In the Midwest, deciduous trees put on a spectacular display of color. Leaf viewing is one of the easiest (and least expensive) ways to experience America’s awe-inspiring natural beauty. Take a weekend day trip and explore some of the country’s most beautiful autumn foliage on these dreamy road trips.
Scenic 7: Among the Most Scenic Drives in America
Drive Scenic Byway 7 in Arkansas, the state’s first state-designated scenic byway, and travel through four of the state’s varied geographical regions.
Arguably one of the most scenic drives in America, the route begins on the south end within the West Gulf Coastal Plain, a region that saw an oil boom beginning in 1921 near El Dorado. It continues to Camden and on to Arkadelphia through rolling terrain with dense pine forests and stream valleys with bottomland hardwood forests. Near Arkadelphia, the route enters the Ouachita Mountains, famous for their quartz crystals, and passes by DeGray Lake, home of Arkansas’s only resort state park. At Hot Springs, the byway journeys through the historic downtown and immediately in front of the famed Bathhouse Row of Hot Springs National Park. Continuing though the forested Ouachitas, it passes through the Ouachita National Forest and by Lake Nimrod, then reaches Russellville and crosses the more level terrain of the Arkansas River Valley.
Leaving the valley, Scenic 7 ascends into the Ozark Mountains, famous for fall foliage, and the Ozark National Forest, and passes through the mountain town of Jasper along the Buffalo National River on its way to Harrison.
On the left is the Northern Route of the trip, and to the right is the Southern Route.
Scenic 7 can also be connected to two other Arkansas scenic byways: the West-Northwest Scenic Byway (it intersects in Ola) and the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway (at Jasper take Arkansas State Highway 74 to Ponca, then 43 to the top of the route).
Boston Mountains Scenic Loop/U.S. Highway 71 and Interstate 49
Two very different roads crossing the highest part of the Ozark Mountains combine to make the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop one of The Natural State’s most interesting driving tours and most scenic motorcycle rides.
Both routes offer impressive mountain vistas. I-49 offers a good look at the countryside while scaling high-span bridges and the state’s only highway tunnel; the Boston Loop on U.S. 71 offers many locations to pull off the road and commune with the mountains. There are also plenty of opportunities along the route to go hiking in the Ozarks.
Mount Magazine Scenic Byway
From Havana, the Arkansas State Highway 309 / Mount Magazine Scenic Byway quickly begins its ascent through the forests on the slopes of Mount Magazine, the highest peak in Arkansas at 2,753 feet.
At the top you’ll find Mount Magazine State Park, which includes a full service lodge, conference center, restaurant, indoor pool, and hot tub, plus fully-equipped cabins with fireplaces and hot tubs on the deck overlooking the river valley. Park roads lead to overlooks with expansive views of Blue Mountain Lake and the Ouachita Mountains to the south and of the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark Mountains to the north. A park trail provides access to the state’s high point.
West-Northwest Scenic Byway
The West-Northwest Scenic Byway was designated a state scenic byway in 2005 and encompasses 261 miles of interconnected highways. The route is unique in the fact that it travels through the Ouachita Mountains, the only mountain range in North America that stretches from east to west, and also that it travels both north-south and east-west in the southwest corner of the state.
Starting in Ola, travel Arkansas State Highway 10 west. Along this section you’ll go through the towns of Danville, Havana, Waveland, Magazine, Booneville and Greenwood. To the south is the Ouachita National Forest, and the Ozark National Forest is north of the route. To continue into Oklahoma from Greenwood, take the Highway 10 exit (toward Hackett, “Old Hackett Road”) which will feed out onto Highway 10 (or Excelsior Road). Follow to the Oklahoma border. Watch out for the right turn in Hackett! Arkansas State Highway 10 turns into Oklahoma State Highway 120.
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway is the first National Scenic Byway in the state and roughly runs the length of its namesake – Crowley’s Ridge. It begins in the northeast corner at St. Francis, winding its way alongside the ridge through some of the most fertile areas of Arkansas,to its southern-most terminus at West Helena.
Eastern Arkansas lies within the nation’s largest alluvial plain, a vast flatland leveled over eons by the erosive floods, depositions of silt and course changes of the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
Contained within the Delta’s level expanse, Crowley’s Ridge rises as much as 200 feet above the surrounding terrain and stretches from Malden, Missouri to Helena, Arkansas. It was formed when the ancestral Mississippi and Ohio rivers eroded away the land on each side and deposits of wind-blown soils added height to the remnant ridge. A magnet for human settlement, the ridge was named after Benjamin Crowley, who moved there in 1800 to escape flooding in the Delta lowlands.
Talimena National Scenic Byway
From Mena, the Talimena Scenic Drive/Arkansas State Highway 88 Scenic Byway travels northwest and quickly enters the Ouachita National Forest, climbing Rich Mountain, Arkansas’s second highest peak at 2,681 feet, and passing through Queen Wilhelmina State Park on its way to the Oklahoma border 18 miles to the west. The drive then continues along the Rich and Winding Stair mountains all the way to Talihina, OK. The route offers mountain vistas unsurpassed in mid-America of forested peaks and valleys, lakes and streams. The drive is especially picturesque when the surrounding mountains are clad in spring and autumn foliage and when it sits above clouds and fog in the lower valleys.