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Ponca Arkansas’ 10 Best Outdoor Activities


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Ruthann Wanner



Welcome to Ponca, Arkansas, a hidden gem nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. This picturesque town offers a wealth of outdoor activities for nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. From hiking trails that showcase breathtaking views to canoeing and kayaking on pristine rivers, there is something for everyone to enjoy.


Ponca is surrounded by lush forests, rolling hills, and crystal-clear rivers, making it an ideal destination for outdoor exploration. Whether you are a seasoned outdoor enthusiast or a beginner looking for a new adventure, Ponca has it all. With its abundance of wildlife, scenic landscapes, and diverse ecosystems, this area truly exemplifies the beauty of Arkansas.


One of the highlights of Ponca is its extensive network of hiking trails, offering a variety of difficulty levels and stunning viewpoints. Whether you are looking to take a leisurely stroll or embark on a challenging trek, these trails will lead you through some of the most beautiful natural landscapes in the region.


If you prefer to get out on the water, Ponca offers excellent opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. The Buffalo National River, which flows through the town, is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the country. Drift along the river’s calm, clear waters and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.


Fishing enthusiasts will also find their paradise in Ponca, with numerous fishing spots that are teeming with a variety of fish. Cast your line into the Buffalo National River or one of the many nearby creeks, and you may just catch a trophy-sized bass or trout.


For those who enjoy spending the night under the stars, Ponca offers a range of camping sites. Whether you prefer to pitch a tent or bring your RV, you’ll find well-maintained campgrounds with amenities such as picnic tables, fire pits, and clean restroom facilities.


And if you’re not keen on roughing it, fear not! Ponca also offers opportunities for scenic drives, where you can soak in the beauty of the surroundings from the comfort of your vehicle. These drives will take you through picturesque landscapes, showcasing the area’s natural wonders.


Mountain biking enthusiasts will be thrilled to explore the rugged trails that wind through Ponca’s scenic terrain. From challenging downhill descents to exhilarating singletracks, these trails offer an adrenaline-filled experience for riders of all skill levels.


Wildlife lovers will also be in their element in Ponca, as the area is home to a diverse array of animals. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of deer, foxes, eagles, and even the occasional black bear. Birdwatchers will be delighted by the numerous species that call Ponca home, including the striking Indigo Bunting and the majestic Bald Eagle.


Ponca is also a haven for rock climbers, with its towering cliffs and challenging routes. Whether you’re a seasoned climber or looking to try it for the first time, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to test your skills and enjoy the thrill of reaching new heights.


Finally, for those who prefer a more leisurely way to explore the stunning landscapes of Ponca, horseback riding is a popular activity. Ride through scenic trails, taking in the beauty of the Ozark Mountains while enjoying the gentle rhythm of your trusty steed.


So pack your hiking boots, grab your fishing gear, or saddle up and get ready for an unforgettable adventure in Ponca, Arkansas. With its breathtaking natural beauty and abundant outdoor activities, this charming town is a haven for those seeking to reconnect with nature and create lifelong memories. Experience the best of the great outdoors in Ponca!


Hiking Trails

Ponca, Arkansas, offers a multitude of hiking trails that showcase the pristine beauty of the Ozark Mountains. Whether you are a seasoned hiker or a beginner looking for a leisurely stroll, you’ll find a trail that suits your needs and promises breathtaking views.


One of the most popular hiking trails in Ponca is the Lost Valley Trail. This trail is perfect for beginners and families, as it offers a relatively easy hike with rewarding sights along the way. As you wind your way through the lush forest, you’ll encounter towering limestone bluffs, enchanting waterfalls, and even a hidden cave. Take a moment to explore Eden Falls and the Natural Bridge, where you’ll be captivated by the beauty of nature.


For a more challenging hike, venture along the Indian Creek Trail. This trail will lead you through rugged terrain, past cascading waterfalls, and along the banks of picturesque creeks. Be prepared for steep ascents and descents as you navigate the rocky path, but rest assured that the stunning views along the way are well worth the effort.


If you’re seeking panoramic vistas, the Hemmed-in Hollow Trail is a must-visit. This trail takes you on a journey to Hemmed-in Hollow, the tallest waterfall between the Rocky and Appalachian Mountains. The sight of the 209-foot waterfall plunging into a secluded canyon will leave you in awe. The hike to the waterfall is challenging, but the reward is truly unforgettable.


