Boxley Valley in the Buffalo National River is one of the most picturesque places in Arkansas. Between the natural beauty and historic charm of the area, it is one of my favorite places to hike in Arkansas. The Buffalo River Trail begins here in Boxley Valley.
In November, Lagena and I backpacked one night on the Buffalo River Trail on the Boxley Valley section. We started our hike at the beginning of the trail, which is located near Whiteley Cemetery on Highway 21. From the eastern trailhead we hiked to Steel Creek Campground for a total of 13 miles one way.
Lagena and I left her car at Steel Creek, and drove my car to the trailhead. When shuttling like this, don’t make the same mistake we did. We got about a mile up the trail when Lagena suddenly yelled “My key!” I had no idea what she was talking about. Then it occurred to me, we had left her key in my car. Meaning we could not drive her car back to my car at the end of our trip. I cannot put the blame on her though. At the car she said to me that she was going to leave her key in the cupholder. I then moved it to the console for safe keeping.
In Arkansas we had an extremely dry fall. I wasn’t too worried about not having water because there are multiple creek crossing listed on the map. However, the trail starts by crossing Smith Creek. As we began our hike, Smith Creek had no water at all, anywhere. That made me nervous. We passed one other hiker and I asked him about the availability of water, and he said it was all “stagnant.” He wasn’t the best source.
We came to the first creek on the map. It was not only visibly flowing but had plenty of water for us to collect. However at that point, I didn’t really need any. About five miles in, we passed a spring, which was noted on the map. I topped off my CamelBak, but ended not needing to. On the rest of the hike we crossed another creek along the way and then dropped down to the Buffalo River. But after the spring, though I never had to refill my water again.
In a rainy time, you might want to bring trekking poles and waterproof boots or river shoes. We were able to cross the creeks without getting wet, but if they were higher, it would have not been so easy.
Day 1 – The ridge above Boxley Valley
Lagena and I got a late start to the hike. We both had a long way to drive that morning and neither one of us are early risers. Our target time to meet up at Steel Creek was 10 a.m., buuut, we actually met up at 11a.m. We wanted to use a civilized restroom one more time. So by the time we did that and drove to Boxley Valley, got a mile down the trail just to have to hike back and get the key to Lagena’s car, it was actually closer to 1 p.m. by the time we actually started the trail.
This section of the Buffalo River Trail follows the ridges above the river and Boxley Valley. And like most of the Ozarks, the climb between the valley and the ridges is fairly steep. The trail quickly starts climbing, but once at the top it levels out for a little while.
It then drops down a little and meets up with Walker Mountain Road at mile two. It follows the dirt road a little ways before leaving it for the woods. After leaving the road, Lagena and I got a little lost. We some how got off the trail and figured this out when we ended up in a thicket. We backtracked and found the trail again.
From here the trail climbs the ridge again steeply. It then drops down and crosses a beautiful creek. This would make a great place to camp, but we kept going, wanting to make more miles in the first day. We climbed up the ridge yet again. At the top, the trail levels out and follows an old road.
This was easy hiking. Flat, open, and excellent views through the trees of Boxley Valley below. We also saw evidence of old home sites which was really neat.
We crossed a gully high up and then rounded a corner on top a cliff around mile six. Here there is a nice hobbit hole in the bushes and flat ground – a perfect campsite. There is evidence of others having the same thoughts. It’s a perfect place to watch the sunset. We feared if we kept going, we wouldn’t find a better campsite, so we called it day.
And the next day as we continued our hike we were right. It was at least two more miles before the terrains yields itself to nice backcountry spots. We would not have made it to there until after dark. And we would have missed the amazing sunset.
The campsite has an excellent backcountry kitchen – as in a log and fire pit.
Day 2 – Boxley Valley to Ponca Bridge
After breaking camp, we continued on our way to Steel Creek. From mile six, and our backcountry site, the trail begins to descend to another valley and creek crossing. Before you get to the second creek, the trail crosses a dirt road that is located on private property. Signs let you know when you are crossing into private property and when you leave it to rejoin the national park.
On the dirt road, I looked up to see what for a brief moment I thought was an extremely large whitetail deer. Then I came to my senses and thought it was an elk, but upon a closer look it was a llama. He didn’t seem to mind us, and I assume he belonged to whoever’s property the trail crosses.
We then crossed the second creek on this section of trail. This would also be a very nice place to camp, however it is on private property so I wouldn’t advise it.
From there we climbed back up the ridge one more time, before leveling out for a little ways. Then the trail steeply drops down to the Buffalo River. On the descent, it is straight with no switchbacks. Lagena and I both agreed it would not be pleasant to hike up.
Day 2 continued – Ponca Bridge to Steel Creek
It is only two miles to Steel Creek from the Buffalo River bridge on Highway 74 at Ponca. From the river we crossed under the bridge and hiked along the river most of the way to Steel Creek.
Unlike Boxley Valley, the valley here is narrow. We climbed a little ways above the river and hiked along a few bluffs before weaving away from the river around the various gullies. I loved being so close to the other side of the valley and seeing the rugged terrain of the area.
At one point on the trail, we could see a bluff on our side of the river. The trail follows below the sheer rock face, and it was neat hiking so close to the wall. But there isn’t too much of a drop off on the other side, so it wasn’t as scary as other bluffs on the river.
From there the trail drops steeply down into the valley and Steel Creek Campground. Lagena and I took a spur trail to the gravel road. I wanted to leave the woods so we could get a better view of Roark Bluff, which is located above the campground. Roark Bluff is probably my favorite bluff on the river. I love the painted rock face that towers above the river an an open field.
Buffalo River Trail
The entire Buffalo River Trail is about 40 miles. It goes from Boxley Valley to Pruitt. It stays on the south side of the river. Hikers can enjoy all aspects of what the Buffalo National River offers – from historic homesites, to bluff above the river, to gorgeous forests.