STEEL CREEK — For anyone who has floating the Buffalo River on their bucket list, the section from Steel Creek to Kyle’s Landing is the destination for them.
However, the amount of rain washing down the mountains, variations of wind and how the water table is holding can contribute to what the water level is. Too much rain and less-experienced paddlers might be swimming beside their upside-down canoe. Too little rain and adventurists may be dragging their boat instead of enjoying the scenery.
Outfitters along the river keep a good eye on the water level, and would be the best to ask about when this stretch is in prime condition.
When going down the road to Steel Creek, it becomes apparent when your almost there. The scenery along the Buffalo River is second to none. Roark Bluff is a towering sight that is mesmerizing from any distance. The River runs right along the bottom edge of it and gazers won’t be able to take their eyes off of it.
The wildlife in the area could be anything from a beautiful butterfly, to a log covered in turtles to an enormous bull elk passing through the area.
Canoeist’s won’t see the same things everytime they take a journey down the river. One of the great things about the Buffalo River is that it is always changing. Every trip has something new to see. Each and every year the rains and floods change the river to make it a new experience.
People may drive the same highway everyday and think they’ve seen everything it has to offer, but the river is never the same sight twice.
After making it down the hill to the large fields and over to the launching area, the water adventure begins. Steel Creek has a rock wall in the middle of the launch area that extends out into the river. This wall has sent many a paddlers over the edge in the first few feet of the float trip. Beginners would be wise to start off on the lower side of the wall.
If paddlers make it past the launch area without having to swim and chase things they brought with them, then they’re in for a beautiful adventure. If someone does get a wet welcome to the river, then that is merely the beginning of many memories to be made.
After a few bends of the river, a nice section of moving water leads to a quick turn to the right featuring a large rock that draws the flow of the water directly into it. Use caution maneuvering around this area. If the boat does happen to capsize, then a nice gravelbar is directly to the right to get resituated.
The entire adventure is scattered with several amazing bluffs full of color that stretch into the sky. After a mile into the float trip, Big Bluff will tower into the distance.
Big Bluff is quite a sight to see from alongside the bluff or from the river. While floating around the large horseshoe curve, Big Bluff is the largest thing in sight. As a popular hike, Big Bluff could very likely have people walking along the edge waving at those floating along below it. If hikers are visible on the bluff, they will appear very small as they are quite a ways up the enormous bluff face.
Continuing down the waterway, there are several horsetrail crossings. It’s very likely to come across a group of riders working down the trails that cross the river several times.
A good swimming hole is just a little farther down the path. Jim’s Bluff is a large rock structure with a crevice in the middle for people to climb and picnic or get a run into a deep pool to swim. The beginning of the bluff has a large rock that has been decorated to read: Jim’s Bluff. The bluff can become very crowded during a busy summer day, but there is a lot of room due to the sheer size of the structure.
If the water is high enough, the river forks at the end of the bluff. The path to the left is narrow and fast. The path to the right is much safer, but wider and slower.
All along the 8-mile stretch are several large rock formations and bluffs full of color. After Jim’s Bluff is a section of scattered gravelbars and of course more rock formations. It’s very likely to see a group of daredevils jumping off the rocks into the river. Although not recommended, always be aware of the surroundings and what is under the water before attempting to tackle this feat.
A short ways after Sneeds Creek flows into the Buffalo, the river heads directly to a large wooded bluff section and makes a hard turn to the right into a busy fast water area. That is the takeout for an amazing sight to see. There is a tree on the left with a sign that says “hike” and is the direction to a short hike that no adventurist will want to miss. If paddlers do happen to pass the initial pull over area, past it is a smaller area to dock on the left once past the moving water.
If people can catch Hemmed-in-Hollow at a time when the river has a good and steady flow to it, then the waterfall at HIH will be a beautiful sight. The short hike is less than a mile from the river. Simply follow the path that runs along the stream and into the cavern. The distance is roughly 1,600 steps one way, depending on a travelers step distance. A good pair of shoes or hiking sandals is always a good idea for this hike as the ground can oftentimes be muddy or occasionally slick. Once entering the cavern, plan to climb around a few rocks to get to the final destination.
Regardless, the size of the waterfall, it is a beautiful crevice of colors and multiple pools of water. The mist coming off the waterfall can fill the entire corridor if the waterfall is very substantial and at a height of 209 feet, a slight wind can make the falls shift from one side to the other.
If someone climbs to let the water fall on their head, take caution as the rocks can be extremely slippery depending on the spot that the water is falling. The sensation of being under the waterfall can be incredibly refreshing, especially on a hot summer day.
The hike back to the river typically seems quicker than the adventure in. The distance to the takeout at Kyle’s Landing is roughly around 2 miles from the hike entrance. A few long pools and a couple horseshoe bends is all that’s left until the stretch is over.
Approximately a mile downriver from the hike is a section where the river gets very wide. The only path to take is to the far left that runs underneath the outstretched limbs of the trees on the riverbank. The right side is extremely low and can only be floated if the water is very high. If paddlers feel uncertain about maneuvering the riverbank and limbs, then it would be best to portage and walk the boat through this area.
The rest of the way is mainly calm and a great stretch to soak up the sun.
Kyle’s Landing campground will appear on the right and the sign to the access can oftentimes be covered in the foliage of the trees. The takeout is ahead to the right and can get very crowded on a busy day. Be sure to stay to the right or the river can take the canoe even farther.
Vehicles can be driven fairly close to the takeout to load all vessels and gear. Be sure to do so in a timely manner. The drive out of Kyle’s Landing is a dirt road that is uphill the entire way. Be sure to get a good run at it and four-wheel-drive is a luxury that will be surely appreciated by the time the drive ends at the top.
The park rangers and concessioners are well-versed in the rules of the river. Be sure to take heed to their advice and recommendations. The river is something that we all must put effort into to keep it beautiful.