When the invitation arrived to my nephew’s wedding in rural Arkansas, we immediately decided to extend our stay and do some exploring. We booked a little cabin in Gaither, just north of the Buffalo National River where cattle seemed to outnumber the people. It was a great location, though, for a quick drive to several of the river’s access points. The Buffalo, America’s first national river, runs wild and undammed for 135 miles. Much of it is dominated by large bluffs, a beautiful backdrop to the river itself. It was May, and the weather here was already sweltering. But the water was cool and refreshing. The kids played for hours by the shallow edge and fished in the deeper waters by the bluff.
We started on the west side of the river in Lost Valley, taking a short 2-mile round trip hike to Eden Falls. About halfway to the falls, we came to Natural Bridge, where a small waterfall fell into a shallow pool (pictured above). The boys immediately threw off their shoes and splashed in the water. The rocks here were very slippery. We had a few falls and bruises, but it didn’t deter from the fun.
Continuing on, we passed some great boulders for climbing on our way to Cob Cave, so named from the corn cobs left behind by Native Americans and later found here by archaeologists. It’s a large bluff shelter—a good spot to hide from the rain and with many nooks and crannies for exploring. The shelter leads you on to 53-foot-high Eden Falls. It was not more than a trickle when we visited, but grows in size after a good rain. My husband and our oldest son continued up the hill to another small cave (flashlights needed) and an indoor waterfall. Meanwhile, the rest of us sat by the deep pool at the bottom of Eden Falls, watching a rather large salamander make his way across the rocks.
Blanchard Springs Caverns
Nearly a two-hour drive from our Airbnb in Gaither, Blanchard Springs Caverns was definitely worth the time in the car. We booked the one-hour Dripstone tour. We had time to kill before the tour started, so we took a short drive and small hike to Blanchard Springs. Here the water gushes out of a large crack in a rock wall, forming a creek that eventually flows to Mirror Lake. In our race back to the caverns to make our tour slot, our oldest fell off the path and rolled down the bumpy hillside to the creek below. Fortunately, he came out fairly unscathed, but soaking wet. And with the average temperature in the caverns being at 58 degrees, we had to make a quick detour by the gift shop for some dry clothes.
The tour begins with everyone piling into an elevator and heading deep underground. This trail goes through two of the large, upper rooms of the cavern, and every curve of the path revealed new formations. Some were so massive, you couldn’t quite understand their size until you were standing right next to them. And then others were so slight, you felt like if you breathed on them, they would break in half. The whole experience is rather unreal. Imagine walking through an underground castle built by nature over thousand of years—one drip at a time.
Roark Bluff & Triple Falls
The next morning, we awoke with the Buffalo calling us back. We headed toward Ponca and Steel Creek Campground, pulling the fishing poles out for a morning in the river under the shadow of Roark Bluff. Besides the fish, we had quite a few animal encounters here, including crawfish and several snakes winding their way across the water.
Then we took the dirt road down to Kyles Landing, another canoe launch and camping site. We couldn’t help but drive up the road to Camp Orr, a boy scout camp featured in Boys’ Life Magazine. We figured with an Eagle Scout and two boy scouts in the car, we were cleared for a quick peak! After sneaking out, we stopped at the bottom of the hill near the trailhead for Triple Falls. Turning our backs on the Buffalo, we hiked inland toward Triple Falls (also known as Twin Falls). There’s some impressive shots of this waterfall cascading over the top of the bluff after a nice rain, but alas, we saw a much smaller waterfall. But the area was completely secluded, perfect for a picnic, and ripe for exploring. And, it turns out, there were fish in that pool, which the kids worked for hours to try and catch.
Breaking away from the Buffalo, we took a day trip to Eureka Springs—the aptly named town boasting 66 natural springs within city limits. Fifteen of them are located throughout the historic district. Each one is tucked away within a beautiful pocket park. We drove the trolley route around the historic loop, stopping to take countless pictures of the Victorian homes and gurgling springs. The terrain is very hilly here, and the roads snake over and around the hills. We stopped high on a hilltop for lunch at the Crescent Hotel. The hotel opened in 1886 to cater to tourists visiting Eureka Springs for the town’s healing waters. The Sky Bar Gourmet Pizza restaurant not only left us with full bellies, but a bird’s eye view of the city below. The boys were a bit nervous walking the hallways, though, as the Crescent is often dubbed “America’s Most Haunted Hotel.”
Continuing on the loop, we parked by the Carnegie Library on Spring Street and burned off some calories by walking downhill toward Main. The shops here line both sides of the street. We took our time window shopping, stopping to buy some books and, of course, in the candy shop. Yes, those are candy necklaces they’ve got around their necks!
We couldn’t leave without visiting Thorncrown Chapel. Surrounded by woods, this beautiful chapel has “425 windows and over 6,000 square feet of glass.” It’s truly an amazing piece of architecture, and worth the detour if you are in the area.
One Last Look at the Buffalo