SEP 5 2023    
Best Free RV Campgrounds in the Buffalo National River Area
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Best Free RV Campgrounds in the Buffalo National River Area

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Best Free RV Campgrounds in the Buffalo National River Area

Want to do the Buffalo on a budget? 

You’ve come to the right place. 

There are plenty of campgrounds on the Buffalo River, but many are costly or inaccessible with an RV. Finding beautiful free campsites where you can safely bring your rig can be tricky, especially without local knowledge. 

Luckily, I’ve got you covered. Read on for a complete guide to the best free RV campgrounds in the Buffalo National River area, including amenities, road conditions, and on-site attractions to enjoy. 

Free RV Campgrounds in the Buffalo National River Area

Paying for a Buffalo River RV campsite can set you back up to $60 per night — that’s a hefty sum for travelers! Especially considering most pay-sites lack electricity and water hookups anyway, choosing the free option is really a no-brainer. 

1. Free Buffalo River RV Camping at Woolum Campground

The number one spot goes to Woolum Campground, a peaceful oasis lying right along the riverbank. Proximity to the water makes this a popular place for launching boats, fishing, and swimming. With mountains rising in all directions around the camp, you’ll have gorgeous views right from your front door!

Morning mist rises above the river at peaceful Woolum campground. 

Woolum Campground Info

Suitable for: RVs of any size

Woolum Campground is located deep in the river valley. It’s a large open field where RVs can pull in and park at will, with most grabbing up the coveted shady spots first. There is plenty of room for everyone here, including larger rigs. Since there aren’t any designated campsites, drivers can take up all the space they need. 

Woolum’s big draw is its quintessential Buffalo bluff line, a sheer cliff of towering white that stretches hundreds of feet above the water. A large, crystal-clear swimming hole and an abundance of trout round out the experience, providing fun for everyone in the family. If you’re hoping to fish here, don’t forget to pick up a fishing license from the AR Game and Fish Commission.  

As a free site, you won’t find any electric or water hookups at Woolum. However, the campground is surprisingly well-maintained, with clean vault toilets and short-mowed grass that helps keep insects to a minimum. 

Getting to Woolum Campground

GPS Coordinates: 35.9721127, -92.8819327

The South Woolum access road is currently closed, so campers must use an alternative route. 

From St. Joe, head north on Highway 65 for six miles. Then, turn left on North Woolum Rd, also known as SC 15. From there, it’s about three and a half miles to the campground on a dirt road. The road goes through stages and gets steeper and tighter as you descend into the valley. It might be an adventure with a longer RV, but the road is well-maintained, and campers should have little issue arriving.

2. Free Buffalo River RV Camping at Erbie Campground

Erbie Campground is a little paradise tucked deep in the hills of Arkansas’ Grand Canyon region. As out-of-the-way as this place is, it’s unlikely you’ll have much company. If you crave shade, privacy, and outdoor recreation, you can’t get much better than this!

Erbie Campground Info

Suitable for: RVs under 30 feet

I’ve written about Erbie before in my budget tent camping article. I believe it deserves a shoutout here, too — this spot is one of the most beautiful on the Buffalo, boasting 16 big back-in sites to choose from. Several larger, flatter areas in the front lend themselves naturally to RVs, but I’ve also seen small campers near the back.  

The camp layout winds through hardwood oak and cedar groves, which provide seclusion and a habitat for bunnies, deer, and birds. If you’re into nature-watching, Erbie is perfect for you. The Buffalo River Trail also runs through the campground, providing opportunities for hiking and exploring between bouts of fishing and swimming. 

Erbie is maintained to a ‘t,’ with clean vault toilets throughout and freshly mowed grass in the summertime. Well-marked signage for the trail systems, waterways, and the camp itself makes navigation a breeze here, and each site comes equipped with a lantern ring, fire pit, and picnic table to make your stay a little comfier.

Erbie is packed with secret trails to hidden gems like this out-of-the-way spring — can you figure out how to get there?

Getting to Erbie Campground

GPS Coordinates: 36.0718935097872, -93.21648399274561

From Jasper, head north on Highway 7 for three miles. Turn left on CR 79 and travel six miles. You’ll see Erbie Campground on your right. The roads are gravelly but wide and aren’t nearly as steep as other campgrounds. There’s one blind turn here, which can be challenging for larger rigs, but the payoff is worth it. 

3. Free Buffalo River RV Camping at Grinders Ferry

Are you looking for a place not so far off the beaten track? Grinders Ferry fits the bill perfectly. A popular swimming hole and boat launching site, the campground sees a lot of traffic during the summertime — but with friendly locals, clear water, and cliff-jumping opportunities to take advantage of, this is one free RV campsite you don’t want to miss. 

