the river
  • Buffalo River is home to Arkansas’ longest Cave, Fitton Cave
  • Rocks in the area are considered to be built over a 300-million-year period in the ancient marine basin
  • Hemmed-in Hollow has a 200-foot waterfall, the highest in the region between the Rocky Mountains to Applacians
  • Temperature records span -13F to 107F
  • Limestone sediment in the water can cause the water to look a turquoise color

Special Projects on the Buffalo River

How can you interact with the Buffalo River and celebrate its 50 years?

  • Buffalo Outdoor Center | Ponca – the hub of adventure in the Buffalo valley
  • Compton Gardens | Bentonville – an oasis in the middle of downtown Bentonville dedicated to the conservation efforts of Dr. Neil Compton. Many of the grounds include transplants of native Ozark plants from Dr. Compton’s garden.
  • Neil Compton home | Bentonville – an arboretum inside the Compton Gardens shares the story of Dr. Compton’s fight for the Buffalo
  • Shiloh Museum | Springdale – Ken Smith’s Buffalo River Country photo exhibit shares the beauty of the Buffalo River and the preservation advocates
  • The River Remains | Little Rock – exhibit sharing stories of the Buffalo River in the Arkansas State Capitol
  • Boone County Library | Harrison – works from local artists and the Buffalo National River artists in residence program share the story of art in the park dating back to the late 19th century when Hudson River School artists painted the river for the first time
  • Listen to the historical 11-part Ozark Highland Series 
  • Listen to the Buffalo National River stories from KUAF | Ozarks at Large podcast

Ways to explore the Buffalo National River NPS grounds

  • Tyler Bend Visitor Center | St. Joe – primary National Park Visitor Center
  • Boxley Valley | Ponca – premier elk viewing area in spring and fall
  • The Parker-Hickman Farmstead | Jasper – self-guided tour of 100-year-old Ozark farm, considered the oldest home in the Buffalo River region
  • Rush Historic District and Hicks Property | Yellville – WWI era zinc mining community
  • Paddling – kayaking the Buffalo is the main activity visitors come to enjoy
  • Lost Valley – easy walk to a waterfall, passing Indian bluffs and scenic views
  • Hemmed in Hollow – strenuous trail to an over 200-foot waterfall
  • Hiking in the Upper District more popular route and sites
  • Hiking trails in the Lower District, including Dillard’s Ferry, Buffalo Point, and Indian Rock house
  • 50-mile challenge  – log 50 miles of physical activity on the Buffalo in 2022 and receive a commemorative patch

General Park Information

More information and beautiful photos of the Buffalo National River can be found on Smithsonian Magazine.

All images in this article are used with permission from Arkansas Parks and Tourism.

Meet the

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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7 responses to “Celebrating 50 years of the Buffalo River”

  1. […] An unforgettable experience inside a cave in the Ozark mountains. A luxury weekend with accommodations for honeymooners and families. Or, drop in on the private helipad among the walls of the Buffalo National River. […]

  2. […] National River | Jasper – Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the nation’s first National River might be the perfect outing this fall. The Buffalo […]

  3. […] Stargazing – with a 2024 eclipse on the horizon and a national Dark Sky ranking for the Buffalo River, the wide-open skies of Arkansas are perfect for studying the […]

  4. […] Harrison’s Scenic Byway is a perfect location for the “Always take the scenic route” mural. Additionally, 13 murals around town greet visitors, including notions of the Arkansas gar, Native American heritage and the Buffalo National River. […]

  5. […] godfather of rivers in Arkansas, the Buffalo River is the United States’ first National Scenic Riverway. The river is 135 miles long and flows through some of the most beautiful scenery that northern […]

  6. […] the official dinosaur of Arkansas, are displayed. With the International Dark Sky designation, the Buffalo River National Park is perfect for exploring and […]

  7. […] easy and somewhat relaxing Saturday exploration down the Buffalo River! From my experience, make sure to go when the water levels are not low so you don’t have to […]

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