Scenic 7 Byway – Meandering Thru Arkansas

 

Arkansas View

An early morning view east of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Kathy Weiser, November 2009. Click for prints, downloads, and products.

Named by many as one of the ten most beautiful drives in all of the USA, the Scenic 7 Byway passes through Arkansas’ varied geographical regions with views of coastal plains, rolling hills, dense pine forests, and mountain ranges. The entire route passing from north to south through central Arkansas was designated as the state’s first scenic byway and runs from Diamond City, Arkansas near the Missouri State Line to the Louisiana State line near El Dorado, Arkansas.

The entire length of the byway is 290 miles, so plan on making a leisurely drive and enjoy the journey through this varied and beautiful state. Along the way, you will drive through the beautiful Ozark and Ouachita Mountains with dramatic mountain views and have the opportunity to visit numerous historical and scenic attractions.

If you’re looking for a shorter drive, approximately sixty miles of the Arkansas Route has been designated by the US Forest Service as a National Scenic Byway. This piece of the highway will pass through the Ozark and Ouachita National Forests where you can see distinctive mountain scenery and, if you are traveling during the fall, see the outstanding colors of the changing leaves within your mountain forest views. Along the trek, there are numerous recreation areas that provide opportunities for camping, hiking, mountain biking, canoeing and horseback riding.

Either way, you travel this beautiful scenic byway, this is a drive that you will long treasure and remember.

Begin the full journey at Bull Shoals Lake near Diamond City where you will soon begin to meander through the Boston Range of the Ozark Mountains. The route will provide you a number of opportunities to explore unspoiled scenic landscapes where you will view cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, and wildlife.

Dogpatch, USA was once a popular amusement park in Arkansas.

Dogpatch, USA was once a popular amusement park in Arkansas.

Continuing south you will notice the closed theme park of  Dogpatch, U.S.A. between Harrison and Jasper. Conceived in 1967 by a Harrison businessman, the 825-acre tract was built around Al Capp’s comic strip “Li’l Abner,” known in the comic strip as the most miserable place on earth. Dogpatch was an extremely popular attraction at one time but, with the rise of nearby Branson, Missouri, it was abandoned in 1993.

In the heart of the Ozark Mountains lies the Mystic Caverns, about eight miles south of Harrison. A “must-see” along your journey, the caverns offer a commercial tour of two caves at one location.

The upper-level cavern, discovered in the 1850s was opened to visitors in the 1920s. Though their entrances are only 400 feet apart, the lower level cavern, called Crystal Dome, wasn’t discovered until 1968, nearly 100 years after the upper-level cavern. The lower level cavern opened for tours in 1981. Tours are available beginning at 9 a.m., daily, from March 1 through December 31.

Next, you will enter the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, which are generously endowed with recreational opportunities for camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, hunting, boating, scenic drives, picnics sites, and opportunities for wildlife viewing also abound. The Ozark National Forest covers 1.2 million acres, mostly in the Ozark Mountains of northern Arkansas. You’ll find the tallest mountain in the State, Mount Magazine, and an incredible, living underground cave–Blanchard Springs Caverns. The St. Francis National Forest covers 22,600 acres in eastern Arkansas, one of the smallest and most diverse forests in the country.

Soon you will pass Pedestal Rocks to the east of the byway which provides spectacular views and unique geologic formations. The short, easy hike to the rocks is worth the view.

Before leaving the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests you will soon come to the Long Pool Recreation Area to the west of the scenic byway. Here, you can take a rest on the Big Piney River, which provides visitors with a view of a large natural pool across from the campground, high picturesque bluffs. The campground provides camping, picnicking, swimming, whitewater boating, canoeing, and hiking opportunities. Big Piney Creek received congressional designation in 1992 as a National Scenic River. Considered one of the most popular bait-fishing and swimming streams in Arkansas, it is also a popular float stream.

As you head on down to Russellville, you will begin to enter the beautiful Ouachita Mountain Range. At Lake Dardanelle State Park, you will be surrounded by the Ouachita Mountains to the south and the Boston Mountain Range of the Ozarks to the north. Lake Dardanelle offers some of the finest fishing and boating resources in Arkansas.

