The Buffalo River is the longest unimpounded river in Middle Tennessee in the United States, flowing 125 miles (201 km) through the southern and western portions of that region. It is the largest tributary of the Duck River and is used for canoeing, especially in its middle section. The river is named for the Buffalo fish which was abundant when the first European settlers arrived.
From the confluence, the Buffalo trends basically northwest for several miles, crossing into Lewis County, where it is crossed by the Natchez Trace Parkway. The confluence with the Little Buffalo River is in Lewis County as well, along with that of several other more minor tributaries. The stream is paralleled for a distance and then crossed by State Route 99 while flowing through the broad Texas Bottoms. In Lewis County, although meandering, the course of the stream is basically westward. Entering into northern Wayne County, the stream receives several more tributaries, most notably the Green River.
A few miles below the mouth of the Green River near the community of Flatwoods, the Buffalo is bridged by State Route 13 and then turns to run a northerly course for the balance of its flow. It also crosses into Perry County near here. For most of its flow through Perry County, the Buffalo is roughly paralleled by State Route 13. Shortly after crossing into Humphreys County, it is bridged by Interstate 40 followed by Bakerville Rd. About 8 miles north of this is its confluence with the Duck.
The upper part of the Buffalo River, in Lawrence County, is designated as a "State Scenic River" under the Tennessee Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
The only incorporated towns along the Buffalo, Linden and Lobelville, are located in Perry County. Two unincorporated communities are adjacent to the river in Perry County, Flatwoods and Beardstown.
The Buffalo River watershed is the total land area that drains into the Buffalo River. It is designated as Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 06040004 by the USGS. It empties into watershed 06040003, the Lower Duck River watershed.
The Buffalo River watershed is composed of three sub-watersheds; two sections of the Buffalo River and the Cane Creek sub-watershed. The southeastern part of the Buffalo River watershed is HUC 0604000401. It includes the headwaters of the Buffalo plus the Little Buffalo River and both Chief Creek and Fortyeight Creek. The western side and northern one-third of the watershed is HUC 0604000402. It reaches from the Green River in Wayne County at the southern end to the mouth of the Buffalo in Humphreys County. Cane Creek, the third part of the watershed is HUC 0604000403. It includes both Upper and Lower Cane Creek and stretches from the headwaters of Cane Creek near Hohenwald in Lewis County to the mouth of Cane Creek at Beardstown in Perry County.
The Buffalo River watershed contains 1,200 miles of tributary streams and 349 lake acres of impounded water in ponds and water stored behind 10 dams. These dams are primarily in the southeastern portion of the watershed. The majority of the impounded water is in Laurel Hill Lake with 329 acres (133 ha) plus an additional 22 acres (8.9 ha) in the VFW Lake. TDEC has also identified some wetlands sites in the southeastern portion of the watershed.
Land within the watershed is primarily forested land; 69% being deciduous, 3% is evergreen, and 4% is mixed forest. The second significant land use is agricultural crops. Pasture and hay fields account for 10% of the area while row crops occupy another 8%. Residential and commercial areas occupy less than 0.5% of the land.
The soil in the watershed is primarily loam with some silty loam. The soil pH varies from about 4.85 to 5.45. Portions of the area are characterized by karst topography.
The Buffalo is rich in aquatic life. Fishing it through passive methods such as limb and trot lines is traditional. There are many catfish and other non-game fish such as drum. The largest aquatic animal often found in the Buffalo is the alligator snapping turtle; which is in fact often caught (unintentionally for the most part) on trot and limb lines. These can easily weigh 50 pounds (23 kg) or more.
TDEC lists 48 rare plant and animal species in the watershed. Rarity typically results from either a small population or a very restricted range. The non-aquatic species include 18 plants, one mammal, three birds, two reptiles, one amphibian, three insects and spiders, and one other invertebrate, There are 20 aquatic species associated with the river or its tributaries; 12 fish, one crustacean, three mussels, and four snails.
Identified rare fish in the Buffalo include eight varieties of Darters, one catfish (Saddled Madtom), and one Cavefish (Southern Cavefish). Most of the identified darters are listed as either Threatened or Endangered by either the State or Federal government.Ammocrypta vivax, Scaly Sand Darter
Cyprinella monacha, Spotfin Chub – Federal Threatened status
Etheostoma aquali, Coppercheek Darter – State level Threatened status
Etheostoma boschungi, Slackwater Darter – Federal Threatened status
Etheostoma cinereum, Ashy Darter – State level Threatened status
Etheostoma denoncourti, Golden Darter
Etheostoma pseudovulatum, Egg-Mimic Darter – State level Endangered status
Percina burtoni, Blotchside Darter
Percina macrocephala, Longhead Darter – State level Threatened status
The Alabama crayfish, Orconectes alabamensis is a rare crayfish species found near the Buffalo.
Three species of mussels are among the rare species listed by TDEC. Both the Cracking Pearly Mussel and the Pale Lilliput are listed by both State and Federal authorities as Endangered.Hemistena lata, Cracking Pearly Mussel
Quadrilla cylindrical cylindrical, Rabbitsfoot
Toxolasma cylindrellus, Pale Lilliput
Four species of rare snails are found near the Buffalo; none of them are included by TDEC on species concerns lists.Leptoxis praerosa, Onyx Rocksnail
Lithasia duttoniana, Helmet Rocksnail
Lithasia geniculata fuliginosa, Geniculate Rocksnail
Lithasia geniculata fulginosa, Geniculate Riversnail
All except a very small section on the southern end of the watershed is part of the Western Highland Rim, one of 25 Level IV subecoregions in the state. The dissected, rolling terrain in this area is of long ridges with fairly steep sides and deeply eroded hollows into those ridges, with the river in a wide flood plain of "bottom land". The elevation typically varies from 400 to 1,000 feet (120 to 300 m).
The predominant geology of the area is that of Paleozoic limestones. The Mississippian limestone base along with chert and shale is overlaid by fairly thin soils of moderate fertility that tend to be acidic. Much of the diffential erosion leading to the terrain features is a result of the differences in deposition and mineralization of the various types of limestone in the area and the presence of large portions of chert. Some chert bears small quantities of the iron-containing mineral hematite or other oxides of iron. During the mid-to-late 19th century there was considerable iron-ore related mining and smelting of Limonite ore.
The sizable tributary streams mostly flow out of fairly narrow hollows into the Buffalo; only the largest ones have true stream valleys of their own. Streams are fairly clear with a moderate gradient.
Canoeing float trips make a considerable contribution to the area's economy, which is fairly depressed compared to that of the state as a whole because of the general remoteness of the area. The Middle Tennessee Council of the Boy Scouts of America operates Grimes Canoe Base along the Buffalo in southern Perry County. A number of businesses provide commercial canoe and float access to the river for tourists. The river is primarily a Class I stream with significant stretches of flat water. Free float tubing is feasible in selected portions of the river.
There are three trails associated with the river.Buffalo River – Perry County – A scenic water trail through nature – 37.87 miles (60.95 km)
Ladies Bluff Trail – Perry County – A scenic, hiking, wilderness trail – 2 miles (3.2 km) – Partially ADA compliant
Linden City Park Walking Trail – Perry County – Health and fitness trail 0.2 miles (320 m) – ADA compliant
Metal Ford is accessible from the Natchez Trace Parkway about 3.4 miles (5.5 km) south of Tennessee State Route 20.
Lobelville, TN, Near Old TN-13 is a put in place with a 4 mile float to Cuba Landing Road (small fee required for takeout).