Primitive Camping on the Buffalo National River

Primitive camping means, essentially, that you are on your own. No bathroom facilities, no running water, no trash services, no electricity. If you are planning to primitive camp along the banks of the Buffalo National River you should expect to be completely alone or with very few neighbors and pack and plan accordingly.

Since the Buffalo River is a National River it is owned, protected and maintained by the Department of the Interior. This means that there is no privately owned property along the river. The Buffalo National River corridor protected and cherished property, and should still be treated with the respect a national landmark deserves. Visit the National Park Service website to read the Leave No Trace guidelines for camping along the Buffalo National River.

Generally, anywhere you can safely pull your boat up and away from the river is available for primitive camping, with the exception of any designated National Park paid campgrounds, or half a mile on either side of any designated National Park paid campgrounds. For a list of paid campgrounds and information on each, click here.

Primitive camping is necessary for those paddlers going multiple days on the river, as the designated campgrounds are scattered. Should a situation arise that throws off a group’s pre-determined timeline, it may become a necessity. For this reason, if you are planning on floating the river for multiple days, always bring what you need to primitive camp, even if you intend to reach designated campgrounds each night. It is better safe than sorry, especially where nature is involved.

When primitive camping, remember never to camp against a bluff and always store your boats above your tent or sleeping site, so that if the water rises it wakes you up before it takes your boats away. Do not make stone fire rings, or dig fire pits. Always scatter fire sites and be aware of burn bans before you go.

The park service works hard to make your trip to the Buffalo as enjoyable and clean as possible so that you can focus on making memories. If you have any questions or would like a comprehensive camping list or Buffalo National River handbook sent to you, call Buffalo River Outfitters at (870) 439-2200. We are here to help you plan your best trip!

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Floating, hiking, camping...

Buffalo River Outfitters offers a complete Ozark adventure vacation. We provide canoes, kayaks, rafts and shuttle service for floating the Buffalo National River, and have clean and cozy lodging options that are unmatched in the area. 

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Water Levels

  • Flood stage
  • High
  • moderate
  • low
  • Very Low

PONCA

FT

St. Joe

6.61 FT
  • Very Low: The river is dry in places.
  • Low: Water is low but floatable. The river moves slowly and many rocks are exposed.
  • Moderate: Ample water for floating. The river moves at an average of 2 mph, allowing canoes to float over most rocks.
  • High: For experienced floaters only. The river flows swiftly and compromising situations may occur. Canoeing experience on swift moving rivers is necessary. All canoeists must possess good river canoeing skills and must be familiar with rescue procedures.
  • Flood Level: The river flows outside its normal banks. Flood waters move quickly and carry debris. River conditions are hazardous even for highly skilled canoeists.