Buffalo River Trail - Western Section

Free downloadable topo maps of the Buffalo River Trail

When people talk about the Buffalo River Trail, this is the section they are probably talking about. Beginning at Boxley and extending to Pruitt, this 36 mile section is the longest. Centered around some of the most spectacular bluffs, most active river landings and most interesting historical sites, it is also the most popular. This page has links to the maps, trail discriptions, a downloadable mileage table and a GPS track.

The four topo maps covering the Western Section are:

If you are interested in the other trail sections, here are some quick links to those pages:

The Maps. The four maps provided here are free downloads that are ready to print on 11 x 17 paper. Alternatively, you can purchase the same maps printed in color on weatherproof, Rite in the Rain, 11 x 17 paper (see bottom of page). The four maps are Boxley to Ponca bridge, Ponca to Kyles Landing, Kyles Landing to Erbie, and Erbie to Pruitt. Note that there is plenty of overlap between end points.

The maps are 1:24,000 scale based on USGS 7.5 minute quads. The trail between Boxley and Erbie was mapped with a WAAS enabled GPS. The section between Erbie and Pruitt is preliminary and based on GPS and some external sources. However, I think you’ll find that the quality of the current trail depiction exceeds that of existing publications. The BRT is shown in red. Way points, shown as filled red circles, correspond to the waypoints in the following narrative and Google Earth (GE) images. Whereas the following narrative expresses the waypoints in UTM, the waypoint tables on the maps are in decimal degrees. Also included are road designations and updated map features (e.g. roads and river trailhead roads) based on aerial photography.

Trail Mileage Tables. Two trail mileage tables are presented, one in a pdf format and the other as an Excel file. Use the Excel file for planning your trip.

GPS File: Right click this link to download the track in a gpx format. Save it to you computer and use your GPS software to load it to your GPS.

Boxley to Ponca Hike. This is a moderate 11.2 mile hike. Begin at the Boxley Trailhead, explore the old house site at the trailhead parking lot (WP-01, UTM 464035 3977972). Go north, cross AR 21, follow the road, pass through the gate and cross Smith Creek (WP-02, 0.1 miles, UTM 464138 3978023). The crossing is on a concrete slab that is mossy and very slick when wet. The trail follows the west side of the pasture, turns right (east) at the foot of the hill and follows the north side of the pasture until it swings to the left and climbs up the mountainside. The trail follows a level bench at about 1,600 feet elevation for 0.7 miles and comes out into an overgrown pasture.

At 1.9 miles (WP-03, UTM 464010 3979845) turn right on Walker Mountain Rd. Stay on the road for 0.6 miles until the trail leaves the road, reenters woods and heads down hill (WP-04, 2.5 miles, 464887 3979958). At the foot of the hill is Arrington Creek, a pretty wooded area with a good back country camp site, complete with sitting stones, logs and a fire ring (WP-05, 3.6 miles, UTM 465449 3980342).

Next is a 500 foot ascent out of the hollow to about half way up the mountain side. Then you will follow the 1600-1680 foot contours for 1.6 miles as you walk around the mountain. At 6.2 miles, the trail begins a 2.2 mile descent to Dry Creek. Skirt around a small nose and cross Running Creek at 8.4 miles (WP-06, UTM 467199 3983896). This pretty, grassy valley would make a great place to camp, but it is private property. We found an adequate camp site just north of the creek on federal lands, but if I was doing this again as a one night hike, I would do it in reverse and camp at Arrington Creek.

Next is a 300 foot climb, then a 1.8 mile hike though fairly level forest and finally a half mile, 300 foot descent down a long straight trail to river level at the Ponca low-water bridge (WP-07, 11.2 miles, UTM 468070 3986395). This is a launching area for the Ponca canoe rental services which can be used as an exit point for this hike. Ponca is across the bridge and has canoe rental services that also offer backpacker shuttle, a general store, cabins, showers and camping.

Ponca to Kyles Landing Hike. This section is 9.7 miles (WP-07 to WP-14). Cross under the AR 74 bridge and head north along the banks of the Buffalo River. The first 1.7 miles follow the bluff along the river. While there is one spot (an unmarked but obvious spur trail) a little past the bridge where you can get down to the river, most of the hike is higher on the bluff. It is a very pretty area, though, especially when there is water running in the small hollows.

