It's sometimes easy for me to forget that the Buffalo National River is a part of our national parks system (not really a national park, but as a National River, managed by the national park service). We spend most of our time in the upper Buffalo area that is very remote, and outside of a few of the trails and campsites, there aren't a lot of signs of the National Park Service.
Tyler Bend is a bit different though. At Tyler Bend there is a really nice visitors center that has displays, sells merchandise such as books about area wildlife & plant life, trail maps, and National Park merchandise as well as a ranger on hand who can answer a lot of questions you may have about the area. The Tyler Bend area also has a lot of great campsites and a beautiful pavilion.
If you're heading to the Buffalo River area, this is probably one of the most developed and accessible points along the river. With that comes several really nice hiking trails that range from .8 miles long to 1.5 miles long that can be combined together for really solid day of hiking (or more -- as the Buffalo River Trail heads out in two directions from Tyler Bend as well). Most of the trails head out in generally a southern direction and then can be connected by the Buffalo River Trail to make loops of various lengths to fit your desired hiking length/time (See map)
For our day, we decided to take the Riverview Trail and loop it with the Rockwall Trail -- which made for a very nice 4 mile loop. It includes some fantastic views of the Buffalo River, a lot of peaceful wooded sections of trail, and some nice historical features as well.
The Tyler Bend area is just off of Highway 65 -- about 8 miles south of St. Joe and 12 miles north of Marshall. It is on the south side of the river and very well-signed.
To start the trail loop, we parked at the visitors center - -and the Riverview trail starts on the west side of the visitors center.
The River View trail heads down the hill into the woods and then follows along a large open field. The trail hits a small overlook over the Buffalo River and then turns a bit left into the woods.
The trail then turns further left and at .3 crosses a small wooden bridge and then turns back right and follows a drainage back toward the river. Then, at .7 the trail turns hard left and heads UP a steep hill.
The next about .2 miles is a steep climb with an elevation gain of about 300 feet-- but there are several pretty nice overlooks over the river where you can stop and take a look over the vast Buffalo River Valley while you catch your breath. (Note: Be VERY careful along some of the bluff lines as there are several areas with very steep drops).
At .9, the trail hits a wooden observation deck that has a great view of Calf Creek coming in from the left and upstream on the Buffalo River. At this point, there is a side trail that comes in from the left -- this is a return trail if hikers want to do the River View Trail as an out-and-back semi-loop hike. We did not take that trail.
From the overlook, we remained on the main trail as it heads out on the level away from the river.
At 1.4, the trail reached the Collier Homestead. The Collier Homestead was the home of Sod and Ida Mae Collier for more than 30 years. The Colliers settled the area in 1937 as a part of the Homestead Act of 1862 and lived in this rustic cabin without electricity or running water until the early 1960s. The cabin had come into much disrepair by the time the National Parks Service bought the land in 1987, but today, both out-buildings and the home have been returned to a refurbished condition so that visitors can get a feel for what life along the Buffalo River would have been like in the early part of the 20th Century.
After spending a little time checking out the homestead and the surrounding grounds, continue straight ahead on the trail. Shortly, the trail hits a couple of intersections. The trail to the right is the Buffalo River Trail heading upstream 13.1 miles toward Woolum. The trail to the left is the Return Trail and connects back with the River View trail near the overlook and goes back toward the visitors center. Stay STRAIGHT -- and this trail is the Buffalo River Trail (BRT) and heads toward Grinders Ferry/HWY 65.
At .1 on the BRT, the trail quickly passes a parking lot (the trail from the parking lot to the Collier Homestead is handicap accessible) and then crosses over the main road and then back into the woods. The BRT follows along a bench on mostly on the level through a really nice wooded area.
At .4 miles on the BRT (1.9 miles from the start) the trail intersects with the Spring Hollow Trail on the left and after 1 mile (2.5 miles total) the trail passes the Buck Ridge Trail. Both of these trails head down the hill to the left and come out at a parking area near the amphitheater which is a short walk from the visitors center.
We stayed straight and followed the BRT through the wooded area. The trail joins a large/deep ravine for a stretch which creates beautiful views down into the valley below. At 1.7 miles (3.2 total) the BRT reaches the intersection of the Rock Wall Trail. We turned LEFT here. The Rock Wall Trail heads over a ridge and then descends fairly steeply into a ravine. After crossing a small creek, the trail turns sharply right and follows the creek to the bottom of the hill.
At the bottom of the hill, the trail turns LEFT and is level and follows an historic Rock Wall (the trail's namesake) back to the campground. The wall itself is short and crumbling as the moss, moisture and mother nature have taken quite a toll on its stability and height. But it's really pretty neat, and the entire area through here is very pretty.
The trail follows the rock wall for nearly .5 miles before the wall sort of ends and the trail head out toward the campground. From the BRT to the campground is .9 miles on the Rock Wall Trail. At the campground, there is a nice bathroom with running water and from there, it's a short .2 mile walk up the hill toward the visitors center where the loop was complete.
Overall there is a LOT to see and explore in this area and this four mile loop was a really nice afternoon hike that offered a lot of great views, some great hiking, and a little bit of history along the way.
Total Distance: 4 mile loop
Difficulty Level: Moderate
Kid-Friendly: Older kids capable of doing the 4 mile hike with the 300 foot elevation climb will be fine....and again, be sure everyone is safe near any bluffs at overlook areas.
Footwear: Trail Shoes or hiking boots
Trail Guide: Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails or the National Parks Service has maps of the area at the Visitor's Center
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Trail photos from hike on November 16, 2016.