Arkansas float trip. How to float the Buffalo National River. Where to rent canoes or kayaks and what to expect. Plus a float trip packing checklist.
An Arkansas float trip was high on the list of things to do when we first moved to Arkansas. But as much as I like going on adventures, I also get… what’s the right word… nervous? about how things like that work.
I mean, it’s not just us anymore. We have two kids to bring and pets at home to think about.
So when a friend said she was taking her family floating down the Buffalo River and invited us, I was in! Because sometimes you just need a little push to finally book the trip.
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This is our own personal experience. Be sure to exercise caution and always wear a life vest.
We looked up a few different places and decided to float down the Buffalo National River. With it being less than two hours away, and having rentals available to us, it was a great option for a day trip.
ARKANSAS FLOAT TRIP
BUFFALO NATIONAL RIVER
We called a few days in advance and booked our rental canoes with Buffalo River Outfitters.
If you plan on going on a weekend, be sure to call further in advance as they do get very busy.
CHECK-IN AT BUFFALO RIVER OUTFITTERS
Friday morning we loaded up the cars and were on our way by 8am to meet everyone there by 10am. Check-in is between 9am-12pm at the Buffalo River Outfitters building. Here they have restrooms and a changing room to get yourself situated.
They also offer a private vehicle shuttle service. Meaning that for an additional fee, they will drive your vehicle from the starting location to the end location so that it will be waiting for you when you finish your trip.
It’s a great option if it’s just one family going, however, if you have more than one family joining you, you can skip this extra service.
It was a little bit of a shuffle but we dropped off one vehicle at the end location and made our way in two vehicles to the starting point. At the end of the trip, 3 adults went back to the starting point to get the other vehicles while the 4th adult waited at the end with the rest of the party.
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BAKER FORD TO GRINDER’S FERRY
Depending on the water level you may float different parts of the Buffalo National River. For this trip we floated from Baker Ford to Grinder’s Ferry. It’s an 18 minute car ride from one location to the other and a 5.4 mile float trip down the river.
Normally you can do this trip in 3-4 hours, but we stopped for lunch and a couple of other times to swim. In the end it took us 6 hours to float from Baker Ford to Grinder’s Ferry but it didn’t feel like it!
THREE TO A CANOE
Booking the trip they let us know that the rules are 3 to a canoe. Since we’re a family of 4 we brought a float to tie to the back of one canoe.
It was a brilliant idea until we hit a low water spot with fast moving water and the float tried to go beside us as we were stuck on some rocks. After that our oldest caught a ride in our friends canoe and we kept the float for the slower areas only.
You also need to make sure that everyone has a United States Coast Guard approved life vest. They do provide life vests for those renting that are 35lbs and over. Otherwise you need to be prepared to bring your own life vest for children under 35lbs.
CAN KIDS GO ON A FLOAT TRIP
I tried to get a clear answer as to what age is the youngest they allow to float. But the answer I received was “as long as they have a United States Coast Guard approved life vest that fits properly.”
Between our two families we had children ages 5, 6, 9 and 10 and they all did great! Not once did they mention being tired or bored. Our oldest even got to try kayaking while her friend took a break and caught a ride in the float tied to our canoe.
FLOAT TRIP CHECKLIST
We overpacked! The dry clothes stayed in the car along with half the towels, but where we really overpacked was the food. We had too many chips and snack options when really we could have pared that down to turkey subs, one bag of chips and drinks.
Glass bottles are not allowed down the river so be sure to keep that in mind.
Click the link below to view larger or the download button to use this list as a guide.
THINGS WE’D DO DIFFERENTLY
In the end we were gone for a totally of 12 hours! A bit longer than I had anticipated leaving our pets
The shuffling of the vehicles took an additional 40 minutes. It might be worth paying for the shuttle service to save time and get back sooner.
Flip flops are not ok for a float trip! Even with a small current, walking in the water with flip flops is a nightmare. Next time we’ll have water shoes for kids and water shoes for adults.
A waterproof cell phone pouch is a must for all cell phones so you can stay in contact at the end of the trip while moving vehicles around.
Although we call this a float trip, this is not an area you can set a tub in and just float down. At this time of year we needed to be paddling most of the time to keep moving. It wasn’t overly tiring and the kids even took turns paddling from the front.
We absolutely had a great time on this Arkansas float trip! The kids loved seeing what was around each corner and swimming at different slow spots. Even though it took our families six hours for this section of the Buffalo, it was only because we stopped four times and I promise it didn’t feel like six hours!
From Little Rock it’s just about a two hour drive one way, but the scenery and back roads make this a beautiful drive. So book the trip! And know that the staff at Buffalo River Outfitters make everything a breeze.
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Swimming and floating in Arkansas can be dangerous. Always be prepared and understand your limits and skill level. The content on this website is for entertainment and informational purposes only. This website, and person writing this post, is not responsible for any accidents, inconvenience, injuries, rescues, or loss of life by anyone who swims or floats this river and park. Swim at your own risk.