The Buffalo River Trail is among the longer trails in Northern Arkansas. In fact, enjoying all of the Buffalo River Trail would take at least three days and a couple of overnight stays.
But if you're more of a casual hiker, or day hiker, don't let "through trails" like the BRT scare you, because even many of these trails can be enjoyed as a series of short, out-and-back hikes.
While I've never hiked a portion of the Buffalo River Trail that wasn't thoroughly amazing, the short hike from the trailhead in Steel Creek to the Steel Creek overlook is among my favorites. It's a great hike to an amazing view of the Buffalo R iver below.
The trailhead is in the Steel Creek area of the Buffalo River. Take Highway 74 East out of Ponca for approximately two miles. The road curves up a steep, windy hill. Just at a very sharp "U" curve, there is the entrance to the Steel Creek area. There are signs and it's well marked. Take the paved road down the hill to the Steel Creek area.
When you get to the bottom of the hill, the pavement ends. To the right will be a horse camp and river access. To the left is the campground. Find a place to park in this area.
Walk back up the paved road about 100 feet and the Buffalo River Trail crosses the road. Taking the trail to the right takes you to Ponca (trail notes to that section of the trail are here). Today, we'll turn LEFT and go toward Kyles Landing.
The trail is a nicely maintained trail and enters into the woods here, and starts to gradually go up some stairs. You'll be able to see the horse camp to your left, and a steep hill and some nice, small bluffs off on your right.
You'll hike along the trail for awhile, pretty high above the horse camp and the Ranger Station. The trail will then swing right and head back into a drainage area. There are a lot of large rocks back in this area that make for some nice scenery.
Past the drainage, the trail heads back down the hill. At about .5, the trail gets low into the Steel Creek Valley (Steel Creek runs into the Bufflo River just downstream). The trails swings sharply to the right upstream on Steel Creek and away from the Buffalo River The trail goes past a fire pit, and through an open area (with a couple of power lines that go to the ranger station) and then back into the woods again, past a another campsite. This would definitely make a great place to spend the night!
At .6, the trail will turn to the left and you'll have to cross Steel Creek. We were able to rock-hop across the creek here without getting wet, but I can definitely see how during the very rainy season that this would be a wet crossing -- so be prepared for that.
Once you cross the creek, the trail heads up the hill and to the right -- continuing up stream. You are now beginning the 400 foot climb to the Overlook. The trail continues up, fairly steeply, and then makes a complete turn to your left. At this point, during high water, there is the makings of a very nice, large waterfall just down the hill in front of you. There's no trail to it, and it could be pretty steep, but on a wet day it's probably worth checking out.
Continuing on the trail as it curves to your left you'll continue hiking UP the hill. The trail continues up and eventually cuts through a series of very large rocks. It's a great stretch of trail that we really enjoyed.
Then, at 1.4 miles, you get to the overlook. And it is amazing.
At roughly 450 feet above the river, you get a great view of the Steel Creek recreation area, as well as some fantastic views of the Buffalo River as it continues downstream and winds through the valleys amongst a series of large bluffs.
I highly recommend spending some time and enjoying the view. They don't come much better than this.
After you've enjoyed the view, you can make your way back. The trail itself continues another 6.5 miles to Kyle's Landing...but for the sake of seing the overlook, you can make your way back down the hill, across the creek, and back to the parking area.
This is a really great hike, that, if it were just it's own hike and not part of the much longer (and more intimidating) Buffalo River Trail, would be extremely popular. But it's a great overall hike, to one of the best views in the Buffalo River area.
Date Hiked: July 3, 2014
Distance: 2.8 miles round trip
Difficulty: Moderate -- mostly due to elevation change, although may be more difficult during high water at the water crossing.
Footwear: Trail Shoes or Hiking boots
Kids: Youngsters should probably sit this one out.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Guidebook: Tim Ernst's Buffalo River Hiking Trails