A travel journal
to Arkansas by Ben the Grate
Quote: America has a National Bird, a National Song, a National Tree... Why not a National River? It's located on National Park land in rugged northwestern Arkansas. 'Yes, Virginia, there IS still wilderness in the South.'
Hotel | "Lost Valley Lodging (cabins)"
The Hillside Cabin is the most rustic and secluded. It is surrounded by trees, but its balcony (complete with hot tub) offers a view over the old mill pond. Upstairs is a queen bed and a double bed, and downstairs is a fold-out couch and a fireplace. (Cabin can sleep up to 6).
The Whitaker Cabin is more contemporary and is located in the village of Ponca (population 43). There is a private bedroom on the first floor with a queen bed. In the loft are 2 double beds. In the living room is a fold-out couch along with a wood-burning stove. This cabin can sleep 8 and also has a hot tub.
My FAVORITE cabin is the Adds Creek Cottage. If I'm going to stay in Ponca, I stay here. It is a charming little cottage right on the creek just below the waterfall, which can be heard (and seen in winter) from the bubbly hot tub on the deck. The cottage is small, with a semi-private bedroom (double bed) and a fold-out couch in the living room. There is a gas-operated stove that looks like a woodburning stove, and the bathroom has a shower. This cabin sleeps 4, but is much more charming and romantic for 2. There is a full kitchen that has all the pots and pans and silverware you need to cook wonderful meals.
All three cabins are mercifully free from telephones and televisions, though they all have a small radio if you think you'd like to try your hand at finding a radio station that transmits up in these hills.
All the cabins are $80 per night for two people, and $5 more per person. Pets are welcome if they are pest-free.
Thankfully, Lost Valley now accepts Visa/MC, and they request at 50% deposit within 10 days of booking, and full refund is made if you cancel up to 10 days before you arrive.
In high season, they may have a 2 night minimum stay, but in low season they might waive this for you at the last minute. They MIGHT even cut you a deal on the room if you're a repeat guest, like me!
Coming into Ponca from Jasper, cross the Buffalo and turn RIGHT onto Road 43. You'll drive through the tiny hamlet of Ponca, and then at the far end you'll see Ponca General Store/Lost Valley Canoe and Lodging on the right. You'll see a very old gas pump out front. You check in at this store and they'll show you to your cabin.
Just tell them Ben from Dallas sent you, and they'll treat you right. You can also rent canoes and get shuttles from the friendly owners, and they are a WEALTH of advice about trails and history.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 5, 2002
Lost Valley Canoe & Lodging
Arkansas 74 & Arkansas 43
Hotel | "Buffalo Outdoor Center (luxury cabins)"
Valley Dream and Valley Mist ($128 low season, $165 high) are in the woods on the hill above Ponca and have fireplaces and queen beds next to 2-person jacuzzi tubs.
The Mills Cabin nearby has a beautifully rustic exterior and sleeps families in its 2 double bed loft, downstairs bedroom with single bed, and basement master bedroom with queen. Fireplace, VCR, stereo, CD player...ALL the amenities except a hot tub. $128 off season for 2, $15 per addtl person. $165 high season plus $15 per addtl.
There are also quite a few large, brand new cabins high on the mountain above Ponca offering superb views over the Ozarks. Most of these have jacuzzi tubs and rates start at $190 high season ($15 for each addtl person), $155 low season ($15 for each addtl person).
BOC has MANY MANY cabins, and each one is different. You should check out their website to see pictures of each cabin and a list of their amenities.
Though they are more suitable for large groups than Lost Valley's cabins, the major downturn is that their jacuzzis are small and INSIDE the cabins. This is fine and good for a romantic evening, but if it's you and a bunch of friends there had better be a LOT of alcohol spread between you to get you all in a 2 person tub!
I usually recommend Lost Valley before BOC, but if you want luxury and romance, BOC is your choice.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on March 5, 2002
Buffalo Outdoor Center
Hotel | "Riverview Motel"
This is a very small, basic motel across the street from the Dairy Diner that provides clean cheap accomodations.