For those looking to immerse themselves in the rugged beauty of the Ozarks, the Ponca Wilderness Trail is an excellent choice. This trail offers a more remote and backcountry experience, taking you deep into the heart of the wilderness. As you traverse the trail, you’ll encounter serene meadows, dense forests, and abundant wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of deer, turkeys, and even the elusive black bear.


Another noteworthy trail in Ponca is the Centerpoint Trail, which leads to the iconic Big Bluff. This trail offers a moderate to difficult hike, rewarding you with stunning panoramas of the Buffalo River and its surrounding cliffs. At Big Bluff, you can marvel at the breathtaking views of the towering rock formations and the river meandering through the valley below.


Before setting off on any hiking trail, it’s essential to come prepared. Bring plenty of water, wear sturdy hiking boots, and carry a map or guidebook of the area. It’s also advisable to let someone know your itinerary and estimated return time for safety purposes.


Whether you choose an easy trail with picturesque waterfalls or a challenging hike to a stunning vista, the hiking trails of Ponca, Arkansas, offer a gateway to the natural wonders of the Ozarks. Lace up your boots, take in the fresh mountain air, and embark on an unforgettable adventure amid the beauty of Ponca’s hiking trails.


Canoeing and Kayaking

Ponca, Arkansas, is a haven for water enthusiasts, offering unparalleled opportunities for canoeing and kayaking. With the Buffalo National River flowing through the town, you’ll find miles of pristine waters waiting to be explored and enjoyed.


The Buffalo National River is one of the few remaining free-flowing rivers in the United States, making it an ideal destination for paddlers of all skill levels. The calm and clear waters provide a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, allowing you to immerse yourself in the serenity of nature.


Whether you prefer the tranquility of a solo paddle or the camaraderie of a group excursion, renting a canoe or kayak is a popular choice in Ponca. Several outfitters in the area offer rental services, providing you with the necessary equipment and guidance to embark on your river adventure.


As you glide along the Buffalo River, you’ll have the opportunity to observe the stunning landscapes and wildlife that call this area home. The river is flanked by towering limestone bluffs, lush forests, and picturesque meadows. Take in the breathtaking sights as you navigate the gentle curves and bends of the river.


For those seeking a longer journey, multi-day canoe or kayak trips are also available. Paddle through the pristine waters, and camp along the riverbanks, immersing yourself in the beauty of the wilderness. Fall asleep under a star-filled sky and wake up to the peaceful sounds of nature surrounding you.


While canoeing and kayaking on the Buffalo River can be a serene and tranquil experience, it is important to be prepared and equipped for your adventure. Wear a life jacket at all times, as it is essential for safety on the water. Additionally, be mindful of the river’s water levels and weather conditions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.


Whether you are an experienced paddler or trying canoeing or kayaking for the first time, Ponca, Arkansas, offers a perfect setting for your water adventure. So grab a paddle, hop into your canoe or kayak, and set off on a memorable journey along the Buffalo River. Discover the beauty of Ponca from the water and create lifelong memories as you glide through this scenic paradise.


Fishing Spots

Ponca, Arkansas, is a paradise for fishing enthusiasts, offering a variety of fishing spots that cater to anglers of all experience levels. With its pristine rivers and abundant fish populations, this charming town is a haven for those seeking a memorable fishing experience.


The Buffalo National River, which flows through Ponca, is renowned for its excellent fishing opportunities. Cast your line into the river’s calm and clear waters, and you’ll have a chance to catch a variety of fish species, including largemouth and smallmouth bass, trout, catfish, and bream.


Within the Buffalo River, several sections are designated as trout management areas, making it a haven for trout fishing enthusiasts. The cold and clear waters of the river provide an ideal habitat for trout, ensuring a thrilling angling experience. Whether you prefer fly fishing or spinning, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to test your skills and reel in a prized trout.


In addition to the Buffalo River, Ponca is surrounded by numerous creeks and streams that offer excellent fishing opportunities. These smaller waterways are teeming with fish, and their secluded locations offer a tranquil and picturesque setting for a day of fishing.


One popular fishing spot in Ponca is the Ponca Low Water Bridge. This bridge spans the Buffalo River and provides easy access to fish in the river’s deeper pools. Anglers can cast their lines from the bridge or venture downstream to explore the river’s hidden fishing holes.


