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Floating the Buffalo National River; Upper reaches

HARRISON, Ark. -- Ahhh, spring rains. Let it rain, let it rain, let it rain.

Imagine tulips, jonquils and dogwood trees in full bloom, lush grass coming out. It’s all happening right now and it’s all the things the Arkansas Ozarks are known for this time of year.

But let’s not forget floating on one of the regions many free-flowing streams. Dust off those canoes and kayaks that might not have been in the water since last year and get ready to paddle.

Spring is the best time of year to experience the majestic Buffalo National River, especially the upper part of this amazing spring-fed waterway.

From Boxley on the far upper end of the Buffalo National River to Buffalo City, where the river converges with the White River, the experiences are endless. Starting as just a trickle high in the Boston Mountains, the Buffalo flows east for nearly 150 miles, offering water for every level of experience.

This turquoise water is inviting to say the least, with quiet, flowing water while at times reaching stages of exciting rapids. The Buffalo National River is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2012, having been designated as America’s first national river by an act of congress in 1972.

The upper river is typically defined as running from the Upper Buffalo Wilderness to Mt. Hersey in Searcy County. This 52-mile stretch of river is normally floatable from March through June. Sometimes, depending on summer rain, on into July and August.

Here are some of the most popular floats on the upper section of the river.

• Boxley to Ponca: this 6-mile float is a paddlers delight with several class I and II stretches along the way. Plan to either take out at the Ponca low water bridge or portage your boat and continue down river. Watch on your left for the elk herd along the way just before you get to Ponca. This float can only occur after a heavy rain and is only for the very experienced paddler.

• Ponca to Steel Creek: 2.7 miles of floating bliss. Just a few rapids and several long pools. Pay attention to the huge bluffs along the left side as you approach Steel Creek. Roark Bluff is one of the most photographed on the entire river.

• Steel Creek to Kyles Landing: 8 miles of lazy water with a few rapids, passing “Big Bluff” on the left. Big Bluff is known for the Goat Trail some 500 feet above the river, and it is quite a sight! Not too far along the river is the trailhead for Hemmed-In Hollow, where you will find the tallest waterfall between the Appalachians and the Rockies.

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