The Buffalo National River inspires awe not only for its amazing natural beauty but also for its rich history. Peoples have called the Buffalo National River home for thousands of years. The Osage and Ochethi Sakowin people lived in the area before Europeans called it home. While hiking the Indian Rockhouse Trail, you can literally step foot into a place where Native Americans sheltered.
This 3.5-mile loop takes hikers to the famed Indian Rockhouse, a cliff shelter that shows evidence that people have used the cave since 7,000 BC. And it’s a massive cave. You can see why people made it their home so long ago.
And not only is it a pretty awesome cliff shelter to explore, but it also is deep and has distinct features of a cave, like stalactites and stalagmites. But the coolest part is there is a creek flowing in the back, and you can peek into the actual cave system.
The creek flows in and out of the rock wall in the back of the cave, and that is not something you see every day!
Finding the trailhead
To find the trailhead drive 0.3 miles east (or toward the restaurant) from the Buffalo Point Ranger Station. You will see a parking area to your right. After you park your vehicle, cross the street to begin your hike.
Trailhead to waterfall
From the trailhead, the Indian Rockhouse Trail heads downhill and into a valley. At mile 0.3 you come to the Sinkhole Icebox. There is a little spur trail where you can overlook the sinkhole from another angle. In the summer months, you can take note of how much cooler the air is that comes from below.
From there, the trail continues to take you downhill. And at mile 0.5 you can look for a short spur trail that will lead you above the waterfall. The trail then snakes around for another tenth of a mile and at mile 0.6 it passes under the waterfall. But don’t worry, there’s room to get by without getting sprayed.
Waterfall to Indian Rockhouse
From the waterfall, the Indian Rockhouse Trail snakes around the valley. Keep an eye out to your left and look for an old zinc mine, just a little way down from the waterfall. At mile 0.75 you come to a creek, and the trail parallels the creek for a little way.
At mile 1.1 there is a pre-Indian Rockhouse Cave, a smaller version to give you a sampling. You can walk in and around it, but don’t be fooled this is just a smaller version of what’s to come. Around mile 1.2 you come to an intersection. A sign directs you to the Indian Rockhouse Cave.
If you get confused about which way to go on this trail, a good rule of thumb is to go right. You will quickly come to another intersection, where again you want to go right. The trail to your left here is the return trail to the trailhead.
At these two intersections, you cross the creek but continue to follow it through a beautiful valley. Take note of the unique rock formations along the creek. At mile 1.75, you come to the Indian Rockhouse Cave. And like I said above, it’s a unique and amazing geological and historical feature.
Indian Rockhouse to trailhead
After you explore the cave, follow the return trail back to the trailhead. Again you are going to want to stay to the right. The return trail also follows the creek. But this time you are on the other side from where you were when hiking to the cave.
Around mile 2.3, you can see the Natural Bathtub feature in the creek to your left.
From there, the trail gently climbs out of the valley and back to the trailhead. At mile 3.25 you will see the road. The Indian Rockhouse Trail follows the road the rest of the way back to the trailhead
Indian Rockhouse Trail
The Indian Rockhouse Trail at the Buffalo National River is an interesting trail that takes you back in time. I was also amazed by all the unique geological features it shows hikers along the way.
- 3.5-mile loop
- Elevation gain and loss 627 feet
- Dogs not allowed
- Backcountry camping not allowed