Another noteworthy fishing spot is Steel Creek, which is renowned for its smallmouth bass fishing. The rocky waters of Steel Creek provide the perfect habitat for these feisty bass, offering an exciting challenge for anglers. The area is also popular for overnight camping, allowing you to combine your fishing adventure with a night under the stars.


Before you head out to any fishing spot, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the local fishing regulations and obtain the necessary permits or licenses. This ensures the conservation of fish populations and the sustainability of these pristine fishing locations.


Whether you prefer casting your line into the clear waters of the Buffalo River, exploring the hidden fishing holes of the creeks, or seeking the thrill of landing a smallmouth bass in Steel Creek, Ponca, Arkansas, offers an abundance of fishing spots to satisfy your angling passion. Grab your fishing gear, find a serene spot by the water, and get ready for a memorable experience in the heart of nature.


Camping Sites

Ponca, Arkansas, offers a range of camping sites that allow outdoor enthusiasts to immerse themselves in the beauty of nature. Whether you prefer pitching a tent or bringing your RV, you’ll find well-maintained campgrounds that provide a comfortable and scenic setting for your camping adventure.


One popular camping site in Ponca is the Steel Creek Campground. Nestled near the Buffalo National River, this campground offers riverside camping with stunning views of the surrounding mountains. Wake up to the soothing sound of the river and enjoy a day of outdoor activities, such as fishing, hiking, or simply lazing by the water’s edge.


For those looking for a more secluded camping experience, the nearby Kyles Landing Campground is an excellent choice. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the Ozark Mountains, this campground offers a tranquil environment where you can truly disconnect from the busyness of daily life. Set up camp beneath the towering trees and explore the nearby hiking trails that lead to breathtaking vistas.


If you’re traveling with an RV or prefer amenities such as electricity and running water, the Buffalo Point Campground is a great option. This campground offers RV hookups, as well as tent camping sites. Enjoy the convenience of modern facilities, such as clean restroom facilities and a visitor center, while still being able to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding nature.


For a more rustic camping experience, the Ozark Campground is perfect for those who are seeking a true immersion in the wilderness. This primitive camping site provides basic amenities, such as fire pits and vault toilets, allowing you to truly connect with the natural surroundings. Experience the simplicity and serenity of camping under a star-filled sky, surrounded by the sights and sounds of the Ozarks.


Regardless of which camping site you choose, it’s important to practice Leave No Trace principles when camping in Ponca. Respect the environment, pack out your trash, and leave the area as you found it, ensuring that future campers can enjoy the beauty of these pristine locations.


Whether you’re seeking a riverside adventure, a secluded forest retreat, or a convenient RV camping experience, Ponca, Arkansas, has camping sites to suit every preference. Immerse yourself in the beauty of the outdoors, create lasting memories around the campfire, and experience the peace and tranquility that camping in Ponca has to offer.


Scenic Drives

Exploring the breathtaking landscapes of Ponca, Arkansas, is not limited to hiking or paddling adventures. The area also offers scenic drives that allow you to soak in the natural beauty and stunning vistas from the comfort of your vehicle. Whether you’re a nature lover or a photography enthusiast, these drives will take you on a journey through picturesque landscapes and showcase the best of Ponca.


One iconic scenic drive in the area is the Upper Buffalo Mountain Loop. This winding road will lead you through the heart of the Ozark Mountains, offering panoramic views of rolling hills, dense forests, and impressive rock formations. The scenic overlooks along the way provide exceptional photo opportunities, allowing you to capture the beauty of the landscape.


Another memorable drive is along the Highway 7 Scenic Byway, often recognized as one of the most scenic routes in the state. This drive will take you through the Ozark National Forest, where you’ll be treated to stunning vistas, picturesque rivers, and charming small towns. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife sightings, as the forest is home to a variety of animals.


If you’re looking for a shorter but equally scenic drive, the Boxley Valley Scenic Drive is a must-visit. This 10-mile drive takes you through the breathtaking Boxley Valley, where you’ll encounter picturesque meadows, historic barns, and grazing elk herds. Be sure to stop at the Ponca Elk Education Center, where you can learn more about these majestic animals and possibly spot them grazing in the valley.


Springtime brings an explosion of color to Ponca, and the Dogwood Trail is the perfect way to witness nature’s beauty. This scenic drive will guide you along winding roads adorned with blooming dogwood trees, providing a picturesque backdrop of white and pink blossoms against the lush green of the surroundings.