At 1.7 miles you will enter the Steel Creek recreation area (WP-08, UTM 468833 3988277). On a warm weekend expect lots of car campers in this area. Updated for this map and clearly visible on Google Earth is the park road just north of the trail in this area. The trail continues in the woods skirting the campground and south side of the road, until it crosses the entry road, County 134 (WP-11, 2.2 miles,UTM 469312 3988468). If this is the end of your hike and you used a canoe shuttle to move your car, you will likely turn left (northeast) on the main road, head down hill and go to the south east end of this huge open recreation area. Steel Creek Landing (WP-09, UTM 469712 3988233) is the main parking area for canoe access. There is a bathroom and access to several trails across the Buffalo River. A seasonal ranger station is located in the south east corner of the field. While the recreation area is vibrant on a nice weekend, solitude comes quickly once you hit the trail.

If you are through hiking the rest of the BRT, keep going straight across the main access road (WP-11). The remaining section to Kyles Landing is the most spectacular. It features hollows, lots of little water falls after a rain and spectacular views of the river and its famous bluffs (especially during leaf-off).

The first 3.5 miles take you up about 400 feet to above what is labeled Bee Bluff on the USGS map and a gradual 400 feet back down into Beech Creek (according to area experts, Bee Bluff is actually the bluff between Ponca Bridge and Steel Creek). The section before Beech Creek offers some good views of Big Bluff, across the river. Then it is up 700 feet to nose and the Slaty Place trail junction. (WP-12, 7.3 miles, UTM 472486 3988984). The trail to the north (left) descends 700 feet to the river at Horseshoe Bend in about 2 miles. The BRT continues to the right.

The next mile follows the bluff line and descends 800 feet to river level (WP-13, 9.2 miles, UTM 474348 3989380). There is a primitive campsite off to left. And easy access to the river for water or a swim. About a quarter mile up the trail you will intersect a dirt road and follow it for another quarter mile. The trail turns south west (right) off road at WP-14 (9.7 miles, UTM 474600 3989992). If you stay on the road, it will continue a quarter mile to Kyle’s Landing, a canoe launch, developed campground, picnic area and trailhead. Drinking water and flush toilets available Apr-Oct.

Kyles Landing to Erbie Hike. This section is 7.1 miles (WP-14 to WP-19). From the landing, the trail heads south up Bear Creek, switchbacks up a small ridge and crosses County Road 256, the access road to Kyle’s Landing (WP-15, 1.0 mile, UTM 475348 3989546). Past the road, the trail continues to climb to about 1,440 feet and then passes above Buzzard Bluff. The next mile is mostly downhill with brief excursions up Shop Creek and Rock Bridge Creek. As with all the creeks in this section, they are dry crossings unless you are there after a deluge. Cross Camp Orr Road (County Rd 139) at WP-16 (2.8 miles, UTM 477020 3990022). Camp Orr is a Boy Scout camp on the river to the north.

Cross Dry Creek after a short descent and then climb up past another bluff. The last mile of this 2.3 mile section is very picturesque; a very narrow trail with moss covered stone stairs along a sheer bluff overlooking the river.

After crossing a small creek, the trail comes out of the woods onto a dirt road. Turn left (northwest) and follow the road to Cherry Grove Cemetery with its pre Civil War graves. (WP-17, 5.1 miles, UTM 478900 3992024).

The trail leaves the road to the right about 0.1 miles past the cemetery and heads east. It goes back in the woods and follows along the side of a small bluff and below an old field. The Parker-Hickman Farmstead is at WP-18 (6.0 miles, UTM 479962 3991879). When the Buffalo National River was designated, the National Park Service acquired most of the private property within the boundary. The Parker-Hickman log house was the oldest building, built in the late 1840’s. In a peaceful setting, there is a main house (that is empty but open) and several out buildings.

From the homestead, head southwest up a small creek, climb over a low ridge then cross the Erbie Campground Road. A few feet further is a T junction. (WP-19, 7.1 miles, UTM 481092 3991744). Turn left (west) and go 0.1 miles to Erbie Campground. If you had a canoe service provide a shuttle, they could have parked your car here. Erbie has river access, car camping, walk-in campsites, picnic tables, fire grates, drinking water, and toilets. If you turn right (east) at WP-19, the trail will go 8.6 miles to Pruitt and the end of the west section of the BRT.

Erbie-Pruitt Hike. This section between Erbie Campground and Pruitt is 8.6 miles. From the Erbie Campground take the BRT 0.1 miles back to the T junction at WP-19.  Keep going straight.  At about 0.3 miles, an equestrian trail with a yellow blaze will turn off to the right.  Go straight and follow the blue blaze.  For the next 1.4 miles the trail will stay on a wooded hillside first travelling north and then southerly as it follows a major bend in the river. The trail is away from the river in this section so combined with the trees the views are limited.  At mile 1.7, the trail crosses the aforementioned equestrian trail. By following the equestrian trail to the southeast you will pass through a series of fields and finally reach a ford across the Buffalo River.  Staying on the BRT, however, you will reach Adair Cemetery at 2.0 miles ( WP-20, UTM 482404 3991208).  At this point the trail is following a road bed.  After the road swings to the west (right), look for the blue blazes leaving to the south (right).  If you cross the utility right-of-way while on the road, you missed the turn.