Grinders Ferry Campground Info

Suitable for: RVs of any size

Grinders Ferry lies right off Highway 65 and is definitely the most accessible site on this list. There are no steep gravel descents or blind turns at Grinders Ferry. You basically just pull off the blacktop, and you’re there. Any size RV can find a spot here, and you’ll see plenty of other campers along the gravel bar. 

It’s essential to remember that because it is a gravel bar, conditions can change with the river. The gravel is packed solid and usually remains tight, but floods and high water can knock it out of place. This can make getting stuck a possibility, so always check the conditions before you pull in. 

There are no designated campsites, fire rings, or picnic tables. However, the bar is pleasantly laid out and interspersed with shady trees offering privacy and protection from the heat. No matter where you park, you’ll have a lovely view of the water and easy access to swimming, fishing, and floating. 

Getting to Grinders Ferry Campground

GPS Coordinates: 35.98506666083912, -92.74398244285325 

From St. Joe, head south on US Highway 65 for about 5.5 miles. Grinders Ferry will be on your left after you pass the bridge over the river. You’ll see a large sign at the entrance. The road in is paved for about a tenth of a mile and empties out right into the gravel bar. 

4. Free Buffalo River RV Camping at Gilbert Gravel Bar 

Gilbert Gravel Bar is the place to be if you’re planning a float trip or meeting up with a group of floaters. It’s also just the place to be, period — pristine water, easy road access, and free RV camping ensure it ranks among my top summertime haunts every year.

Gilbert Gravel Bar Campground Info

Suitable for: RVs under 25 feet

Gilbert Gravel Bar is a large, packed gravel bar similar to Grinders Ferry, but it features a fair bit of sand to enjoy along with the rocks. This makes it seem more like a beachside oasis than a riverside campground, and it’s a much-appreciated break from the hard, rocky ground you’ll usually find along the Buffalo. 

The campsite is right outside the town of Gilbert and has access to several unique hiking trails. You could set off on the Old Railroad Trail to see the defunct Arkansas rail line ending at Red Bluff over the Buffalo or head out on the Ozark Highlands Trail to reach Shine Eye.  

The site is a center point for hiking and floating, but the gravel bar itself is pretty small and only has room for a few RVs. Spots are limited, and it’s first come, first served. That being said, it’s usually empty on weekdays. 

Many people forego boondocking at Gilbert Gravel Bar in favor of the lux amenities at Gilbert RV Campground just a quarter-mile up the road. This is also an excellent private campground that does feature electric, water, and trash services — so if the gravel bar is a no-go, you can always head here instead. 

Getting to Gilbert Gravel Bar Campground

GPS Coordinates: 35.98905311611329, -92.71668389882944

From St. Joe, head south on US Highway 65 for about three miles. Take a left on AR Highway 333 and go another three and a half miles. Then, take a right on Frost Street. Go about a quarter-mile, and the road dead-ends at the gravel bar. 

5. Free Buffalo River RV Camping at Shine Eye

Shine Eye will undoubtedly make your peepers go misty. Massive bluffs line the river here, with extensive beaches to relax in and azure waters reminiscent of a Caribbean paradise. Strategically placed along several hiking trails, Shine Eye is one of the best spots in the whole region for outdoor activities. 

Shine Eye campground offers some of the most breathtaking views on the Buffalo. 

Shine Eye Campground Info

Suitable for: RVs under 20 feet

Shine Eye is a popular day-use area on the Buffalo and lies just across the river from Grinders Ferry. The road is easily accessible for anyone, but the parking area at the end is small. There is only one designated campsite with a picnic table and fire ring, but you’re one lucky puppy if you manage to nab it. 

From the parking area, you can head down to the river. It’s a short but relatively steep climb, and you must be reasonably fit to make it. However, it’s more than worth the effort when you reach pay dirt at the bottom. 

Shine Eye is the largest recreational gravel bar area on this portion of the Buffalo. It features two distinct bluffs interspersed with jaw-dropping geometric rockfall formations, all casting delightful reflections on a still morning. Quick-flowing rivulets empty into swirling eddies perfect for tubing, floating, and swimming. 

Getting to Shine Eye Campground

GPS Coordinates: 35.98852112941303, -92.73461493158166

From St. Joe, head south on US Highway 65 for about five miles. You’ll take Shine Eye Road on your lefthand side right before the bridge. After a mile, the road will dead-end in the parking lot and campsite area. 

Ready to hit the river? I can’t blame you. Now that you know the best spots for free RV camping in the Buffalo National River area, you’re all set to get wet and wild in any season.

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