Similar to hiking Mt. Kessler, floating the Buffalo has been something I've thought, "we should do that!" since the first time I heard about it. Unlike our local adventure, though, floating takes a bit of planning, and also felt like something that would be more fun when the kids were a little bit older.
With Shauna's departure for her year long adventure in the UK looming, we finally picked a date and decided to go do it! In preparation, I googled "floating the Buffalo River" six ways to Sunday. I found plenty of information on types of floats and outfitters. There were enough sites with water levels to get an idea of where we were in the season. Strangely, though, there wasn't a single place that spoke to a novice like me; a rookie who wanted to take kids down the river but didn't own a watercraft or have really any floating experience at all.
There are so many options - canoes, kayaks, inflatable boats, inner tubes. Two hour, half day, overnight trips. In and out, camping, cabins. I thought it was as simple as - go float! Given our inexperience, we chose to go with the shortish float via canoe, since the three adults at least had experience wielding a paddle. With no specific checklists, we figured we were all set with the reservations and the start time for our planned 3-4 hour float.
|Irene, Caroline and John ready to float|
Despite having hats and sunscreen, we were missing some of the more critical equipment. For those rookies like me who've never floated before and can't really find the easy answer, here's what I wish I'd known to bring when I was planning our first trip:
- A cooler - not only will you want water (or other drinks) while you're out on the river with no shade, it provides a third seat for the non-paddler in the canoe.
- Bungee cords - said cooler has to be securely tied to the watercraft.
- Koozies - you can't have any drinks on the river that aren't in something that floats. I love knowing that we're doing everything we can to keep the river clean, and a koozie around a water bottle is a small price to pay to help do that.
- Swimsuit - getting into the water would've been amazing given how hot it was that day. I was pretty close to getting in fully dressed, but it would've been a long ride home in wet clothes.
- Sandals (though the old sneakers did work, as long as you don't mind squishy shoes) - you definitely can't go barefoot. The bottom of the river is straight up river rock, not sand, and would be pretty painful to walk on without shoes.
- Dry clothes to change into upon returning to the car for the drive home. Nobody wants to drive three hours in a swimsuit that's spent time in the river.
As I began to think we were going to be hard pressed to make it all the way to the end, there we were - the outfitters were on the banks waiting for us to pull our canoes up out of the water and head back in the shuttle. The float actually lasted just a bit under two hours; the lesson I learned this first time out is that the variability in the time for a float comes from how much time you spend out of the canoe, as well as how vigorously you paddle. If you know me, you know I'm not much one for passive outdoor activity; it wasn't a race, but I was still going to put some muscle into it! If you'd asked me at the beginning whether an under-two-hour float would be just right, I would've rolled my eyes and suggested the much longer one. Given our lack of preparation, though, it was a good thing we only spent that amount of time on the river.
With my first trip under my belt, here's what I'll know next time:
- Consider an overnight trip - it's a far enough drive that out and back is a little bit taxing. Going the day before to get an early start on the river would help not just with the heat, but with the crowds, too.
- Relax a little bit - it isn't a race down the river. The views are incredible, and the people watching is entertaining, too.
- Figure out a way to waterproof a camera - it is a stunning landscape to which my pictures just can't do justice. Along the way we saw a bald eagle, too - it isn't just the bluffs and the trees overhanging the river that inspire.
- The different types of watercraft all make for a different experience
- The canoes were perfect for our family trip with kids our age. They're a way to make it a group activity, because it requires cooperation and teamwork to get going in the right direction.
- The kayaks I saw were often loaded with camping equipment - so I think kayaking would be an amazing way to do a multiday camp/float trip. Those were the people I looked on as adventurers. A day trip on a kayak, too, seems to me like a more solitary, individual float, but perfect for a day of reflection and peace.
- Inner tubes - now those are the people there for a party! What fun to bump along down the river, drifting in and out of a group of friends, hanging your toes in the water and swimming as much as you float.
- While we didn't see any of the inflatable boats because the water level was too low, I think that would be a wonderful multi-family float option. I hope to try that together with Shauna, Andy and Irene someday to see if we can navigate the higher, faster water earlier in the spring or summer.