Camp along the Buffalo National River via Steel Creek


Added by Tyler McKay

Get away from the crowds without having to be too far away from your car. This is a great place to get your friends into dispersed camping or backpacking!

The Buffalo National River was declared America’s first National River in 1972. Since then, and even before, it has been an Arkansas favorite for camping and canoeing. 

For this trip we drove out to the Steel Creek Campground, near Ponca, AR, and started our trek from there. Camping is allowed anywhere along the river that is at least, "half a mile" from an established trail or campground. This makes it really easy to find an awesome spot along the river to camp for the night and there are plenty of pre-established fire rings (please don’t make your own) for a nice fire along the river. I definitely recommend finding your way to your own site because the established areas can get crowded and noisy from the amount of people. Oh, and the generators people decide to bring! I'm all for some creature comforts, but at a certain point you're ruining everyone's experience, so avoid that problem by taking your pack and setting out on foot. 

So how did we find our spot? 

From the Steel Creek Campground we walked down to the river (about a mile) and turned left. From there we set our watches to ensure that we were half a mile away from the campgrounds. By taking a left (if you’re looking at the river) there are few options. Depending on the river level, you can follow the river itself, or find a trail. Either way, you won’t get too far from the view of the river. Once you hit your half mile, you can start looking for the perfect campsite. 

On this particular trip, we were hammock camping, so we had to find a solid tree setup that could support two hammocks, be near the water, and have a spot for a fire (sounds picky, but it wasn't hard to find). If you are tent camping, there are plenty of sandy banks that would make a comfortable spot to put your tent down. We ended up at spot along the river that was directly across a big bluff. If you’re new to the river itself, this is one of the beauties of it. The bluffs are tall and the scenery is amazing, so make sure to take it in. 

It was in the 90s most of the day, so the temperature was definitely going to be an issue, which is why we wanted a spot right on the river. This made for a great cool off opportunity right before bed time and allowed us to beat the heat during the day. 

Since you are camping along the river, there are going to be bugs. We brought bug spray for ourselves and spray that is made to be applied on your gear to keep them away. Consider the water level and weather. The Buffalo is notorious for rising and falling very quickly, so camp far enough away from the water that you won’t be swept away in the case of a big rain storm up stream. At times, when the river is floatable, you will probably see some kayakers and canoes out and about. Consider doing an overnight float trip (definitely recommend!), but make sure that you are aware of the water levels before you get out there. You don’t want to drive all the way there only to find out the river can’t even be floated. 

In the morning, if you want a good and filling meal, you need to head to the Ozark Café in Jasper. You definitely won’t regret it, even if it’s a little out of the way. 

Always remember to follow leave no trace principles. 

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Dog Friendly
Easy Parking
Swimming Hole



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Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on.

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