Aptly named the “Natural State,” Arkansas is brimming with spectacular scenery from the Ozarks mountains to the Ouachita National Forest. You can hike to a mountain lookout, go kayaking on a river, and soak in natural hot springs all in one day!
Any road trip through the landscape of rushing rivers, rocky outlooks, and lush green forests is guaranteed to be amazing, which is why taking one of these scenic drives in Arkansas is a must!
We’ve taken a look at the top drives Arkansas has to offer and created this list, so you don’t miss out on any of the best routes. From short byways to long adventures, we’ve highlighted some of the must-visit places to help you map out a successful trip to Arkansas.
1. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Arkansas Scenic Byway 7
Distance: 290 miles
Time needed: 5 hours to 1 day, depending on stops
Practically crossing the state from north to south, the Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 is nationally recognized, and for a good reason. It passes through both the Ozark mountains and Ouachita National Forest, plus beautiful pine groves and picturesque farmland.
Although the road takes some narrow twists and turns in the mountains, it’s still a very easy road and is well maintained on account of its popularity.
Since it passes through many of the state’s top destinations, it’s easy to plan your trip around Byway 7, or break up the drive into multiple days if you want to really get the chance to explore.
On the northern end of the route, the Ozarks are known for excellent lookouts, such as the area known as the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks” near Jasper. We’d highly recommend stopping for some photos here! Jasper also makes a great stopping point thanks to its historic downtown, cafes, and antique shops.
Farther south in the Ouachita National Forest, the Arkansas Scenic Byway 7 passes through Hot Springs National Park, known for the beautiful natural thermal springs and the five lakes with fishing, swimming, and water sports. The historic downtown of Hot Springs is also a great place to stop for shopping, lunch, or snacks.
When to go: Any time of year is okay to travel this route, but summer is best for outdoor activities like hiking, and during the fall, the colors are fantastic.
2. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway (Highway 21)
Distance: 35 miles
Time needed: 1-5 hours, depending on whether you stop and explore
One of the prettiest drives through the Ozark mountains, Highway 21 is a relatively short but absolutely jaw-dropping drive in Arkansas.
The route passes by five of the mountain rivers in the Ozarks: The Buffalo, the Kings, the White, the Big Piney Creek, and the Mulberry. These are all popular places for sorts of water activities like kayaking, fishing, and rafting, and there are plenty of resorts and cabins in the area if you’re hoping to spend even more time in the Ozarks.
Hikers can take note that the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway also crosses the Ozark Highlands Trail, which offers 165 miles of a hiking trail to explore the mountains.
For travelers who are short on time or just passing through Arkansas, then this route is easily combined with the Arkansas Scenic Byway 7, which connects near Jasper.
When to go: Summer is the best time if you are interested in water sports. Otherwise, during fall, this Arkansas scenic drive is particularly famous for its stunning colors.
3. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Talimena Scenic Drive National Scenic Byway
Distance: 54 miles
Time needed: 1.5-1 day, depending on stops
Cruising along the winding roads over Rich Mountain and Winding Star Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest, every mile of this drive is full of incredible views.
What’s excellent about this Arkansas scenic drive is that it doesn’t take long to complete, but it can also easily be turned into a full day (or more!) of adventures.
All along the route, you’ll find access to some of the most popular hiking trails in the Ouachita National Forest, like the Queen Wilhelmina State Park Trails, the Billy Creek Trail, and the Earthquake Ridge Trail.
There’s no need to hike through in order to appreciate the views. All along the route, there are plenty of lookout points where you can stop and get photographs and several picnic areas for a memorable place to have lunch.
Keep in mind that there are no gas stations along the route, so even though it’s short, it’s best to gas up beforehand.
Pro tip: You’ll find restrooms and vending machines at all the Ranger Stations, and Queen Wilhelmina Lodge also has a restaurant onsite if you’d rather dine out than pack your own lunch.
When to go: Spring through fall is considered the best time to drive this route.
4. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Boston Mountains Scenic Loop
Distance: 40 miles
Time needed: 1.5-4 hours, depending on stops
Traversing the highest points in the Ozark Mountains, the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop was once a stagecoach route, and the twists and turns along this byway are still reminiscent of these times.
With beautiful vistas around every turn and several high-span bridges, there are countless opportunities to stop for photographs along this scenic drive in Arkansas.
For travelers looking for a more up-close experience of the Ozarks, the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop also passes by many starting points of hiking and mountain biking trails.
We’d recommend stopping in some of the towns along the way, such as Mountainburg, where you’ll find access to Lake Fort Smith State Park and Artist Point, which are known for their fishing, hiking, and other outdoor activities.
Fayetteville also makes an excellent place to get out of the car and explore, thanks to the historic downtown with a year-round farmers market and the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks.
If you don’t have much time, the Boston Mountains Scenic Loop is short enough that it’s easy to add to your trip, but if you have time to spare, you can turn this drive into a day of adventure.
When to go: Spring through fall are the best times of year to enjoy the scenery.
5. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Distance: 362 miles
Time needed: 7 hours to 1 day, depending on stops
Crossing ten states in total, the Great River Road National Scenic Byway follows the Mississippi River all the way from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Traveling the Great River Road is an excellent way to better appreciate the incredible landscape along the Mississippi river, whether you’re just driving in Arkansas or using this byway as part of a longer trip.
It’s a super family-friendly route thanks to the easy stops along the way including historic towns, parks, and picnic areas.
Along the route, there are numerous opportunities for outdoor activities in places like Lake Chicot State Park, which is known for boating and fishing, or Big Lake National Wildlife Refuge, which is a popular place for birders.
A lot of the towns located on this route also have interesting historical sites, such as the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, which is a museum located in a train depot from 1912.
When to go: This scenic drive in Arkansas is good year-round, although summer is best for outdoor activities along the route.
6. Arkansas Scenic Drives: Pig Trail Scenic Byway
Distance: 19 miles
Time needed: 45 minutes or longer if you plan on stopping
This scenic drive in Arkansas may be short in length, but it’s certainly not short on incredible views. Passing through the forests of the Ozark Mountains, the leafy foliage makes this drive truly gorgeous.
The zig-zag route includes incredible mountain vistas, waterfalls, and idyllic riverside scenery.
There are also plenty of places to stop and explore, like the Mulberry Mountain Lodge, where there are hiking trails and boating access points to the Mulberry River (boat rentals are also available!). You can quickly turn this short drive into an entire day of exploring if you want to see more of the Ozarks.
During the spring, the abundant native wildflowers line the byway with bright colors, and during the fall, the red and gold leaves cover the road in an incredible glow. It’s a favorite drive for nature enthusiasts, motorcyclists, or anyone wanting to experience the beauty of the Ozarks.
It’s easy to connect this drive with other scenic byways in Arkansas, including the Ozark Highlands and the West-Northwest scenic route.
When to go: Spring through fall is the best time of year to appreciate the scenery.
More Tips Road Tripping Arkansas And The Midwest
- Before hitting the road in Arkansas, particularly in winter, check out driving conditions on IDrive Arkansas.
- Extend your road-tripping through the Midwest states with these fabulous Midwest road trip ideas for families.
- Add on these 8 Bucketlist-worthy Oklahoma road trip stops
- Never forget and important road trip item again! Head over to our guide to road trip essentials and download our Printable PDF checklist to help you pack for your next family road trip.
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