Buffalo River Trails – Ponca to Steel Creek

Last friday, Nitin and I drove down to Buffalo River from Bentonville. The drive was not planned and we started in the afternoon, after lunch. After around 2 hrs drive we reached Ponca. We met folks of Buffalo Outdoor Center ( http://www.buffaloriver.com ) who suggested that we take the Ponca to Steel Creek hike. Since 1976, Buffalo OutdoorCenter has helping people discover the magnificent Buffalo National River. Mike Mills began BOC as a canoe operation back when the river was given national river status. Today, Buffalo Outdoor Center offers all outdoor services including Cabins.  Visit their website for detail information about Buffalo National River.

The Ponca to Steel Creek trail is 2 miles one way hike. It follows the bluff line above the river. It crosses several small waterfall areas along the way, plus nice views of the river. However, you can see the waterfalls mostly during spring. Pack lot of water and a lunch to eat at Steel Creek before hiking back. It is a wonderful hike for people of all ages. We suggest that you start after breakfast and stop for lunch before hike back to Ponca. We reached Ponca late so the hike has fast and we did not stop at Steel Creek for long time. Steel Creek is also a favourite place to camp.  Steel Creek campground is in a grassy bottomland tucked into a wide bend of the Buffalo River. You may spot elk in the open grasslands between the river access and the campground. Though its openness limits privacy, the place pays you back with wonderful views of the beautiful mile-long valley. Roark Bluff dominates the skyline to the north, overlooking the valley for most of its length. The camping area has all basic amenities. 26 camp sites are available on first come/first serve basis for tent camping with $10  fees which you can pay upon reaching. Water and basic amenities are available in the campground. Visit http://www.nps.gov/mwr/buff/ for more details. We parked our car near the Ponca low water bridge access. The trail starts on the other side of the parking area. You can see a sign post which points to the direction. The trail goes under the highway bridge and follows the river on the bluff. We hiked for some time to reach a river overlook. It was a clear view of the river and the bluffs. We crossed two small water falls on the way. The water falls are mostly active during spring or after rains. We reached the steel creek campground after 1.5 Hrs hike. It takes around 2 Hrs for one way hike. On our way back we took some photos of the trail and bluffs around steel creek. We were disappointed not to have seen any wildlife. However, on the way beside HW-21 junction we spotted an elk and took some photos. We also spotted a group of wild turkey. The best places to view elk is along Highway 43 from the Ponca low water bridge access south to the Highway 21 junction. The elk are typically seen along the edges of the fields bordering the river. The best times to view elk are in the early morning and late evening hours, just after sunrise and just before sunset.
 
Please visit the Buffalo National River area when you are in North West Arkansas. It is one of the best weekend gateway in Arkansas.

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