Now that I live in New York City, I don’t drive anywhere. My car sits idle and the most wildlife I get to see on any given day is the abundance of pigeons in Central Park. One of the things I miss most about living in the Natural State is being able to round up some friends, grab my trusty mutt, hop in the car, and just go for a classic Arkansas scenic drive.
When it’s late summer, absolutely sweltering outside and far too hot for a hike, or when it’s a cool and misty autumn day but I still want the chance to see Arkansas’s stunning foliage, the best thing to do is load the car and go for a cruise.
Arkansas is so naturally beautiful that just your drive to the grocery store could be a treat, but in case you need more than just a couple miles of nature and serenity, here are some of the best scenic drives in Arkansas for motorists and motorcyclists alike.
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The Best Scenic Drives in Arkansas
In no particular order, and with each route offering a unique landscape, you’ll want to check out all of these amazing Arkansas scenic byways!
Scenic 7 Byway
What better place to start this list than with Arkansas’s first scenic byway! Scenic 7 Byway is a 290-mile route that stretches from the Louisiana state border to Harrison, Arkansas – going darn-near straight through the middle of the state!
Driving along the Scenic 7 Byway will take you through four of Arkansas’s distinct natural geographic regions. Starting down near the Louisiana border, you’ll pass through the West Gulf Coastal Plain region, where you’ll likely get a view of some Loblolly shortleaf pine trees – the Arkansas state tree! As you travel north, you’ll enter the Ouachita Mountains, then pass through to the Arkansas River Valley, and end in the Ozark Mountains.
The Scenic 7 Byway is a wonderful drive, offering travelers the opportunity to see Arkansas’s diverse landscape!
Boston Mountains Scenic Loop
The Boston Mountains Scenic Loop is formed by two state scenic byways – U.S. 71 and Interstate 49. Both of these byways start near my neck of the woods, in Alma, and run up to Fayetteville.
U.S. 71 is 42 miles long and Interstate 49 is 38 miles long. The Boston Mountains are the highest point in the Ozark Mountains, making this byway one of the coolest sights in the state.
Driving along with Boston Mountains Scenic Loop offers twists and turns of gorgeous views. U.S. 71 and Interstate 49 are two of my family’s favorite drives for taking in the Ozarks’ fall foliage, and could be your family’s new annual tradition too!
Crowley’s Ridge Parkway
The Arkansas portion of Crowley’s Ridge Parkway is 198 miles of Eastern Arkansas goodness. Starting at the St. Francis River near the Missouri border and winding all the way to Helena, Arkansas, Crowley’s Ridge Parkway is the perfect way to see Crowley’s Ridge and Arkansas delta regions!
Crowley’s Ridge is one of Arkansas’s six natural geographic distinctions, positioned above the Mississippi Alluvial Plain, commonly referred to as the delta, and is characterized by the juxtaposition of lush hardwood forests and agricultural land.
This drive along the Parkway will take you past seven Arkansas state parks and through the St. Francis National Forest! Pack your hiking boots if you’re in the mood to hop and explore the abundance of trails along this journey.
This drive is a real gem! Starting in one of my all-time favorite towns, Hot Springs, and trailing westward over the state line, this 100-mile excursion is sure to please.
Drive through historic Hot Springs and the glorious Hot Springs National Park and then continue through the Ouachita National Forest to Page, Oklahoma.
Pass through Mt. Ida, an old silver mining town and the quartz capital of the United States! Leave nothing but tire tracks and take nothing but pictures – except maybe some quartz.
Buffalo Hills Scenic Drive
For a quick trip, hop on the Buffalo Hills Scenic drive, a 19-mile section of Scenic 7 Byway, which will take you from Harrison to Jasper. Aptly named, this drive will take you over the famed Buffalo River – America’s first national river!
You’ll also pass through Marble Falls, Arkansas (the town formerly known as Dogpatch), and can see the glorious Marble Falls waterfall. The Buffalo is hallowed land to Arkansas natives, and a quick trip on this byway will show you precisely why.
Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Follow the grand Mississippi along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway! This byway passes through ten U.S. states, with the Arkansas portion of the journey will take you straight down through Eastern Arkansas.
Much like the Crowley’s Ridge Parkway, the Great River Road transverses the Crowley’s Ridge geographical region of the state, as well as parts of the St. Francis National Forest. Snap some photos of the region’s magnificent waterfowl on your way through!
Interstate 530 Scenic Byway
Fifteen miles of Interstate 530 has been designated as a scenic byway, and it’s no surprise as to why! This 15-mile stretch between White Hall to Pine Bluff greets travelers with handsome delta and beautiful bayou views. Pine Bluff is a town full of rich history, so hop out of the ol’ jalopy and explore a bit!
Mount Magazine Scenic Byway
Voyage down the 45-mile Mount Magazine Scenic Byway for breathtaking views from Arkansas’s highest point. Starting in Havana, Arkansas, this scenic byway takes you up through Mount Magazine State Park, and then down through the charming town of Paris, Arkansas.
You can pass by the miniature Eiffel Tower in downtown Paris – a close second to the city of lights. The Mount Magazine Scenic Byway takes you through 25 miles of the Ozark National Forest, then unfolding to showcase the state’s archetypal agricultural land.
