Added by John Chau
Explore the wild Ozarks and various rock caves on this three day backpacking trip along Buffalo River. Connect the Centerpoint Trail to ORT to Chimney Rock Trail to complete the loop.
Park at the Centerpoint Trailhead and follow the Centerpoint trail as it heads about 3 miles downhill towards Big Bluff. You’ll know you’ve reached the trail junction for Big Bluff when you come to a clearing that has a large firepit in the middle and a small unmaintained trail heading off to the right. Take this trail and follow it along Big Bluff.
Stay on the trail as it follows the edge of the bluff, and follow it as it descends south into a pine forest. The path will come to a junction with the Old River Trail (ORT), and here you’ll take a right to head north. Continue north along this trail until you come to the Buffalo River. Grab a stout stick (or bring a trekking pole) and cross the (usually) knee-deep water. Follow the trail as it bends around to the right and establish camp at the first campsite you reach. This campsite is accessed via a small slender trail that branches off from the main trail but is relatively easy to spot.
Establish your camp for the night, and go head down to the beach. Wade in for a leisurely swim and gaze up at the massive walls above you. Be on the lookout for deer and wild rabbits at night – they tend to walk into your camp.
The following day, pack up your camp, get back on the trail, and take the first small path that branches to the left. Follow this path as it goes through the forest, past a small rundown chicken coop, and to an old abandoned homestead. Eat you breakfast here on the porch and relax.
Then head down to the river (either walk straight downhill off-trail past the small spring and to the rocky river bank, or follow the established trail as it reconnects with the ORT and follow it west).
Cross here and use caution, as the water is relatively swift and deep. Find the trail on the other side and follow it west to another water crossing. Cross the river, and follow the trail as it meanders along. Check out the abandoned homestead that you’ll walk by (near the meadow). Stay on the path as it heads south and cross the river again.
Eventually you will reach Steel Creek, a large launching area where kayakers and canoers are dropped off by the local outfitters for a day on the river. Find a good spot to cross, and once on the other side, hike northwest along the dirt road. Stay on the dirt road (keep right at the Y) and follow it as it loops around through a large campground.
Once through the campground, you’ll re-enter the forest. Go right at the fork, and then up over the berm and down to the riverbank. Cross the river again (last water crossing!), and once you reach the other side, start hiking south along the trail.
You’ll see a trail sign that points to Centerpoint Trail – you’ll come back to this tomorrow, but for now you’ll stay left of the sign and keep going south along the riverbank. Find a smooth flat spot on the sand with a firepit and set up your campsite there.
Fish or swim in the water, and enjoy a night of sleeping beneath the large bluff walls of Roark Bluff. In the morning, you’ll pack up your gear and head back out toward the sign you passed the previous day. Take a left here and head west through the shrubs and up the hill. You’ll pass by a wooden shed that usually has wild animals living in it, so be sure to knock on the wood before peeking inside.
The trail will bend around to the north, so keep following it until you reach a small creek that flows over the path. Go off-trail and follow the creek downstream to where it turns into a waterfall flowing into a large hollow. There’s an animal trail on the right that you can follow down into the hollow. After exploring it, hike back up to the trail and follow it all the way along until you come back to Centerpoint Trail (roughly 3 miles away). Once back on Centerpoint Trail take a left and walk back to the trailhead where you had parked.
- If you start this hike around mid-afternoon, you should be able to see the sun set over the Ozarks and the Buffalo National River – just bring a headlamp and know where you’re going afterwards!
- Use caution when checking out any of the many caves and rock overhangs along this trek because wild boars are numerous and tend to sleep in or beneath them
- There is an abandoned mine rumored to be somewhere along the trail, but it requires a bit of a bushwack to find. It also might be collapsed by now, so use caution and don't get lost
- 3-day supply of food
- Backpacking gear
- Water shoes or chacos for the water crossings
- Dry bags in case you fall into the river
- Water filter
- Camp stove
- Water bottle
- First Aid Kit
- Extra batteries
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph. Learn More
Backpacking, Camping, Hiking, Survival
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