Before long you will see Lake Ouachita State Park to the west of the scenic route. Arkansas’ only man-made lake is well known for its clear water and great recreational opportunities.

Quapaw Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Quapaw Bathhouse in Hot Springs, Arkansas by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Further on down the road, Lake Catherine State Park, nestled in the secluded woodlands between Hot Springs and Malvern, is a special treat for those looking to really getaway.

At Hot Springs, you can see the National Park Aquarium and just southwest of town, check out Hot Springs National Park where people have utilized the therapeutic baths for more than two hundred years. Hot Springs National Park is the oldest park in the National Park System–40 years older than Yellowstone National Park.

South of Camden, you can see the Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources which collects, preserves and exhibits examples of Arkansas changing oil technology and brine industry, focusing on the 1920s oil boom in southern Arkansas.

When you reach El Dorado, be sure to go downtown as the area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, containing a significant collection of 1920s and 1930s architecture built during the oil boom that began in 1921. The Rialto Theatre in the downtown district is the only working art deco theatre in the state. The area also offers great opportunities for browsing in unique specialty shops, shopping, and fine dining.

Scenic Attractions:

Scenic 7 Byway, Arkansas

Scenic 7 Byway, Arkansas

Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources – Films and exhibits relate the history of Arkansas‘ oil and brine industries and the big 1920s oil boom that caused an explosion of population and wealth in South Arkansas virtually overnight. The museum’s Oilfield Park contains full-size derricks, other equipment. Near El Dorado on Arkansas 7 in Smackover. 870-725-2877

Blanchard Springs Caverns – Blanchard Springs Caverns is administered by the U.S. Forest Service, Sylamore Ranger District, Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. Blanchard is a three-level system, but only two levels of the caverns are open for guided tours. The first tour, the Dripstone Trail, opened in 1973, completing ten years of planning and development of the caverns. Another four years of work concluded with the opening of the second tour, the Discovery Trail. Located 15 miles northwest of Mountain View off Arkansas 14. Sylamore Ranger District, P.O. Box 1279, Hwy 14 North, Mountain View, Arkansas 72560, (870) 269-3228

Buffalo National River – The nation’s first federally protected stream (1972), the scenic Buffalo National River flows roughly 150 miles and offers boaters premier whitewater floating in the Arkansas Ozarks. The river is flanked by soaring limestone bluffs, beautiful vistas, and wilderness areas. It includes nearly 95,000 acres of public land along its corridor, where hiking trails lead to geologic marvels – springs, caves, waterfalls, natural bridges, and box-like canyons. Fishing, rock climbing, and wildlife watching (especially of the state’s elk herd) are major draws too. The landscape is popular with photographers, who like to capture pictures of historic homesteads, fall foliage, high vistas, and other nature scenes. Numerous outfitters (for canoeing, rafting, horseback riding, and fishing) service the river, and there are several campgrounds, cabins, motels, and other lodging options nearby. Buffalo Point off Ark. 14 and Tyler Bend off U.S. 65 are developed use areas. 870-439-2502.

Bull Shoal’s Lake – Bull Shoals Lake is a water sports paradise. Almost 1,000 miles of rugged shoreline is open to visitors from all over the nation who come to fish, scuba dive, houseboat, water ski, wakeboard, camp, and relax. Bull Shoals Lake water is very clean and clear. Bull Shoals Lake – White River Chamber of Commerce, Town East Plaza, Box 354, Bull Shoals, Arkansas 72619, (870) 445-4443, 1-800-447-1290

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens

Garvan Woodland Gardens – Garvan Woodland Gardens is Arkansas’ botanical garden. Located near Hot Springs National Park, the Garden’s gently-sloping Ouachita Mountain terrain covers 210 acres of a forested peninsula jutting into Lake Hamilton. The gardens showcase floral landscapes, free-flowing streams, and waterfalls, as well as breathtaking architectural structures in a natural woodland setting. This woodland habitat is home to hundreds of natural and exotic plant and animal species and is nestled near one of the nation’s oldest and most intimate national parks. From Scenic 7 take Hwy. 290 for approximately 7 miles to Carpenter Dam Road/Hwy. 128. Turn to the left. The first road to your left is Arkridge Road. Follow it one mile into the Garden parking lot. 540 Arkridge Road, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas 71913, 800-366-4664 or 501-262-9300.