As you embark on these scenic drives, be prepared to take your time and savor the beauty of the landscapes. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a leisurely break at one of the many roadside picnic areas or designated overlooks. And don’t forget your camera to capture the mesmerizing vistas and unique moments along the way.


Whether you’re cruising along the Upper Buffalo Mountain Loop, exploring the wonders of the Highway 7 Scenic Byway, enjoying the rustic charm of the Boxley Valley, or marveling at the dogwood blooms on the Dogwood Trail, Ponca, Arkansas, offers an abundance of scenic drives that promise unforgettable views and memories. Get behind the wheel and let the natural beauty of Ponca unfold before your eyes.


Mountain Biking

Ponca, Arkansas, is a haven for mountain biking enthusiasts, offering a network of thrilling trails that wind through the rugged terrain of the Ozark Mountains. Whether you’re an experienced rider seeking an adrenaline rush or a beginner looking for a new outdoor adventure, Ponca has something to offer for every skill level.


One of the highlights of mountain biking in Ponca is the Upper Buffalo Mountain Bike Trail. Spanning over 40 miles, this trail system offers a variety of options for riders, from beginner-friendly loops to challenging downhill descents. Ride through dense forests, traverse rocky terrains, and conquer exhilarating climbs as you immerse yourself in the beauty of the Ozarks.


For those looking for a more technical and challenging ride, the Buffalo Headwaters Trail is a must-try. This trail features narrow paths, technical features, and steep drops, providing an adrenaline-filled experience for experienced mountain bikers. Be prepared for heart-pumping descents and tricky sections that will test your skills and agility on the bike.


If you prefer a more leisurely ride, the Ponca Section of the BRT (Buffalo River Trail) offers a scenic and relaxing mountain bike experience. This section follows the Buffalo National River, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes and ample opportunities for wildlife sightings. Enjoy a leisurely ride as you take in the beauty of the river and its surrounding nature.


To make the most of your mountain biking adventure in Ponca, it’s important to wear proper safety gear, including a helmet and knee pads. Carry a map or use a GPS device to navigate the trails, and always let someone know your planned route and expected return time.


Ponca, Arkansas, truly offers a mountain biking experience like no other. From thrilling descents to scenic and leisurely rides, the trails in Ponca allow riders to immerse themselves in the stunning beauty of the Ozark Mountains. Grab your bike, hit the trails, and prepare to be captivated by the rugged landscapes and exhilarating adventures that await you in Ponca.


Wildlife Viewing

Ponca, Arkansas, is a nature lover’s paradise, offering abundant opportunities for wildlife viewing. The diverse ecosystems and pristine landscapes of the area provide a refuge for a variety of animals, making it an ideal destination for those seeking to observe and connect with wildlife.


One of the most iconic wildlife species in Ponca is the majestic elk. The Boxley Valley, in particular, is known for its thriving elk population, offering a unique chance to see these impressive animals up close. Head out in the early morning or late evening when the elk are most active, and keep a respectful distance to ensure both your safety and the welfare of the animals.


The Buffalo National River is also home to an array of wildlife species. Keep your eyes peeled for sightings of white-tailed deer as they graze near the riverbanks, and don’t forget to look up to catch a glimpse of bald eagles soaring overhead. The river also attracts a variety of waterfowl, including herons, ducks, and geese, offering a delightful spectacle for birdwatchers.


As you explore Ponca’s hiking trails, you may encounter a multitude of wildlife species. Look for foxes darting through the underbrush, observe squirrels scampering along tree branches, and listen for the melodic songs of various bird species. If you’re lucky, you might even spot the elusive black bear, though it’s important to maintain a safe distance and avoid disturbing or approaching these wild animals.


Ponca is also home to a rich diversity of reptiles and amphibians. Keep your eyes on the ground and the streams as you hike, and you may spot various snake species, turtles, frogs, and salamanders. Exercise caution and respect when encountering these creatures, as they play a vital role in the ecosystem.


For the best chances of wildlife sightings, consider hiring a local guide who is knowledgeable about the area’s wildlife and their habitats. They can offer insightful information and help you spot elusive creatures that you might otherwise miss. Additionally, be sure to bring binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens to capture memorable moments while maintaining a respectful distance from the animals.


