Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek – 4 mi (o&b)

It’s spring again, and we’ve had some incredible weather to get out in and enjoy with some hiking and being outdoors in northwest Arkansas.

A few weeks ago, we headed out for a short hike along the Buffalo River Trail (BRT) from Ponca to Steel Creek (and back). This is a small section of the Ponca-Kyles Landing stretch of the BRT. The entire section is about 9.9 miles.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
The Buffalo River — looking under the Ponca Highway Bridge (low water bridge in the background)

However, as a short day hike, we just went as far as Steel Creek and then came back. It’s almost exactly 2 miles to Steel Creek, making it a 4-mile round trip, which was perfect for us on a half-day hike.

To get to the trail, park at the Ponca low-water bridge and then walk out across the low-water bridge to the small parking area on the other side. Just past that parking area, the BRT heads off to the left and the right. The route to the right will take you to Boxley (11 miles). To go toward Steel Creek, take the route downstream to the left.

The trail starts off right along the Buffalo River and after a short stretch goes under the new highway bridge that crosses the river.

Right at the spot where you cross under the highway bridge there is a little trail that leads down to an overlook on the river — a very nice little view.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
Kayaker on the Buffalo River. This is a great spot for watching canoeists on warm spring days when the water is up.

Back on the main trail, it continues along the river for a while.

There is another spur off to the left that again heads down to the river. I usually take these spurs just as a method of exploring.

As you continue up the hill a bit, you will get to yet another overlook. This is a great view with the river making two turns in front of you and a bluff in the background.

This is also a challenging stretch of the river for canoeists. (Michelle and I had an epic wipeout at this turn a year ago.) So when the water is up and canoeists are on the upper Buffalo, it’s fun to watch people go through here and share in their joy as they make the corner.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
During High Water, this is one of several cool water features along the route

As you continue on the trail, it eventually turns to the right a little and heads up the hill. There is about a 500-foot elevation change here, so it’s a pretty significant trek up.

There are also a few small streams to cross over here. None are challenging or wet crossings, but they make some interesting water features during high water. There is one water flow that we are looking forward to checking out after a hard rain.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
Overlook — from high above the river

As you head out across the higher part of the trail, you are inward from the bluff line a bit– high above the Buffalo River. During leaf-off, there are some spectacular views from up here. During late spring and summer, the leaves will block most of the great views.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
A bluff line along the trail

Eventually, you’ll head back down the hill again through some really nice rock bluffs and features.

As you get to the bottom of the hill, you are near the Steel Creek Campground. At one point, there is a short spur off to the left. It goes to the campground and the campground bathroom (and running water).

Continue straight ahead for a few hundred yards, and you will eventually cross the newly paved road that heads from the highway to Steel Creek.

Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek - 4 mi (o&b) photo
Roark Bluff at Steel Creek area

At this point, you’re at 2 miles. You can continue across the road to head to Kyles Landing, or walk down to Steel Creek and check out the valley and Roark Bluff. (It’s right in front of you. You can’t miss it.)  This is a great area along the river that is heavily traveled and includes a horse trailer parking area.

When you’re done here, you can turn around and head back the way you came. It’s another 2 miles back (and another 500-foot incline back up).

Photo Gallery

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Date Hiked: March 17, 2012

Distance: 2 miles (4 miles round trip)

Difficulty: Moderate

Footwear: Trail Runners or hiking boots

Best Season: During high water — November – April

[This post was originally published on May 2, 2012 on the blog “Exploring Northwest Arkansas.”]

2 thoughts on “Buffalo River Trail: Ponca to Steel Creek – 4 mi (o&b)”

  1. We went on that one a few years ago! We had a 4yr old that liked to wander off trail which made the places with steep dropoffs interesting but it was a beautiful trail! I am enjoying going through your blog in search of new hikes!

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