Their rates are as follows:
We're talking BASIC here! There is a telephone and a clock, but I don't even remember TVs in the room. However, if I'm in the Ozarks, the LAST thing I'm gonna do is turn on a damn TV.
There's not much to say about the Riverview. I stay there when it's too cold to camp and when I don't wanna shell out dough for a nice cabin. The rooms are basic, warm, and functional.
They have the cheapest rates in Jasper for canoes, so if you're canoeing anywhere below Ozark, this is the place to rent.
They have a website at:
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on March 6, 2002
Riverview Motel and Canoe
PO Box 352
UPDATE!!! 7/20/06 All things change. The Dairy Diner was sold to a new owner who has put it through several transformations and it is currently a Vegetarian-only cafe open sporadic hours in the morning and early afternoon. While I tend to really enjoy quirky Vegetarian cafe's, the loss of the Dairy Diner and its loyal clutch of colorful followers is a great loss to Americana in this neat corner of the world. The only other place to get early breakfast is on the main road through town (7) headed toward Russellville...you'll see a tiny shack on your left (I think it's called Dee's) and smell the bacon.
The Dairy Diner is one of my favorite eating spots ON THIS PLANET! It perfectly embodies the comparatively unchanged rural lifestyle of Ozarks dwellers.
NOT to be confused with a chain like Dairy Queen, the Dairy Diner is one-of-a-kind. It sits in a historic old building on the banks of the Little Buffalo River in the center of the hamlet of Jasper.
Prices here are more like what you'd excpect from the 50s... The dinner special is usually $3.99 which includes a homestyle meal with veggies, cornbread or rolls, iced tea, and cobbler. Sometimes the cooks get a little creative and serve up something adventurous like lasagne or enchiladas. The food here is always tasty, wholesome, and hearty, a necessary requirement for life in these rugged hills.
Breakfast is their crowning achievement, and nothing beats the biscuits and gravy for $0.99. Breakfast is served all day.
Normally the Diner is open from 6am to 9pm, though, like in any small town, the hours may change with the level of business.
To catch the locals, try breakfast at 6am sharp. You'll see people the likes of which you've only seen in National Geographic articles from the 1920s. Many of these aging folks still live, dress, and speak like they did in 1920.
An added attraction is Coco, a brown bear, who lives in a cage just outside the diner. Bears used to be plentiful along the Buffalo (and you still might see one or two at night!) and this one was injured as a cub and raised by the townspeople. I can sit for hours and watch Coco, he's a VERY friendly bear.
The Dairy Diner offers one of the most intriguing and well-rounded dining adventures I've ever experienced, and sometimes I take people on the 6 hour drive to Jasper JUST TO EAT THERE!
And that's the honest-to-goodness truth.
Today the Buffalo runs free and undammed from its headwaters high in the Ozarks to its confluence with the White River 122 miles (and almost 2,000 vertical feet) later. This is a rarity in our country.
The country surrounding the Buffalo River is ripe with scenery and history. High bluffs (up to 440 feet above river level), delicate waterfalls, mysterious caves, and thick forest border the river at all times, occasionally parting to reveal glances of old cabins or chimneys from the time when this land was first settled in 1827.
The most popular float is the 10.3 mile run from Ponca to Kyles Landing. This run takes you through the most spectacular scenery on the river, and offers varied floating from long placid pools to a class III rapid (Gray Rock) right at the end. Beginners can normally do this float unaccompanied, but at least one experienced person in the group is recommended.
The float takes you past Big Bluff (highest on the Buffalo at 440 feet) and Hemmed-in-Hollow (highest waterfall between the Rockies and the Appalachians at 200 feet).
The river's floatability is measured by the inches of airspace under the low-water bridge at Ponca. Great floating is considered at 10" to 25" of airspace, with 32" being too low to float. Current airspace can be found at:
River levels along other portions of the river may be obtained by calling: 501-324-5150
The river is high enough to float in late winter, though it's often too cold. Water temperature and air temperature must add together to equal 100 degrees or more, or there is danger of hypothermia and the outfitters will not rent. March is normally the earliest time when temperatures permit floating.
