Fall Foliage Drives And Destinations
When to Go, Which Roads to Take, Where to Find Information
Each year, we look forward to the coming of fall. Even the most avid sun worshipers are now ready to dig out their long-sleeved shirts and begin planning fall foliage drives and favorite outdoor activities around the changing of the leaves. But predicting fall color is no easier than forecasting the weather. Below are details of what is considered the norm for fall color in Arkansas - these are not predictions. Since Arkansas is one of the top fall foliage destinations around, we strongly suggest you make your reservations as soon as possible, especially if you are coming on a weekend.
Which Roads to Take
- Crowley's Ridge Parkway National Scenic Byway – the first National Scenic Byway in the state and roughly runs the length of its namesake– Crowley’s Ridge. It begins in the northeast corner at St. Francis, winding its way alongside the ridge through some of the most fertile areas of Arkansas, to its southern-most terminus at West Helena.
- Great River Road National Scenic Byway – the Arkansas portion of this national thoroughfare recently became the state’s second National Scenic Byway. The Great River Road winds through the eastern portion of the state, roughly paralleling the Mississippi River. The route runs from Blytheville in northeast Arkansas to Eudora in southeast Arkansas.
- Boston Mountains Scenic Loop/U.S. 71 & Interstate 540 – I-540 runs northward from Alma in the Arkansas River Valley to just south of the Missouri border. It traverses through nearly undeveloped portions of Ozark Mountains and affords views of unequaled beauty. The gorgeous scenery includes driving over tree-covered canyons and through mountain passes. U.S. 71 is a picturesque mountain road with plenty of twists and turns. Along the way, you'll find quaint shops, restaurants and Ozark Mountain communities.
- Talimena National Scenic Byway – winds for 54 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest and spans one of the highest mountain ranges between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Crossing the highest east-west mountain range in America, one breathtaking panorama follows another as this national scenic byway winds along forested mountain tops between Mena and Talihina, Oklahoma.
- Scenic 7 Byway – the state designated route is from the Arkansas/Missouri state line, south through Harrison, Russellville, Hot Springs and Arkadelphia,on through El Dorado to the border with Louisiana. Along the way you’ll pass through the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks at Jasper, cross over the Buffalo National River, cruise through Hot Springs National Park, drive across DeGray Lake, and visit one of the most charming downtown squares in the state at El Dorado.
- Pig Trail Scenic Byway – a U.S. Forest Service-selected drive with a name as colorful as the scenery. It’s not for the faint of heart but if you like getting close to nature, enjoying brilliant fall foliage and visiting small communities, then Ark. 16 and 23 are a perfect choice for you. You head north through the Ozark Mountains at Ozark, ending up in Fayetteville.
- Interstate 530 – this southbound route between Little Rock and Pine Bluff goes through the rich timberlands of South Arkansas. Bottomland hardwoods provide brilliant color in spring and fall and bright greens in summer, with towering pines being showcased during the winter months.
- Mount Magazine Scenic Byway / Ark. 309 – from Havana, Ark., the byway quickly begins its ascent through the forests on the slopes of Mount Magazine, Arkansas’s highest peak at 2,753 feet. In addition to beautiful views, you’ll find Mount Magazine State Park at the top. A lodge, conference center, restaurant and cabins hot tubs await visitors. Park roads lead to overlooks with expansive views of Blue Mountain Lake and the Ouachita Mountains to the south and of the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark Mountains to the north. From Mount Magazine, the byway descends more than 2,300 feet to the town of Paris, passing picturesque Cove Lake on the way. North of town, the byway travels through rolling pastureland and hayfields, dotted with hardwood shade trees.
Traditional Peak Color Times in Arkansas
Arkansas fall foliage tours should be planned around the peak color times of each region of the state. Generally, significant color change begins in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas in late September or early October. The trees in central Arkansas and the Ouachita mountain range of west central Arkansas are changing noticeably by early to mid-October. Southern and eastern Arkansas foliage usually begins changing during mid-October.
Most people, however, are more interested in the "peak" of color. There is usually a period of a week or so when the fall foliage in a particular area is at its best. Normally, the peak of color occurs around two or three weeks after color changes begin, meaning late October for the Ozarks, late October or early November for central and western Arkansas, and early to mid-November for the southern and eastern sections.
When To Go
Autumn in Arkansas is anything but one-dimensional with a bumper crop of fall festivals and special events, the flamboyant fall foliage, the harvest season, and the crisper, downward turn of temperatures. The most popular way to enjoy the splashy color of autumn in Arkansas is just to get out and do it.
The color change begins in October in the Ozarks of northern Arkansas...moves slowly to the south...until it reaches the peak of color in late October and early November. Yellows, reds, oranges, golds - even deep purple-overtake the maples, sumac, sweet gum, oak, sassafras, and hickory.
The state has two-and-a-half million acres of national forests – the Ozark, the Ouachita (Wash-i-taw) and the St. Francis – that make for prime fall foliage destinations where the beauty of the season shines.