You Are Responsible For Your Own Safety!

Buffalo National River encompasses over 94,000 acres. Travel in the backcountry areas and floating the river have inherent risks. Hikers and floaters assume complete responsibility for their own safety. Be aware of your surroundings. If you have an accident, it will take time for help to reach you. Remember that cell phone service is spotty in most areas of the park.

Rescue is not a certainty. Your safety depends on your own good judgement, adequate preparation, and constant attention. Proper equipment and the knowledge of how to use it are essential for a safe trip. Keep your group together, especially children. Let someone at home know where you are going and when you expect to return by leaving them a detailed trip itinerary. A concerned party may call the park's 24-hour dispatch center at 1-888-692-1162 to report an overdue hiker or floater.

Visit the park's Leave No Trace and Preventative Search and Rescue pages for more information and tips for planning a safe outing at Buffalo National River. Also, visit the park's Life Jacket Loaner page and learn how you can borrow a life jacket during your next trip to the river.

Lightning strike
Lightning strike at Buffalo National River.

T. Fondriest

Thunderstorm Hazards

The weather is warm, not a cloud in the sky, and suddenly things change. Thunderstorm events can cause a rapid short term changes that need to be taken seriously. Awareness of the likelihood of a storm will help you make a decision about whether to go or not to go, or at least how far away from the river to set up camp and pull your boats. These storms can be sudden and can happen miles away from where their affects will eventually be felt. For example, a major storm in the upper section of the park can cause serious flooding issues in the middle or lower stretches of river without receiving any rain on those sections.

Lightning Safety Tips:

  • Lightning can strike up to 10 miles from the actual storm cell. If you hear can hear thunder, lightning is close enough to strike.
  • If you are on the river during a storm event, move immediately to shore.
  • Find a low spot under a short bush or stand of small trees that are uniform in size.
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from any tree trunk and 15 feet from other people.
  • Avoid metal objects (metal gunwales on canoes or metal paddles), isolated tall trees, shallow caves, and open fields - you do not want to be the tallest object.
  • If your hair stands on its end, or you hear a crackling noise, smell ozone, or see objects develop a blue glow a lightning strike is imminent. When a strike is imminent, swuat low to the ground on the balls of your feet with heels touching. Also, you your life jacket for protection and keep your head down, hands over your ears, and eyes closed. DO NOT touch the ground with your hands.
  • If the hair on your arms starts to stand up, hold your breath to prevent inhaling superheated air.
  • Never lay flat on the ground.

Elk at Ponca
Bull elk at Ponca.

T. Fondriest

Wildlife Hazards

Animals in the park are wild. This is their home and you are the visitor. Observe wildlife from a safe distance. If an animal's behavior changes because you are there, you are too close to it.Black Bears can usally be scared away with loud noise, but a mother with cubs will likely be aggressive. Elk can weigh in excess of 500 lbs. and bulls have sharp antlers. Trying to get a great selfie could be your last.

Feeding wildlife is dangerous to you and the animal. Animals that are fed by people learn to expect it and can become aggressive and bite. Our food is not appropriate for wildlife and can make them sick.

Chiggers and ticks are particularly numerous in the summer, but may be present all year. Stay on trails; avoid walking through thickets or tall grass, and use insect repellant. Snakes are found throughout the park and some are venomous including the Copperhead, Cottonmouth and Rattlesnake.

Buffalo River Landscape
View of the Buffalo River Valley.

T. Fondriest

Water, Bluff, and Cave Hazards

Water is the primary resource of the park - without it there would be no Buffalo National River. Most recreation on or in the water is safe, but there may be hazards to consider before you float or swim. The river level rises and falls so make sure that you have the skills required for the current water level. If rain has made the river high and fast, there will be debris in the river and you will have less time to react to hazards.

Be prepared for your time on the water. The sun can be severe, especially reflecting back from the water. Wear sunscreen to protect your skin. Cold water and air temperatures will cause hypothermia quickly if you get wet. Be sure you have dry clothes in case you need them.

Swim with a buddy and don't dive from cliffs. When the river is clear, shallow water may look deep. Muddy water or glare from the surface may hide rocks. Remember to wear your life jacket - it will keep you afloat.

There are many bluffs, sinkholes, and caves within the park. Be careful along bluffs - the rock may crumble and a landslide could occur. Limestone rock has eroded to form caves and sinkholes. These can be dangerous to explore without the proper equipment. All caves in the park are closed at this time due to white-nose syndrome.

People who lived here before the park was established dug wells for water and mined ore in the hillsides. Known wells and mine opening are gated. Please do not enter any mines. Be careful around historic sites in case a well has been uncovered.

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Park staff and volunteers participate in a swiftwater rescue training at Steel Creek on a blustery winter day in 2020.

Last updated: December 24, 2021

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Harrison, AR 72601


870 439-2502

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