Spot the glistening Arkansas River right before reaching the end of the byway in Webb City, Arkansas.
Mount Magazine is where my husband and I exchanged our vows, taking in the overlook’s beauty in sheer nuptial bliss. Cruise this route and you’ll see why we chose this spectacular spot.
Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway
The Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway starts in the Ozarks at Clarksville, Arkansas, and leads motorists through 35 miles of striking forest and to the Buffalo National River.
If this glorious drive leaves you wanting more, you can hop on the Scenic 7 Byway near Ponca, Arkansas, or take Interstate 40 to Ozark, Arkansas to drive the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, which runs parallel to the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway.
No matter what route you take, you’ll be sure to encounter some truly unforgettable views.
Pig Trail Scenic Byway
An Arkansas classic and a personal favorite of mine is the Pig Trail Scenic Byway, a 19-mile stretch of forested road that takes you through the Boston Mountains region of the Ozark Mountains.
With the lush forest forming tunnels overhead, and the Mulberry River rushing by, you may even forget that you are in your car! There are plenty of spots to throw on your hazards and hop out to snap some photos or just take in your surroundings.
During the fall, this is one of my family’s favorite routes for getting out and into the mountains.
Sylamore Scenic Byway
You can start your journey down the Sylamore Scenic Byway by visiting the Blanchard Springs Caverns, then starting up your engine and traveling this 26.5-mile stretch through North-Central Arkansas.
Besides the breathtaking Ozark views, you will also be able to stop off at the Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View for some folksy art, music, and education, go trout fishing in the White River, or embrace the chill up your spine at Calico Rock’s ghost town – the country’s only ghost town within a town…town-ception.
Talimena Scenic Byway
Cruise the Ouachita Mountains by way of this Scenic Byway! The Talimena National Scenic Byway is a total of 54 miles, but if you want to keep it in-state you’ll still have 18 miles from the Arkansas-Oklahoma state line to Mena, Arkansas. Or you can continue on the scenic drive in Oklahoma.
Meander through the Ouachita National Forest, ascend Arkansas’s second-highest point, and check out Queen Wilhelmina State Park, all without even unbuckling your seatbelt.
See the Ouachitas’ characteristic Paleozoic rocks and stunning mountain vistas, look out your window for views of red-tailed and red-shouldered hawks, ominous turkey vultures, and even majestic eagles.
See if you can catch a glimpse of one of Arkansas’s secretive black bears, or if you’re driving the byway after dark, listen closely to see if you can hear the howl of the coyotes.
West–Northwest Scenic Byway
Have a lot of time on your hands? Then pack your snacks for the road and buckle up for the 261-mile West-Northwest Scenic Byway!
Most of this trek lies within the Ouachita National Forest, the oldest and largest National Forest in the South, and takes its travelers through Arkansas’s Ouachita Mountains. The name Ouachita comes from Caddo and Choctaw words meaning “good hunting grounds,” so you know you’re bound to see some extraordinary wildlife along this byway!
Caddo Gap is about 15 miles from Mount Ida, Arkansas, and is near the Caddo River, a popular destination for water sport enthusiasts. If you’re looking for a way to unwind after a long day of kayaking in the southern sun, or looking to bypass the crowds altogether while still getting your fill of nature, then the Caddo Gap is the perfect place to begin your vehicular quest!
From here, you can hop onto U.S. 270 and travel up to U.S. 71. From there you can travel up into the beautifully rugged Boston Mountains.
Lake Chicot Loop
At just 22 miles, this loop is the perfect round-trip drive for a quick excursion into Arkansas’s wilderness. Starting and ending in Lake Village, Arkansas, Lake Chicot Loop circumnavigates part of Lake Chicot, the largest natural lake in the state.
This lake is also one of the largest flyways in the United States, so be sure to check it out in the fall and winter for diverse bird watching!
If you finish driving the loop and are left longing for more, you can pitch a tent or rent a rustic cabin at the Lake Chicot State Park to take advantage of all this park has to offer.
Two Mountain Way
View the mountains and then bring it on home – this scenic drive takes you from Mountain View, Arkansas to Mountain Home, Arkansas, and is 48 miles of not-to-be-missed sightseeing in between!
Taking you along AR-5 and AR-201, Two Mountain Way follows the White River, known for its bountiful trout fishing.
Start out by spelunking the Blanchard Springs Caverns in Mountain View, then snake through the eastern portion of the Ozark National Forest. Be on the lookout for waterfowl and the characteristic knees of the bald cypress trees along the river.
Capital to Holla Bend
Start in Arkansas’s capital city of Little Rock for this trip, and travel 96 miles along the edge of the Ouachita National Forest up to Holla Bend, Arkansas.
Grab a bite at one of Little Rock’s many incredible local eateries to fuel up for your adventure to Holla Bend.
Once you reach the end of the road, check out the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, right off the Arkansas River. This is the perfect place to see migratory birds, beavers, and river otters during the winter, and abundant white-tailed deer year-round.
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Kendall Davis is originally from Fort Smith, Arkansas, and graduated from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. She currently lives in New York City with her husband and their dog, Scout.