Buffalo Outdoor Center An Ozark Wilderness Resort
By Hazel M. Freeman
In 1972 America’s first National River, the Buffalo, was designated in “The Natural State,” Arkansas. National river status does not come easy, and only the most pristine waterways are honored with the designation. For 135 miles the Buffalo, one of the few remaining rivers without dams, flows unhindered. It cuts through limestone bluffs as it winds its way amidst the wild and scenic beauty of the Ozark Mountains. The Buffalo has the reputation of being mid-America’s most beautiful river.
It was only a few years after the Buffalo received national river designation that Mike Mills started the Buffalo Outdoor Center, a small canoe rental business along the banks of the Buffalo, in the quiet little town of Ponca. In the years since, Mike and his wife Rhonda, have transformed the small canoe rental business into a top-notch, full-service wilderness resort hideaway. Visitors can come to float, hike, fish, or just relax and enjoy the beauty of nature.
I was thrilled to get the opportunity to make a brief overnight trip into Ponca to visit Mike and Rhonda’s backcountry retreat at the Buffalo Outdoor Center. Once there, it didn’t take me long to realize this was a place I would have to come back and spend more time.
A scenic drive along backcountry roads brings you to the junction of highways 43 and 74 in the personable town of Ponca. The Buffalo River meanders just a stone’s throw away inviting visitors to take to the water or stay on dry land and hike some of the most beautiful trails you’ll find in the state. You can pack a lunch and head out for the day or throw on a backpack and spend a few nights along the trail.
Mike led the way as we drove from Ponca, in the valley, up to an Ozark mountaintop. Perched atop the mountain, sits the Riverwind Lodge. As you step out of your vehicle in the parking area, you know you’re in for a visual treat. The Ozark mountain range is rolled out before you like a magnificent undulating tapestry. Once in the lodge your gaze is immediately drawn to the floor to ceiling windows at the opposite end that bring the breathtaking 30-mile views right into the spacious great room. An outside deck draws you even closer to the spectacular mountain views where you can simply lose yourself in the moment.
Mike and Rhonda have made the Riverwind a special place at Buffalo Outdoor Center. Handcrafted of white pine logs, with a massive elk antler chandelier, and beautiful artwork on the walls, the lodge can host up to 75 guests in the great room area. Spacious, comfortable and lovely decorated bedrooms, with private baths, can guarantee a good nights sleep to as many 24 people. The lodge is equipped with a full-service kitchen for food prep. The large outdoor deck allows groups to spread out and enjoy the view, the hot tub, or cozy up to the campfire in the outside pavilion. Riverwind would be a great location for a family reunion or any group gathering.
Just because you’re in the wilderness doesn’t mean you have to rough it. From rustic comfort to lavish luxury there’s a handcrafted log cabin to suit your taste. BOC has a variety of cabins available, from luxury log cabins perched on the mountaintop with gorgeous panoramas to quiet secluded settings in the peaceful valley near Ponca. All cabins are fully furnished ready for you to drop your bag inside the door and get down to the business of relaxing and enjoying the nature that surrounds you. Each cabin has a fireplace, and some cabins have an indoor Jacuzzi or an outdoor hot tub.
Not far from the Riverwind Lodge is a favorite one-mile, easy hike, to a magnificent spot. Whitaker Point, also known as Hawksbill Crag, is a rock outcropping that juts out about 400 feet, with spectacular views looking out over the Upper Buffalo Wilderness Area. While we stood on the outcropping taking in the breathtaking view, an air thermal swept a sprinkling of leaves up, up, and away, while a red-tailed hawk circled in the valley below us.
The stunning view of with Mike and Rhonda standing on the bluff in the early morning light was on the cover of the Rand McNally Road Atlas a few years back. Although this is a favorite short hike location, you may have to ask directions to find the parking area.
After a comfortable night in my secluded cabin in the valley, I was up at dawn and stepped outside to enjoy the beautiful morning and listen to the bird songs. A resident herd of Elk calls this valley home and off in the distance I heard the bugle of one lone elk. Only one thing could top that. On our drive out we saw a small herd of elk grazing contentedly near the road in the early morning mist. What a great way to end a visit to this beautiful part of Arkansas.
Whether interested in a back to nature getaway, a romantic weekend, a family retreat or just want to experience the beauty of the Ozarks, consider a visit to the Buffalo Outdoor Center. For more information visit: www.buffaloriver.com. For information on Arkansas visit: www.arkansas.com