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Paddling’s Greatest Getaways

16 wild ways to find backcountry solitude and big-time scenery. All this, and you can bring the ice chest, too.

©Tom Till

Buffalo River

{Arkansas}

Swimming Hole Heaven

Perfect your backstroke in warm, clear, and plentiful pools on the Buffalo River.

One of the perks of canoe camping is the deluxe carrying capacity (porterhouse, anyone?). Maximize your grilling time on the Buffalo River, which has a mind-blowing number of perfect campsites. Will it be a primitive backwoods site or a solitary gravel bar by one of those must-skinny-dip swimming holes? Between camps, you’ll float on crystalline spring-fed water past hardwood forests that turn gold in the fall, azaleas and dogwoods that bloom in spring, and fern-draped hollows that stay green all summer. The surrounding wilderness is an ecological crossroads, where Southwest meets Southeast, where armadillos and roadrunners cross paths.

As America’s first national river and one of its last major free-flowing waterways, the Buffalo gets a fair share of paddle traffic in summer. But unlike some lottery-only premier streams, you can put in on the Buff without so much as a permit. Bring your own boat, or rent from one of the many local canoe/shuttle outfitters (www.buffalorivercanoerental.com; http://silverhill65.com). You could easily spend a week on the 135-mile river, but the best 3-day trip is along the 50 miles between Ponca and Woolum Ford. Immediately after your launch, sheer 500-foot cliffs loom over the swift, twisting river. On the first day, pull off at Hemmed-in-Hollow, where you can scramble up a narrow, dead-end chasm to a 200-foot waterfall.

Get there The Ponca put-in is at the junction of AR 43 and AR 74, near Boxley. Take out at Woolum; from St. Joe on US 65, drive west on AR 374.

Season March through October; the upper section may get low in fall

Difficulty Easy to moderate, with Class I-II+ rapids

Contact Buffalo National River, (870) 741-5443; www.nps.gov/buff

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