Immersing yourself in the wildlife of Ponca, Arkansas, is an opportunity to witness the wonders of nature. Whether you’re captivated by the sight of elk grazing in the Boxley Valley, observe birds soaring above the Buffalo National River, or encounter a variety of creatures while hiking through the forests, Ponca offers an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience. Respect the natural habitats and keep a watchful eye, and you’ll be rewarded with memorable encounters with the fascinating wildlife of Ponca.


Rock Climbing

Ponca, Arkansas, is a dream destination for rock climbing enthusiasts, offering a wide array of challenging cliffs and breathtaking routes to conquer. With its towering limestone bluffs and rugged rock formations, this area provides an exhilarating playground for climbers of all skill levels.


One of the most iconic rock climbing locations in Ponca is the Horseshoe Canyon Ranch. This privately owned ranch features over 300 routes, ranging from beginner-friendly to expert-level climbs. The sandstone cliffs offer a variety of features, including cracks, pockets, and steep overhangs, providing a diverse and exciting climbing experience. Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a beginner looking to learn the ropes, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch offers an unforgettable adventure.


Another notable rock climbing area in Ponca is Sam’s Throne. This towering sandstone bluff is renowned for its incredible views and challenging routes. As you ascend the cliffs, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas of the surrounding wilderness, making the climb all the more memorable. Sam’s Throne is a popular spot amongst seasoned climbers, providing unique challenges and the opportunity to test your skills on diverse rock formations.


Ponca also offers a variety of guide services and instructional courses for those new to rock climbing. These programs are designed to teach the necessary techniques and safety procedures, allowing beginners to experience the thrill of climbing in a controlled and supportive environment. With the guidance of experienced instructors, you can learn the fundamentals of climbing and gain confidence as you tackle the cliffs of Ponca.


As with any adventure sport, rock climbing requires proper safety precautions. It’s important to wear a helmet, harness, and appropriate climbing shoes. Familiarize yourself with the area’s climbing regulations and adhere to ethical climbing practices, such as leaving no trace and respecting the natural environment.


Whether you’re drawn to the challenging routes of Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, seeking breathtaking views from Sam’s Throne, or looking to learn the ropes with a professional guide, rock climbing in Ponca, Arkansas, offers an unforgettable experience for climbers of all levels. Feel the rush of adrenaline as you conquer the cliffs, appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds you, and create lasting memories in the heart of this rock climber’s paradise.


Horseback Riding

Ponca, Arkansas, offers a picturesque setting for horseback riding enthusiasts looking to explore the majestic beauty of the Ozark Mountains. With its sprawling meadows, winding trails, and breathtaking vistas, this charming town provides a perfect backdrop for an unforgettable equestrian adventure.


One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Ponca is on horseback. Several guided horseback riding tours are available, allowing riders of all levels to enjoy the tranquility and serenity of the surrounding landscapes. Meander through scenic trails, cross babbling creeks, and canter through open fields as you soak up the natural beauty that Ponca has to offer.


The Buffalo National River is particularly popular for horseback riding, as it provides miles of trails that wind through lush forests and along the riverbanks. Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of nature as you explore the diverse ecosystems and keep an eye out for wildlife sightings along the way.


For those who prefer to venture off the beaten path, there are also opportunities for horseback riding in the backcountry of Ponca. With a sense of adventure and the assistance of a local guide, you can embark on multi-day horseback riding trips, camping under the stars, and experiencing the rugged beauty of the Ozark Mountains.


Even if you’re new to horseback riding, Ponca offers options for beginners to get in the saddle. Local stables provide gentle horses and experienced guides who will ensure your safety and comfort throughout the ride. Take in the breathtaking views, learn about the local flora and fauna, and embrace the joy of horseback riding in this scenic destination.


Before embarking on a horseback riding adventure, it’s important to wear proper attire, including closed-toe shoes and a helmet. Take some time to get acquainted with your horse and listen to the instructions provided by your guide. With proper preparation and respect for your surroundings, horseback riding in Ponca will be a memorable and enjoyable experience.


Escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and embark on a horseback riding adventure in Ponca, Arkansas. Let the rhythm of your trusty steed carry you through picturesque trails, breathe in the fresh mountain air, and appreciate the beauty of the Ozark Mountains from a unique and serene perspective. Discover the enchantment of Ponca on horseback and create lasting memories in this equestrian paradise.