Picture Courtesy of Joey Benton

  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 RV spots.

    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:

The Ozark National Forest has 13 designated campsites

Two horse camps

Three sites have RV waste disposal facilities

The other campgrounds are:

Campgrounds have picnic tables, vault toilets and fire grates.