ROUTE #15: Fun and scenic motorcycle roads abound in the Ouachitas
The Ouachitas are true mountains in that they are uplifted folds between continental plates. Interestingly, unlike most other ranges in North America, the Ouachitas run east-west instead of north-south. The majority of the Ouachitas are located in Arkansas, with a portion in eastern Oklahoma.
This is one of the best rides in Arkansas and includes the nationally recognized Talimena National Scenic Byway. This gorgeous stretch of pavement is beautiful any time of year, but has garnered its reputation based on flaming autumn foliage. Riders may enter anywhere along the loop they find convenient, but it’s best started at Mena, taking AR 88 northwest out of town. The road quickly snakes its way up the mountain rising out of the valley where Mena sits at 1,110 feet. The highway tops out on Rich Mountain at 2,681 feet. The elevation change consists of challenging, tight curves.
Atop Rich Mountain, AR 88 passes Queen Wilhelmina State Park
, which offers spectacular views from its lofty setting. Currently, the park is undergoing major renovations to its 40 guest rooms, restaurant, lobby and meeting rooms, which will reopen in late 2014. Park facilities, including campsites and hiking trails, remain open.
At the Oklahoma line, AR 88 becomes OK 1, but the name change doesn’t alter the incredible ride through the beautiful Winding Stair Range of the Ouachitas. OK 1 winds down 1,700 feet before it intersects US 59 on the way to Heavener, Oklahoma. Once back in Arkansas at Waldron, US 71 begins to climb back to the higher elevations of Mena.
The highway runs from predominantly farmland to thick forest and then back to a more urban environment around Mena. The Talimena National Scenic Byway will not fail to please any rider, any time of the year, though it truly comes into its element as one of Arkansas’s most scenic motorcycle roads during the fall season.