Usually the river levels on the Ponca run drop to unfloatable after late June, though the placid lower reaches of the river are often floatable year-round.
Under high-water conditions, the Upper River (Cave Mountain to Ponca) can be floated by experienced canoers, and it is considered class IV.
If you're floating from Ponca, rent from either Lost Valley Canoe, or Buffalo Outdoor Center. If you're floating from anywhere else on the Buffalo, rent from the Riverview Motel in Jasper. Each has a website:
You can float with a guide, or independently, from the 10-mile strech (8 hours with side hikes) from Ponca to Kyles Landing, to a 10-day, 120-mile float of the entire navigable river.
A mile-by-mile guide from Ponca to Wollum can be found at:
There are many ways to get to the falls. The easiest is hiking up the creek from the river while on a float trip from Ponca to Kyles Landing.
If you're not canoeing, you have several trail options. The shortest actually involves fording the Buffalo River several times and navigating a series of overgrown trails, so I don't recommend it.
The official trail runs from a remote trailhead near the town of Compton, just up the mountain from Ponca on State Road 43. Once in the village of Compton, turn RIGHT at the sign for Buffalo National River trailheads. You'll drive down a washboarded dirt road for a mile or so, then turn RIGHT at the trailhead sign. You'll shortly come to a parking area on your left.
From here the trail heads through the woods and then sharply downhill for 2 miles, where you reach the stream. Then you turn left and hike up the stream past several small waterfalls for half a mile to the base of the high falls.
Hemmed-in-Hollow is NOT a BIG falls, it's a HIGH falls. Most of the time, the volume of water is about twice that of a nice heavy shower. In the rainy season, it gets stronger, and in the summer it's lighter. But it's HIGH!
You can CAREFULLY climb up the shoulder to the right of the falls to reach a ledge about 1/3 of the way up that leads around behind the falls. This is a lovely spot for relaxing as you stare through the veil of diamond-drops of falling water towards the valley and river beyond.
The hike back out is STEEP and tiring and you'll be sore the next day, so give yourself a couple of hours of daylight to get out.
To reach the top of the falls you have two options, both of which are advanced scrambling and dangerous.
The first is from the parking lot trailhead. Within 100 feet of the parking lot you have to step over a tiny stream. This stream eventually leads to the falls.
The second is to get on the aforementioned ledge behind the falls and continue around to the other side of the falls and up the rock bands. A rough trail leads around a shoulder to ANOTHER waterfall and to a break in the cliffs where you can scramble up. It runs along the cliffline to the top of the falls. A slip here means death! Be careful.
The top of the falls is interesting. There's a miniature slot canyon, very narrow and dramatic. The top of the falls should only be attempted by strong hikers with some rock climbing skills.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on March 6, 2002
Towns sprang up early. Records show Jasper was an established town by 1840. One of the first residents was John M. Ross, a Choctaw, who became postmaster in 1843, when Jasper was made the first post office in Newton County. His salary for the year of 1845 was $7.09.
Despite their isolation, the early settlers were not untouched by the Civil War. The Confederacy mined bat guano from the big cave on Cave Mountain in the Boxley Valley, which they used to make gunpowder. In fact, it was estimated that half the gunpowder the Confederacy used during the war came from this cave on the Buffalo River.
The rugged terrain kept Ozarks settlers isolated and it was an isolation that endured almost up to the beginning of World War I. Before the advent of tourists and television, there were speech patterns, songs, and traditions carried into the hills that gradually evolved into their own unique colloquial culture, much of it influenced by the highly superstitious slave culture. Thus "Ozark voodoo" came into being, and the obscure concept of "woodswomen" (practicers of nature-based magic, sometimes evil) was introduced to modern mythology.
Today in Jasper you still run across people who embody this unique isolated culture with its bizarre words and affinity for home-made everything. But it is only when you get out in the "hills" on the backroads and trails that you catch any glimpse of the "Ozark voodoo." It will likely vanish entirely within a decade.
Electricity did not reach the area until the 1930s and one of the greatest changes it brought was the radio (many residents in these hills still have no television, but radios are plentiful). The outside world had found the Ozarks at last.
Ben the Grate