Hilary Jones Wildlife Museum & Elk Information Center – Visit us in Jasper, Arkansas to learn more about elk and other wildlife. Exhibits and video presentations will give you an up-close look at many of our Ozark natives. We’ve got river maps, brochures on things to do in Newton County, wildlife information, hunting and fishing licenses, and knowledgeable staff to answer your questions. We’re especially kid-friendly with our big aquariums and our touch table of furs, feathers, and bones. And – It’s all FREE! Located on Scenic Hwy 7 about 1/2 a mile north of Jasper and the Little Buffalo River. P.O. Box 744, Jasper, Arkansas 72641, 870.446.6180

Hot Springs National Park – A film and exhibits in the Fordyce Bathhouse Visitors Center located on historic Bathhouse Row tell how a remarkable array of thermal springs in a valley of the Ouachita Mountains prompted Congress to protect the area in 1832. Learn how the town of Hot Springs earned a reputation as “The American Spa.” Thermal baths and massages are available on the Row at the Buckstaff Bathhouse, and at other locations. The park also offers scenic drives and a campground.  Central Ave. in Hot Springs. 501-624-3383.

Long Pool Recreation Area – Long Pool is on the Bayou Ranger District and located on Big Piney Scenic and Recreational River. Visitors can view a large natural pool across from the campground, high picturesque bluffs. Most of the campground is in a mature pine forest with some sites in a hardwood forest. Bayou Ranger District, 12000 SR 27, Hector, AR 72843, (479) 284-3150

Mount Magazine State Park

Mount Magazine State Park

Mount Magazine State Park – Near Paris, the highest point in Arkansas rises from the Arkansas River Valley to an elevation of 2,753 feet. It offers hang gliding, rappelling, rock climbing, horseback riding, camping, and hiking. The mountain’s main road contains bicycle lanes and from its eight scenic overlooks visitors can see hundreds of miles of beautiful forested lands and mountains. It is also known for its outstanding butterfly population, boasting 94 of the 126 species found in Arkansas. A new, large visitor center has an exhibit gallery and gift shop. Nearby, the Blue Mountain Lake area offers more camping and outdoor recreation. Mount Magazine Scenic Byway leads travelers across the top of Mount Magazine and past the Cove Lake Recreation Area and the Cove Lake Trail.  Ark. 309 near Paris. 479-963-8502.

Museum of Hot Springs – A 10,000 square foot complete history of life in Hot Springs from 1850 to 1950. Featured areas include Gambling Era, Famous sports figures, the Bathing industry, Central Avenue during each decade, Disasters, Medical, Politics, Entertainment and much more. Visit our theater of old movies in and about Hot Springs. In the historic district 1 block from Famous Bath House Row at 201 Central Ave. in Hot Springs.
Phone: (501) 624-5545

Mystic Caverns – Mystic Caverns and Crystal Dome Caverns are located in Harrison, Arkansas and provide a caving adventure through two of Arkansas’ most spectacular caves. P.O. Box 1301, Harrison, Arkansas 72602, 888-743-1739.

National Park Aquarium – Arkansas’ largest fish and reptiles exhibit. See how the other two-thirds of the world lives. All Arkansas fish, plus many saltwater species, displayed in their natural habitats. Also, many reptiles and a 90 lb. snapping turtle. Unique gift shop on-premises. Downtown Hot Springs, 1/2 block from the Arlington Hotel (Scenic 7 Byway). 209 Central Ave, Hot Springs, Arkansas 7190, 501-624-3474

Ouachita National Forest – The Ouachita National Forest covers 1.8 million acres in central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma. Headquartered in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the forest is managed for multiple uses.

Ozark-St Francis National Forests – The Ozark-St. Francis National Forests are really two separate Forests with many differences. They are distinct in their own topographical, geological, biological, cultural and social differences, yet each makes up a part of the overall National Forest system. Ozark-St. Francis National Forests, 605 West Main, Russellville, Arkansas 72801 (479) 968-2354

© Kathy Weiser/Legends of America, updated October 2019.

See our Scenic Views of Arkansas HERE

Also See: 

Destinations Across America

National Parks

Scenic Byways & Historic Trails

Tales & Trails of the American Frontier

 

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