My choice for camping in the Ozarks is a
tent. Most campsites are primitive and carry-in on both the Buffalo National
River and the Ozark National Forest. That doesn't mean you can't find a place
for an RV, but they're not numerous and the commercial campgrounds may be the
most convenient. The exception is the White River, where there are a lot of good
With a tent, however, there's almost no
limit. Tents used to be a hassle, but the newer ones are light, packable, and
can be put up by a kid. You can not only use the campgrounds but almost any spot
you like along the rivers that is public land. The Park Service only bans
certain posted areas where there are sensitive plants and areas that are half a
mile or less from developed sites. The Forest Service bans some posted
recreation areas like Alum Cove.
Most of the campgrounds are
first-come-first-served and won't accept reservations. That can be a problem on
the busiest weekends like Labor Day and Memorial Day, so you'll either need to
stake out your site early or choose one of the more secluded areas. Pick up a
map and follow the course of the river, whichever you choose, and you'll easily
find a spot along some of the back roads.
Also, most campgrounds are free. There
are some on both the forest and the national river that are on a fee basis.
Some, like Redding on the Mulberry, are honor system where a box to leave the
payment is at the campgrounds. Some, like Buffalo Point, have a ranger station
available to collect the fees.
Be cautious about camping on gravel
bars. An eye on the weather is essential. These rivers can come up fast if
there's heavy rain upstream.
If you're a novice camper, don't worry
about being out there on your own. There's little to bother you. Bears are
around, but will give you a wide berth. You may get a marauding raccoon if
you're in an area where they've learned that ice chests are easy pickings, so
tie them shut or put them up. Take a light to go outside the camp in the dark so
you don't surprise a snake. The up-side is you'll see lots of songbirds and
wildlife, have some peaceful and refreshing times fishing and swimming and
nothing will ever taste as good as campfire coffee in the early-morning cool
along the river!
The Buffalo National River has 14 designated campgrounds.
Most available on first-come basis. Group sites may be reserved.
Campgrounds at a glance are:
Lost Valley - 15 sites with picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates, flush toilets and pay phone nearby, 2 handicapped accessible sites
Steel Creek, 26 sites with picnic tables, fire grates, drinking water and vault toilets, horse camp
Erbie - 14 drive in sites, 16 walk in sites, 10 group sites, all with picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates and vault toilets, handicapped access, horse camp
Ozark - 35 sites with picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates and flush toilets, plus a free pavilion that can be reserved for groups
Hasty - 2 campsites with picnic tables and vault toilets
Carver - 8 sites with picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates and vault toilets
Mt. Hersey - open, fire grates and vault toilets
Woolum - open, fire grates and vault toilets, horseback riders may camp overnight
Tyler Bend - 28 drive in sites, 10 walk in sites, 5 group sites, picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates and flush toilets, pavilion for groups rents at $50, individual campsites are $10 per night, group sites are $20, handicapped access
Maumee South and Highway 14 - open, vault toilets. Picnic tables at Highway 14.
Buffalo Point, 83 drive in sites, 20 walk in sites, 5 group sites, picnic tables, drinking water, fire grates and flush toilets, pavilion rents for $50, drive in sites are $15, walk in sites are $10 and group sites $20. Drive in sites have water and electricity.