Arkansas isn’t usually the first place that comes to mind when you think of your dream road trip destination. You won’t find many instagram influencers or crowds of international travelers in The Natural State, but we think that’s what makes Arkansas so special. The Buffalo National River in northwest Arkansas has scenic bluffs, breathtaking waterfalls and good-natured locals. As one of the most unique hiking, fishing and kayaking destinations in the south, you won’t want to miss out on exploring the river and surrounding areas. The National Park Service maintains 135 miles of the river, so primitive camping and boondocking is allowed on the riverbank with no permit required (there are some strict guidelines on this, read more here). There are also several campgrounds along the river with decent amenities. There are a few great campground booking and review platforms on the market (The Dyrt, Campendium, Hip Camp). These are a quick way to weed out the good campgrounds from the bad. Once you’ve got a place to stay, it’s time to hit the trails.
Best Hiking Trails near the Buffalo National River
1. Rush Mountain Trail
3.5 miles round trip
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.131603, -92.568110
The coolest part about this trail is that it’s located in the Rush Historic District. This area was a booming settlement for miners in the 1890s and has since turned into a ghost town. This area has been deserted since the 1960s, but the old buildings and mine cars still stand. On the Rush Mountain trail you can check out all the old mines and processing mills, just be sure not to enter any of the structures as they are extremely unstable. This pleasant loop brings you past several bluffs overlooking the Buffalo National River and Rush Creek. Not too challenging of a trail and gives you an interesting look into the history of the area.
2. Indian Rockhouse Loop
3 miles round trip
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.081406, -92.569333
This trail is located in Buffalo Point, which is the most populated area within the Buffalo National River. You can find restaurants, campgrounds, public restrooms and multiple river access points at Buffalo Point. The Indian Rockhouse Loop offers some of the highest elevation viewpoints in the Ozarks, offering impressive panoramic lookout points throughout the trail. About halfway through the loop there’s an offshoot that brings you to the Indian Rockhouse Cave, a prehistoric bluff-dwelling used by Native Americans. Bring a flashlight or headlamp along so you can get a better look at the inside of the dwelling. The trail brings you back past a gorgeous waterfall that you can’t miss. If hiking during peak season, hit this trail early to get some solitude. This trail is more popular than others in the area (and for good reason).
3. Hideout Hollow Trail
2 miles round trip
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.073021, -93.265001
Short but gorgeous – this trail is truly a hidden gem that most Buffalo National River visitors overlook. The trailhead can be difficult to spot, so keep your eyes peeled for the Schermerhorn Trailhead off Highway 43. This is an out & back trail that brings you to a waterfall overlooking Hideout Hollow. The hollow is home to gorgeous pines and is breathtaking during peak fall foliage. Be careful when hiking with kids on this trail, there’s lots of steep drop offs.
4. Rock Wall Trails Loop via Tyler Bend Trails System
4 miles round trip
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 35.986049, -92.763628
The Tyler Bend Trails System has a great little visitor center and parking area. It’s easy to find and all of these trails are pet friendly, unlike other trails on the Buffalo National River. There are a few short hikes in this area, but the Rock Wall Trails Loop is definitely the most impressive. On this trail you’ll see the Sod Collier Cabin, which was home to one of the last pioneer families. The National Park Service bought this property in 1987 and restored the cabin. It’s been preserved and gives visitors a fascinating look into what life was like over a century ago.
5. Buffalo River Trail
37 miles one way
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 36.059984, -93.139377
The Buffalo River Trail (also known as the BRT) is a long, meandering trail with several gorgeous sections throughout. There are whole books written on just the BRT. If you decide to load up your backpack and hike the entire trail, I recommend this guide by Tim Ernst. This trail does require some wading through the river, so it’s best to hike the BRT in Fall or Winter when the water is at it’s lowest. If you’re looking for a day hike and want to check out just a portion of the trail, we suggest starting in Pruitt, AR. The trailhead is easy to find and you can get some great views of the river by hiking west toward the Erbie Campground.