Talimena Scenic Byway

Arkansas Scenic Drives

Here's the auto tour you've been waiting for, where a winding mountaintop drive opens a showcase of enchanting natural beauty and extraordinary views. Wide valleys and majestic peaks stretching to the horizon mirror the changing colors and moods of the South's four distinctive seasons.

Spanning the highest mountain range between the Appalachians and the Rockies, the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Byway opens a showcase of natural beauty during each of the south's four distinctive seasons. One breathtaking panorama follows another as this national forest scenic byway winds along the crests of forested mountains between Mena, AR, and Talihina, OK. Whether in search of quiet beauty or active participation, this mountaintop drive offers something special around every turn.

The Ouachita Mountains, one of America's oldest land masses, are unique because they stretch east and west, rather than north and south. Rock glaciers are indicative of the fascinating geological history of these mountains. More than 2,500 native plant species and a diversity of wildlife species may be found here.

Just north of the town of Mena, the scenic byway meanders westward along the crest of Rich Mountain past a historical fire tower. At 2,681 feet, this is the highest peak on the Ouachita National Forest, the oldest and largest national forest in the South.

Atop Rich Mountain is one of the more picturesque attractions along the scenic byway, Queen Wilhelmina State Park, operated by the Arkansas Parks Department. The park offers a picnic area, miniature scenic railroad, animal park, miniature golf course near the campground and interpretive naturalist program.

The most popular feature is the historic hotel, Queen Wilhelmina Inn. Destroyed by fire in 1973, the Inn has been reconstructed in a style that reflects its stately history. Guest accommodations, a restaurant and meeting room make it an ideal stop for travelers.

Continuing westward, Pioneer Cemetery is the next historical site before crossing the state line into Oklahoma. Part of the rugged Ouachita National Recreation Trail parallels the scenic byway here and then retreats into the valley below.

Almost midpoint on the scenic byway, the Kerr Nature Center nestles between the mountains. This interpretive complex serves as an outdoor laboratory designed to stimulate the visitor's curiosity and awareness of the environment. The Kerr Nature Center, exhibit pavilion and self-guided trails interpret the natural world of the forest for general visitors, students and teachers. Educational, scientific, cultural and recreational concepts are presented to promote development and growth of young and old alike.

Two miles west of the nature center, the scenic byway crosses U.S. Highway 259 before beginning its climb along the spine of Winding Stair Mountains. Here, Emerald Vista provides a spectacular sweeping view of the Poteau River Valley, Lake Wister and Cedar Lake Recreation Area. This recreation area, situated on the shores of a beautiful 90-acre lake, is only a few miles north of the scenic byway. Camping, swimming, picnicking, fishing, and both interpretive and equestrian trails are available.

Adjacent to Emerald Vista, Winding Stair Campground offers facilities for overnight camping, with tent and camper spaces and restrooms.

Continuing along the ridge of Winding Stair Mountain, the byway passes Horsethief Springs and Old Military Road Historical Sites before coming to an end near the town of Talihina, OK. Located 2 miles south of the scenic byway on U.S. 271 is Talimena State Park, offering camping (with hookups), picnicking, hiking and playground facilities.

Billy Creek Recreation Area, a few miles south of the scenic byway along OK Highway 63, features camping, picnicking, fishing and hiking in an attractive forest setting.

Visitor information stations are at each end of the scenic byway—Mena in Arkansas, and near Talihina, OK. They are open daily from April through November. Brochures, maps and interpretive information are available to open gates of learning and enhance your enjoyment of the forest environment.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 20 May 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »