Pictures Courtesy of Leon Cooper & Picture Courtesy of Helen Elsner


Saddle up! There are more miles of downright good trail riding in these Ozark hills then you'll ever use up. Even if you get around to seeing them all once, you've got to go again in each season to say you've seen it all. Splash through some sparkling streams, slip silently through the forest watching for wildlife and pause on the high bluff lines to admire the views for a day of memorable experiences.

There are designated horse trails on all sections of the Buffalo National River, as well as on the Ozark National Forest. That's just a start, though. Quiet country lanes, old roads now closed and logging roads winding through the woods are also available to those willing to add just a soupcon of boldness and venture off without benefit of trail signs. You can buy a topo map or a road access map to help find your way.

Let Searcy County resident Leon Cooper share some thoughts on a typical day on horseback in the Buffalo River country, then we'll wrap up with those old boring rules and stuff:

The Way I See The Buffalo River

I have spent the last twenty-two years riding on the Buffalo River. There are lots of trail there, but 99% are not marked. I tried to tell the Park one time, but it fell on deaf ears. People have come from all over the United States to ride with me and most were women. The word got around that I was all right to ride with.

People talk about getting lost here, the river goes up and down. Stay close to the river and you will not get lost. The river is usually its lowest around September 1. It can be a hot day, but if you are riding in the woods it is a lot cooler.

Most bluffs have a trail leading to the top of them. Most of the trails are not real steep. There is always plenty of water for the horses. There are lots of trails. The river is about 154 miles long and a bluff for every mile.

I write a column for the local paper, Marshall Mountain Wave, about the places where I ride. I have tried to tell how beautiful it is and all the great things I have seen. It is nothing like being there and seeing it for yourself.

I am still finding new trails and new places to see. I don't think I will ever get to see it all. My best riding friend is a woman. If I don't think of some place or thing, she will. There are springs, overhangs, bluffs and beautiful places to see.

Most come here to float the river. They missed the best part, riding the skyline. Looking down in the valley's, across big fields, up on a bluff, and looking down at the river like it is a maze. How can I tell it, "No way!" All the wild flowers in the spring, seeing a deer or elk run across in front of you, maybe just 100 feet away sometimes. A wild turkey jumps up and runs and then you get to see it take flight. A little ground squirrel, scurry across the trail ten feet in front of you. Oh, so much to see, so much to tell. You will have to come and see for yourself.

I got a woman to come from New York down here one time. She said, "I had taken her back 100 years in time." I had never thought of it that way. She was right.

A man used to come from Louisiana all the time. He would bring his camper with horse trailer behind. We would ride for weeks or months, yet still I have not seen it all.

When riding some of the watersheds, Big Creek comes to mind fast. I have never counted how many times you will cross Big Creek to ride it. On a hot day, it feels good to get a little cold water splashed on you.

Some of the most famous parts, Bee Bluff, Ponco, Boxley, Jasper, Big Bluff, Goat Trail, Kyles Landing, Mt. Her-shey, Steel Creek, Woolum, Point Peter, Peter Ridge Lookout, Tyler Bend, 65 Bridge, Gilbert Store, Riverside Cafe, (I call it the Gilbert Cafe), Wolf Knob, 14 Bridge, Buffalo Point, Skull Rock, Tea Tables, Elephant Head, looking over Buffalo City as the train goes by.

They wanted me to write this. I am no writer. I know what I see and where I go. This is the best I can tell you. Come and look for yourselves.

Most people around here are friendly and will give a helping hand. I have never met a stranger.

A woman wants me to ride the full length of the river now. Packing horses and camping out can take between four days to a week. You will just hit the high spots then, just enough to make you want to come back. They say, "It is wild country." I call it "Home."

Everyone in town sees my old truck and trailer and they say, "Where are you going this time?" I might say, "Dark Hollow, Old School House or Tilt Rock."

Leon Cooper

Now, in closing, here's that boring but necessary stuff we promised. There are four designated horse camps with basic facilities, Steel Creek and Erbie on the Upper Buffalo River and Sorghum Hollow and Moccasin Gap on the National Forest. Middle River riders can camp overnight at Woolum and lower river riders can camp at Big Creek or Hathaway Gap.

Horse travelers are reminded they have a greater impact on the environment then small groups of hikers and they're asked to try to minimize that. Don't tie horses directly to trees; use picket lines. Tie stock at least 100 feet away from any water course and off trail. Pack in your feed and don't allow stock to graze. Trot out your very best manners when you meet hikers and slow down or dismount to give them space to pass safely. Stay in the established trail so you don't widen it or even create new paths. Some of the camps, like Sorghum Hollow, were built and maintained by volunteers. They'll clean up your mess if you're not mannerly enough to do it yourself, but sure would appreciate it if you'd pack up what you bring in and scatter or remove horse manure from camp areas, trailheads and loading areas.

And, finally, be considerate of private landowners. Particularly on the National Forest, there are inholders and adjacent landowners whose rights must be respected.