This is part 1 of a 2 part post.
Part 1 will cover general information on the Buffalo National River and the Lost Valley Trail in northwest Arkansas.
Located in the northern part of Arkansas, within the Ozark Mountains, lies Buffalo National River. This national river runs 153 miles, with the majority of the river protected by the National Park Service, and a small percentage of it protected by US Forest Service. When the Buffalo National River was established in 1972, it protected the river and its surrounding area, halting all plans by government and private companies looking to dam the river. In fact, it is one of the only rivers left untouched by man and kept undammed in the continental US.
Most people don’t realize that Buffalo National River is managed by the National Park Service. Steel Creek and Buffalo Point are the two ranger stations in the park, and there is only one visitor’s center at Tyler Bend. The park service helps to maintain trails here, provide camping and hiking information, keep facilities clean and operational, and preserve and protect everything within the park and waterways.
When visiting Buffalo National River, most people kayak, canoe, swim, float in the river, or hike the nearby trails. Camping, backpacking, horseback riding, and fishing is also permitted within the boundaries around the river. See nps.org/buff for more information.
I visited the Buffalo National River in early August, and noticed more people were definitely out and around the river on the weekends, spending their leisure days on the shore and in the water. Weekdays were much quieter, having recreation areas mostly to ourselves.
One of the reasons we chose to visit Buffalo National River was because of Covid. My family and I wanted to get out in nature, but not be overwhelmed with crowds of people. Buffalo National River is a large and lengthy park in an area of Arkansas that’s not densely populated, with plenty of activities that suited us. We felt like we could travel here safely by car, avoid large groups of people, and keep plenty of distance from others.
Because the river is almost entirely dependent on rainfall, it’s always a good idea to check the river levels and flow rate before visiting. You can find that information on the NPS website.
We spent a few hours hiking along the Lost Valley Trail, one of the more popular trails around the Buffalo National River. The trail itself is an “out and back” trail that leads to beautiful Eden Falls, and takes about 2 hours to hike. The Lost Valley Trail is 2.4 miles roundtrip, has an elevation change of 500 feet, and is an easy to moderate hike. We had a three year-old and an active/fit seventy year-old family member hiking with us, if that helps better judge the difficulty of the hike.
Lost Valley Trail was moderately trafficked for a Sunday morning. Parking fills up rather quickly, so it’s better to hike earlier in the morning or later in the day.
The Lost Valley Trail is known for its cave-like structures that form picturesque grottos, dramatic caves, and beautiful waterfalls. The first waterfall, Natural Bridge, falls 8 feet from a small opening in the massive rocks. Unfortunately, as we visited in August, there was only a trickle of water coming from the rock.
The highlight of this hike (in my opinion) is massive Cob Cave. The NPS describes it a as a vastly expansive 200 foot bluff shelter. In 1931, a team of University of Arkansas archaeologists found tiny corn cobs, pieces of baskets, as well as sandal fragments here in this cave. They named the cave Cob Cave after the 2,000 year old dry and protected corn cobs found here.
Rocks and boulders are scattered everywhere within the cave – remnants of an old ceiling that once collapsed. It takes a little work, but you can climb into the back of the cave and enjoy the protection and views that our native people once had.
Just after Cob Cave, I saw this unique pattern in the rocks. The entire Buffalo National River area is comprised of sedimentary rocks like limestone, shale, and sandstone, and in the photo below you can see the layers upon layers that were once created in ancient sea beds.
Eden Falls lies just beyond Cob Cave. Water falls over the rock from 53 feet above into a pool of water. Again, we didn’t see the “gem” of a waterfall that many see while hiking here. For us, Eden Falls was another light trickle, as it was the dry summer season. There was however, a decent size pool of water at the bottom of the falls. This is where the Lost Valley Trails ends and you must turn around and head back.
Feel free to pack a picnic lunch as there is a large covered shelter with picnic tables at the start of the trail. There is also a restroom and ample parking available. Dogs are not allowed on the trail.
Keep an eye out for ‘part 2’ of my trip to the Buffalo National River. Have you visited this national river? Do you have a favorite spot? Let me know in the comments.
sources: wikipedia.org, nps.org