words Jill Rohrbach, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
images courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
The Natural State has its noted drives: Scenic 7 Byway in the Ozarks, the Talimena National Scenic Byway in the Ouachitas, Crowley’s Ridge National Scenic Parkway in the Delta, the Pig Trail in the Ozarks, and the Great River Road National Scenic Byway in the Delta, just to name a few. But there are numerous back roads that traverse the best of small town Arkansas while affording some of the most beautiful scenery the state has to offer.
I decided to ask the people who know Arkansas the best – some of my co-workers at the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism whose job it is to promote The Natural State – to find out their favorite “off the beaten path” scenic drive. Below are their suggestions.
Richard W. Davies, executive director:
“I like Ark. 22 from Dardanelle through Subiaco to Paris. It’s a mixture of pastures and mountains that is just, well, scenic, and Ark. 21 out of Clarksville to Ponca is often overshadowed by the Pig Trail, and it can be spectacular.”
Joe David Rice, tourism director:
“Arkansas 16 from Clinton all the way to Fayetteville can be spectacular when conditions are just right. It’s a nice quiet drive through the very heart of the Ozarks, winding through quaint little towns like Crabtree, Ben Hur, Deer, Fallsville, and a dozen or so others. Also, the roads in Village Creek State Park near Wynne are an unexpected fall delight in eastern Arkansas. Stop in at the Park and visit The Ridges at Village Creek golf course even if you don’t play the game. The scenery is gorgeous.”
Leah DiPietro, communications manager
“The fall color on U.S. 64 traveling west from Russellville to Altus can be quite beautiful, and I’ve enjoyed many trips on this route. Start the day at Lake Dardanelle State Park off Marina Road in Russellville, with its gorgeous views of one of the most popular lakes in the state. The park’s lakeshore visitor center includes interpretive exhibits that share information about the park and the area’s history. Hiking trails and rental kayaks are also available. After leaving the park, turn left onto Marina Road and follow it to the end, and then take another left onto U.S. 64 west, which will lead you straight to the Altus wine country. Six wineries now operate in the Altus area, and each provides free tours with tasting rooms. The downtown pays tribute to the area’s coal mining history while offering visitors unique shopping experiences in a classic square setting.”
A.C. “Chuck” Haralson, chief photographer:
“Take Ark. 7 to Jasper where you can grab a great meal at the historic Ozark Café or overlook the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks while dining at the Cliff House Inn and Restaurant, then go right on Ark. 74 east, a favorite of motorcyclists, with scenic overlooks, windy roads, and not much traffic. Take Ark. 74 to Ark. 374 west for more nice scenery and a view of Red Rocks, also a favorite of motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts. From there go south on Ark. 7 to Lurton and take Ark. 123 to make a side trip to Sam’s Throne parking lot from which a short hike takes you to great rock formations and an awesome overlook of Sam’s Throne. Continue north back up to U.S. 65.
”Another one is from Mountain View; take Ark. 9 south to Ark. 263 to Ark. 14 then go east to Ark. 341 for a less traveled route with some nice overlooks and great roads. Continue north to Ark. 201 into Mountain Home.”
Casey Crocker, visual coordinator/photographer:
“My suggestion is good for both tourists and even for those who commute to Little Rock from Conway and surrounding areas. I think the drive is pleasant and conducive to motorcyclists or others who want a different view than the one from Interstate 40. After crossing the Arkansas River, take the first Maumelle exit and follow Ark. 365 north towards Conway. You’ll be driving alongside Lake Conway on this road where you’ll find many places to stop, look at birds, fish or explore. Then past Conway, there are two choices that can turn the excursion into an overnighter. Take either U.S. 64 east towards Vilonia and head up Ark. 36 to Harriet, enjoying a gorgeous view along the way until it junctions with Ark. 5, which goes north to Heber Springs. Or take U.S. 64 west and follow it to Ark. 9, spending the evening around Greers Ferry.
Jill Rohrbach, travel writer for Northwest Arkansas:
I think the Old 71 (Boston Mountains Scenic Loop/U.S. 71) and I-49 are beautiful. And, it’s unique because U.S. 71 is less traveled now and gives a more intimate feel while the interstate gives sweeping vistas. Or how about Ark. 154 up and over Petit Jean; Ark. 74 along the Buffalo National River; Ark. 59 from Siloam Springs to Fort Smith (not to be confused with the Hwy. 59 on the Oklahoma side); Ark. 10 from Greenwood to Havana; or Ark. 16 from Fayetteville to Greers Ferry?”
Kimberly Williams, travel writer for
“One of my favorite drives is Ark. 147 around Horseshoe Lake between West Memphis and Hughes. The road winds around the lake, which is so pretty, and then it crisscrosses through Delta farmland. There is a beautiful pecan grove that’s probably over 200 years old. The drive also highlights some of the richest soil in the Arkansas Delta—and the fields around you are abundant with the crops of the season. There are old abandoned shotgun houses and general stores that remind drivers the area was once a bustling agricultural community.”
Zoie Clift, travel writer for Southern Arkansas:
“I’ve always found U.S. 82 to be interesting. It traverses the whole southern section of the state providing an opportunity to see varied terrain, small towns, nice state parks (Logoly, Moro Bay, Lake Chicot) in the region. Extend your trip by getting a cabin at Moro Bay State Park or a waterfront one at Lake Chicot State Park. I think if you stay on it the whole width of the state, starting at Texarkana to the Mississippi River, it’s around 200 miles in length.”
Kerry Kraus, travel writer for Central Arkansas:
“I have two favorites for Central Arkansas. One is Ark. 10 west after you get past all the population of west Little Rock. Heading toward Pinnacle Mountain and Lake Maumelle is always a pretty drive but is really special in the fall. By the time you reach that area, you’re in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains and the scenery is rolling hills and an abundance of trees. Ark. 10 ends at Ark. 9, also a scenic drive. If you head north on Ark. 9, you’ll come to the pretty little town of Perryville where you’ll find a quaint museum and a really good restaurant in Mustang Sally’s.
Another personal preference is U.S. 165 southeast out of Little Rock. It takes you through the farmlands of Scott and Keo, two special small towns in Central Arkansas. You’re in the flatlands, so it’s a different type of scenic drive. The crops take on a color all their own and the fields stretch out before you. At Scott, you can stop at the Plantation Agriculture Museum and Toltec Mounds Archeological State Park, and Scott Plantation Settlement. Stop in for a hubcap burger at Cotham’s, a historic general store and restaurant. In Keo, you can visit an antiquer’s heaven at Morris Antiques, with 60,000-sqare-feet of shopping bliss. Top your day off with a piece of prize-winning pie at Charlotte’s Eats and Sweets.
For more information on autumn activities,
additional scenic drives and fall color updates,
go to www.Arkansas.com/fall.