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 which 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 landscape where you will view cliffs, rock formations, waterfalls, and wildlife.
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 1850’s 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 thru 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.
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 get away.
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.