Every Memorial Day, our family and friends get together at my cousin Freddie’s log cabin in Deer, Arkansas. He once said that when he was flying over Northwest Arkansas to visit the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville he would notice tiny dots in the landscape below. He said it was a personal goal to own one of those tiny dots… a little slice of heaven in the Ozark Mountains. See, Freddie knows how to live right.
Every meal at his home is epic. Every party is filled with laughter, music and fun. If Freddie invites you to something, you should probably go. Our Memorial Day weekend trips to the cabin are no exception.
Freddie and his kids have been visiting Boxley Valley for some time now and have gone on many float trips down the Buffalo. They have a system and lots of gear. I’m embarrassed to admit that my first trip to the Buffalo was with Freddie on our Memorial Day trip a few years ago. My husband, Dan, and I shared a canoe that first trip down the upper Buffalo and I literally thought we might die. He was recovering from a spell of vertigo and was very wobbly. We tumped about 55 times. That’s the day Dan vowed to never get in a canoe ever again. I am a bit more experienced than Dan, but not much. I kayak on Lake Chicot when I can and spent summers at Camp Seafarer, where I learned how to canoe and kayak. But that was years ago and it’s safe to say I’m basically starting over.
This year’s trip went considerably better than our first. The river was very high and there was a lot of action. We floated the upper Buffalo from Ponca to Kyle’s landing. I’ve never floated another part of the Buffalo, but the upper Buffalo is an amazingly beautiful section that you should explore before you die. Put this on your bucket list… or whatever you call it. The float can be long, so it’s good to be prepared. Here are a few tips from one beginner to another:
- Find a good rental company. We always use Buffalo Outdoor Center. Owners Mike and Rhonda Mills are fantastic. I recommend renting one of their epic cabins, too, if you need a place to stay. Check out their website for lots of information.
- Go with someone with experience. If you don’t know anyone, start out in a raft.
- Pack a lot of gear. The float trips are long. We floated from Ponca to Kyle’s Landing. As BOC states on their website, “this section is 10-miles long and takes around 4 to 6 hours to complete, depending upon the individual, the river level and the amount of time you linger along the way.” There are many different factors that could change the length of your trip, but go ahead and bring these things for sure:
- Food, snacks and beverages (no glass)
- Necklace huggie (yes, I call them huggies… but most of you call them COOZIES.)
- Cellphone if you are brave (store in a dry box)
- Light jacket
- Waterproof shoes that are also good for hiking
- Bathing suit
- Make sure you properly use dry bags. Trust me. Invest in these miracle bags. If you are a beginner like me, you will probably get wet. You don’t want your lunch, cellphone and beverages getting wet or lost in the river. These bags will float and keep your items safe. You should tether them to your canoe or kayak.
- Wear your life jacket. The river can be very strong and there are lots of rocks. The depth changes pretty dramatically. It will be easier to collect you life that is literally all over the place and floating down the river if you don’t have to fight swimming, too. Plus, you will avoid paying a fine if you are caught. It is illegal to not wear one.
- Stop and smell the roses. My more experienced friends know how to maneuver the canoes and kayaks better than I, so they can do things like paddle up stream, drink beer, and easily exit and enter the canoe without a total disaster happening. Out of fear, you may not risk a tump for a sip of beer. I find my most relaxing and enjoyable floats are the ones when we pull over often to snack, socialize and explore a bit. It also makes me feel more comfortable because you get more experience than just barreling down the river without ever stopping. Besides that… how would you pee?
- Definitely make time for hiking. There are some great trails off the Buffalo and it’s a unique way to experience the beauty in Northwest Arkansas. Hemmed-in-Hollow is a must see. Here’s a map of the section we floated.
- Make the most out of your time in Northwest Arkansas. Here are some other areas we explore when we visit.
Most photos were originally posted on my Instagram.