The BRT climbs a small hill, enters the forest and follows the course of the river along the side of a shallow bluff. In the section you will pass the utility right-of-way several times. Just after you pass below Brown Cemetery (mile 4.0), you will leave the bluff overlooking the river and go up a small drainage.  When you come out you will climb a few steps to the Cedar Grove Picnic Area.  The waypoint on the map is back toward the road, but you can't miss this landmark with all the CCC stone works (WP-21 4.2 miles, UTM 483968 3990100). The road is the road that connects Erbie Campground with Highway 7.

The BRT goes straight across the north end of the picnic area, drops down a few steps and goes up another small drainage.  Then it follows the side of a bluff for about 3/4 mile to where the trail crosses a minor ridge.  The trail swings back to the south and drops to a north flowing creek.  At the creek, the trail turns north and follows it out of the drainage.  Leaving the drainage, there is a yellow trail coming down the hill on your right (east).  It continues to the river and crosses it.  The BRT stays on the east side of the Buffalo River and follows the river bottom to Ozark recreation area (WP-22, 5.9 miles, UTM 487460 3990704).

Ozark is a big flat grass park with road access from Highway 7.  Stay to the south of the park, cross the road and look for the trail entering the woods.  The BRT goes another 2.6 to Pruitt and the end of the West section (WP- 23 8.5 miles, UTM 485512 3990976).

Info. The Boxley-Steel Creek section was featured in Waypoints, Backpacker Magazine, February 2007, Midwest Edition. The Steel Creek-Erbie section was featured in Waypoints, Backpacker Magazine, May 2007, Midwest Edition. USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps for Boxley-Steel Creek: Boxley, Murray and Ponca, AR (trails not shown). USGS 7.5 minute quadrangle topographic maps for Steel Creek-Erbie: Ponca and Jasper, AR (trails not shown). Other sources to consider:

  • The National Park Service's free Buffalo National River map with canoe mileages. This does not have the hiking trail on it but provides a good overview of the river.
  • The National Park Service's Buffalo National River website.
  • Ken Smith's Buffalo River HandBook is a comprehensive, 436 page mile-by-mile guide to the river and the BRT. It is written to complement the Trails Illustrated maps and contains 135 pages of geology, biology and history. Available for $21.95 from the Ozark Society.
  • Trails Illustrated Buffalo National River-West Trail Map (1:31,000) for $11.95.
  • Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails is a guide to the trails around the Buffalo River that includes sketch maps and trail profiles for $18.95.
  • Contact the Buffalo National River Headquarters, Harrison, AR (870) 741-5443 or http://www.nps.gov/buff/.

Acknowledgements. Any mistakes are mine. Thanks to the following people for their help:

  • Ken Smith for his edits and corrections to this web page.
  • Bob Miller of the Green Country Outdoor Club for the track of the Old River Trail from Kyles Landing to Erbie.

Shuttles and Canoeing.

Directions from Fayetteville to Ponca and Boxley Trailhead. Take US 412 east to just past Marble AR. Turn right on AR 21 and go 16 miles to the Buffalo River Valley and junction of AR 43. For a shuttle, turn left and go 5 miles to Ponca. To go to the Boxley trailhead, turn right and go 2.2 mile. The trail head is on the right as AR 21 makes a sharp left (east) turn and begins to climb out of the Buffalo River Valley.

Directions from Little Rock to Ponca and Steel Creek. Take I-40 west to AR-7 (Exit 81). Take AR-7 north to Jasper AR. In Jasper, turn left after river onto AR-74. Go 12 miles and turn right at the sign for Steel Creek recreation area. For a shuttle, stay on 74 to the junction with AR-43 (1.5 miles), turn right. Hire shuttle from one of the canoe services.

To Buy Maps. If you don't want to take advantage of the FREE download, color weatherproof versions (11x17) of each map are available for $5 each plus S&H by emailing cew5151@gmail.com. The full set of 4 maps (Boxley to Pruitt), folded and delivered by mail in the US is $23. They are also available at Backwoods in Tulsa, OKC and Norman, and Ozark Outdoor Supply in Little Rock.

 

Boxley to Ponca (above)
Ponca to Kyles Landing (above)
Kyles Landing to Erbie (above)
Erbie to Pruitt (above)
View from Goat Bluff (Big Bluff) Trail
by Bob Miller

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