ERBIE — The Buffalo National River offers numerous opportunities for paddling and camping enthusiasts to take advantage of the marvel of nature that sits in the Ozarks.
However, not every stretch of the river has the option of floating and camping in a place with things such as designated campsites and running water. For people who want to enjoy the beauties of the river and stay away from the hustle and bustle of normal everyday life while having some of the amenities of home such as a functioning bathroom while camping, the 5.4 mile stretch between Erbie and Ozark is an ideal situation.
This stretch gives floaters and campers the ability to put their canoes, kayaks, rafts or inner tubes on the river at the Erbie launch area and float down to their campsite at the Ozark Campground. The campground is a popular area that can fill up quickly so arriving early is definitely recommended.
Directions to the campground begin with traveling south on Hwy. 7 from Harrison. The turn for the campground is on County Road 129 which is 1.6 miles past the Pruitt Bridge that crosses the river. Another 1.5 miles down a dirt road that can be steep in a few places will lead right into the campground which offers a very large circle drive with campsites located all around the edge.
Once a camping spot is established and it’s time to get on the river, then it’s a 7.8 mile drive to the launch area located near the Erbie campground. After returning to Hwy. 7, continue south for 0.8 miles and turn right on County Road 79, otherwise known as Erbie Campground Road. Another 5.5 miles will lead to the Erbie campground and signs will direct the way to the right where the launch area is located.
Water levels play the most important role as far as when the stretch is recommended for floaters. Too high of water could be unsafe for novice paddlers and if the water is too low, it could make for a long day of dragging boats across low areas.
The launch area at Erbie has a concrete curb that stretches the length of the put in. Typically, if the water is a few inches above the curb, then the water level is at an ideal depth. Around 6 inches below the curb is a disappointing sign that the water is too low to float the upper section of the Buffalo River.
When time comes to get the boat in the water and begin a new adventure from Erbie to Ozark, the first bend in the river poses the first challenge. The river takes a sharp turn to the right between the extension of a gravel bar and the first bluff of the float. A pesky tree is usually laying in this bend from the previous flood and can be challenging if a floater enters the corner too fast or at the wrong angle. Caution should be taken when navigating the river and portage is always an option if a paddler is uncertain about safely maneuvering around obstacles.
Once the launch area is in the distance, then the rest of the float is full of short channels with slight bends and bluffs around every corner.
Less than half of a mile from the beginning, there is a pair of rope swings on the left side of the river for the brave at heart to swing from the embankment into the water.
Many areas of the float run alongside bluffs of all sizes. Several of the bluffs are easily accessible to reach the top which create the opportunity to jump into the water. The area should always be surveyed for things under the water such as rocks or tree limbs to ensure safety.
The entire stretch is covered in beautiful scenery. Oftentimes, a canopy of trees will cover the river and provide shade during hot steamy days. Around almost every bend is a new gravel bar to provide a place for rest or an opportunity to jump in the water and cool off.
Be on the lookout for small waterfalls as many of the local streams pour into the river. The occasional bluff will be dripping or streaming water as well.
When floating the river, the wildlife is always nearby. Challenge a child to count all the turtles that they see in the river. Many birds will travel along the river. There will always be a buzzard somewhere and a red-tailed hawk or an American eagle may cross your path. Deer and elk are in the area and may come into view at some point in the trip.
The entire section is available for an array of fishing — just be sure to have your fishing license up to date because the rangers will hold you accountable.
It’s also important for everyone on a floating journey to have a flotation device and a bag for trash in every boat is crucial in keeping the river clean from any pollution.
The final straight stretch of the river runs alongside the Ozark campground which is usually out of sight from the river but the sounds of campers and smell of firewood can usually be detected on a busy day. The final bend leads to the towering Briar Bluff just across the river from the take out spot at the sandy gravel bar which leads back to the circle drive at the campground. This area is a very popular swimming hole and for good reason. It’s a wide deep hole with plenty of room for a plethora of people to swim and jump off the bluff.
Briar Bluff is accessible by crossing the river and offers several spots for jumping into the water.
If the floater did decide to camp at the Ozark campground, then rest and relaxation is just up the hill where hopefully a campfire is ready to cook some hot dogs and hamburgers while kicking back in a lawn chair and watching the sunset until the stars come out over the big open field in the middle of the campground.