Backpacking the Buffalo River

Backpacking the Buffalo River – Steel Creek to Kyle’s Landing

Backpacking the Buffalo National River is one of our go-to spots. If the weather’s right and we have the time, you will usually find us in Arkansas high on the bluffs that overlook the Buffalo River.

This was a five day/four night trip that served as our spring break. The distance of this backpacking trip wasn’t the goal; (the entire length of the trail between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing is only 8 miles) instead, the idea was to put 4 nights on the trail, the longest we have ever gone.

Buffalo River Backpacking Trail
Buffalo River Steel Creek to Kyle’s – Spring 2015

Day 1

Steel Creek to just past Beach Creek

Headed out from Kansas City early-ish and arrived on the trail, after some delicious pizza in Springfield,  around 3:15. Beautiful day, a little cool if you were standing still, but find once the packs were on and we were moving.

The trail from Steel Creek towards Kyle’s Landing starts at the bottom of the hill, right where the driveways split off to the camp ground, horse camp, and boat launches. It wanders up behind the ranger’s house and then bends to cross Steel Creek. There are multiple campsites along the creek, one right where the crossing is, but better ones if you walk up the creek past the posted crossing.

Backpacking the Buffalo River
From one of the many lookouts


Once you clear the creek, usually ankle deep, you start to climb a bit, nothing terrible, but you’re heading for the overlook that stands right over the boat launch. If you parked at the launch you can stand on top, point, and say something silly like: I can see my car here!

After a quick peek over the edge, we wandered along the bluff, down a bit along the trail, and stopped for camp at about 7 pm with just about 5 miles under our belts.

Backpacking the Buffalo River
Bare woods, everything has buds but you can barely tell.


Bedded down after a delicious dinner of Butternut Squash soup and Spicy Cheddar Biscuits.

Tried out my new keyboard and tablet setup which was pretty sweet. Not exactly light, but not terrible either.

New keyboard and tablet setup is pretty sweet. A little heavy but worth the weight – going to bring the tablet to read anyway so why not a few more ounces?


Backpacking the Buffalo River Campsite
Campsite between Steel Creek and Kyle’s Landing


Day 2

Beach Creek to Kyle’s Landing

Late start on Sunday. It was cold and windy on top of the mountain which taught us that, although our little cat stove is awesome – we should probably work out a little wind screen of some sort. But the lid to the pot cozy seemed to work well enough to get some coffee in us.

We weren’t exactly sure how far we were going to hike on Sunday – (backpacking the buffalo river doesn’t require permits or stays in pre-designated campsites so there are always plenty of options) so we headed toward Kyle’s Landing at an easy pace under plenty of sun.

Hiked about 3 miles to the overlook, where we met a nice couple from Springfield who were here day hiking all the way from Kyle’s to Steel creek. They recommended we try the Indian Creek trail for our day hike, said it was beautiful, primitive, and a little tricky near the end, but well worth the effort. We added it to our list of to-do’s.

Backpacking the Buffalo River - Plants
Ferns along the trail

Around 1 pm we decided to make it a short day so as not to bury ourselves Tuesday (the hike back toward Steel Creek and our car.) We found a great little spot just off of Kyle’s Landing’s main car camping campground, a spur trail that winds back toward the river, set up camp, and took a 3 hour nap. It is vacation, after all, and napping is the best.

After the napping, still a little groggy, we had a mishap with the water filtration but we managed to get good, cold drinking water anyway.  And after the delicious tuna cakes all was forgiven.  (As of the time of this writing, there were no intestinal issues reported. A good reminder on the importance of having a secondary purification method handy, in case your nap-dazed hiking buddy accidentally back-flushes the filter into your hydration bladder.)

Campsite was about sixty yards from the water and beautiful. Sleeping within earshot of a river’s rapids is lovely and the birds were chirping and happy.  It looked like rain about 3 times before dark, but nothing happened.

Backpacking the Buffalo River - creek
Springtime – the creeks and runoffs are always beautiful


Day 3

Base camp day. Kyle’s Landing to the cliffs near Erbie

In our ultimate plan, you know the ten or fifteen minutes you spend talking about how you think a trip might work best, we had planned on a day hike day. It’s really nice to eat breakfast, pack water, lunch, a first aid kits, and the rest of the bare minimums and wander off for a day.

We took off from Kyle’s Landing and headed north toward Erbie with the idea that we would eat lunch along the sheer cliffs that hover over the river. We made it and had a lovely lunch while the river churned and bubbled below us.  I am not exactly sure how high the narrow part of the trail is, but it’s a long way down.

Backpacking the Buffalo River - steep steps
The narrow stairs north of Kyle’s Landing

9 miles total. Sights were beautiful.  On the way back to camp, we passed this beauty.

Backpacking the Buffalo River - snake
Black rat snake?


We startled this snake just as he was about to devour a field mouse because while I was trying to take a picture, the slightly dazed (and hopefully grateful) mouse wandered away.  This however caused the snake to rattled his tail in the leaves, and we departed posthaste.

Dinner night 3 was Knorr chicken, an old recipe adapted from home for the campsite.  Easy and hearty, we used our dehydrated crock-pot chicken.

Day 4 

Kyle’s Landing back to Steel Creek

Mornings near a river are often wet and the last day on the trail was no exception.  We were running low on fuel which meant fire – real fire with sticks and stuff.

Wet underbrush and damp sticks worked against me, but I eventually got a little fire going between some rocks and perched the little pot of coffee water.  At some point we (well, one of us)  checked for a boil and the pot tipped into the fire, but after another half and hour or so, we got some joe in a cup and I was happy. Thankfully, the pot-tipper makes a mean biscuits and gravy, so all was forgiven.

It was a long hike back from Kyle’s to Steel. The first mile or two going south are seem straight up and they beat on our legs pretty good. That and unusually hot and sunny day made the going tough. But we pushed through and got a spot right along the creek.

Backpacking the Buffalo River - Steel Creek
Camp was just to the left of the pic. Peaceful and beautiful

Dinner the last night was the easiest and one our favorites – mashed potatoes, swiss cheese, and bacon. That’s right, one pot, one super-awesome, creamy, delicious meal. Clean up is usually carried out by fingers, followed by a soapy rag.

Trail Lessons

Backpacking the Buffalo River, while not the most challenging of backpacking adventures, is still a place we learn a great deal from.

  • Always carry an efficient wood fire starter – something like cotton balls and sanitizer or drier lint coated in paraffin wax.
  • Water shoes, although not vital, are nice to have.
  • On a hot day, Gold Bond powder is the business.


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