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Ozark Mountain Daredevils
On river and ridge in Arkansas By Cliff Ransom

Map: Arkansas
DAY 1 Way up in the Ozarks, 130 miles (209 kilometers) from Little Rock on State Route 7, is a place known to brochure readers as the Grand Canyon of Arkansas. Snicker you may, but the views are dramatic—and they only improve once you get to the Buffalo, the nation's first national river. Fuel up at R.R. Crawford Provisions (+1 870 446 2478), north of Jasper on Route 7, then head west on State Route 74 to the Buffalo Outdoor Center in Ponca to arrange an overnight canoe rental and a car shuttle ($113; www.buffaloriver.com). Most paddlers do the ten-mile (16-kilometer) run to Kyles Landing in one day, but camping gives you time to explore. Float past 200-foot (61-meter) limestone bluffs and old homesteads, then pitch a tent on the gravel bar under Jim Bluff. View the sunset from 500-foot (152-meter) Big Bluff, the tallest cliff in the Midwest.

DAY 2 Hit the water early, then break at river mile 35.8 to hike to spectacular, 200-foot (61-meter) Hemmed-in Hollow Falls. Paddle to the take-out, and drive west to the Lost Valley trailhead. The path winds two miles (3.2 kilometers) across creeks and over natural bridges before dead-ending—surreally—200 feet (61 meters) into a cave at the base of a waterfall. This area is the elk capital of Arkansas (there's not much competition, mind you); at day's end, drive a mile (1.6 kilometers) south of the trailhead to watch some of the 450 transplanted Rocky Mountain elk that gather along the road. Then bed down at Jasper's Downtowner Inn ($65 and up; +1 870 446 5709) next to the Jasper Mercantile Restaurant (+1 870 446 2976), where Saturday night dinner comes with Ray Charles covers, performed live.

DAY 3 Arkansas has thrilling mountain biking, but it's not always easy to find. Cycling fanatic How Kuff has spent years piecing together a network of singletrack and Forest Service roads outside of Fallsville, near the headwaters of the Buffalo. Contact him (www.fallingtrails.com), and he'll meet you to cruise sandstone ridgelines, scream down escarpments, and bounce across creek beds. How provides bikes and lunch ($125 and up). Pitch a tent at the Forest Service's Ozone Campground ($3), then for dinner head to the nearby Burger Barn to tackle the three-patty, one-and-a-half-pound Super Buddy Burger. Owner Tom Camardese proclaims, "If you leave here hungry, you've got something wrong with you."

DAY 4 If ever there was a locals' breakfast joint, it's the Catalpa Cafe, eight miles west of your campsite. The decor is pure Ozarks—old guns, old Cherokee arrowheads, old toasters, and no shortage of old-timers. After breakfast, get to Byrd's Adventure Center to canoe the fast-flowing Mulberry, a national scenic and recreational river ($42 for gear and a shuttle; www.byrdsadventurecenter.com). Along the way, rest your paddle and hike to the red sandstone bluffs above Clear Creek. End the day in the tasting room of the Chateau aux Arc Winery (www.chateauauxarc.com), located in Altus, in the heart of Arkansas's little-known wine country.

Map courtesy of Computer Terrain Mapping

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May 2004

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