One Tank Travels: Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway
Extending through four diverse geographical regions, AR 7 from Arkadelphia to Harrison became Arkansas’s first scenic byway in 1993. It was extended in 1999 to include the highway section south to the Louisiana state line for a total length of 290 miles.
The following is a description of the section of AR 7 that winds its way through the Northwest and North Central part of the state that includes the geographic regions of the Arkansas River Valley and the Ozark Mountains.
From the Southwest, AR 7 snakes through the Ouachita Mountains and then heads into the fairly level terrain of the Arkansas River Valley’s pastoral landscape.
Shopping and dining is plentiful along this stretch, and Lake Dardanelle State Park is located just off the scenic byway. The park is popular for bass fishing, hiking trails, water sports and lake tours on 34,000-acre Lake Dardanelle. Park amenities include boat ramps, pavilion, visitor center with interactive exhibits, campground, and marina. Kayaks and stand up paddle boards can be rented at the visitor center.
Leaving the valley, Scenic 7 ascends into the Ozark Mountain region of Arkansas, noted for its clear mountain streams. Here you enter the Ozark National Forest covering more than one million acres, mostly in northwestern Arkansas. It is dominated by such species as dogwood, maple, redbud, serviceberry and witch hazel, making for a gorgeous drive in the spring and in the fall.
A highlight worth mentioning on AR 7 is the Rotary Ann Roadside Park. It offers a beautiful 180-degree view of the Ozarks and was the first roadside rest area constructed in Arkansas, dating back to the 1930s.
Popular with motorcyclists, this section of the route sharply twists, particularly as it wends its way beside the incredible vista known as the “Grand Canyon of the Ozarks.” You can stop in at the Cliff House Inn and Restaurant to enjoy the view. Vance Randolph once said about the Ozarks, “It’s not that the mountains are so high but that the valleys are so deep.” And that eloquently describes the huge valley southeast of Jasper.
Located in Newton County, Jasper is surrounded by natural beauty and outdoor opportunities like hiking, canoeing, caving, rock climbing, fishing, hunting, mountain biking and horseback riding. This is also the area where the nation’s first national river, the Buffalo, flows.
A herd of about 450 elk roam the Buffalo River corridor and Newton County is known as the “Elk Capital of Arkansas.” The annual Buffalo River Elk Festival takes place on the picturesque Jasper square with its stately courthouse in the middle and gazebos on the grounds. Jasper is home to some iconic restaurants as well, including Ozark Cafe.
Almost 30 minutes to the north, hanging baskets of flowers and awnings accentuate old brick storefronts that line the Harrison square, which with a few adjacent buildings, make up its national historic district. The flavor of the city is reflected in is downtown parks, the historic Lyric Theater, the 1909 Boone County courthouse, the 1914 Boone County Jail and the restored 1929 Hotel Seville. Downtown Harrison also embraces restaurants, an art gallery, antique stores and other retail shops and boasts the Boone County Heritage Museum.
While Scenic 7’s official northern point is Harrison, if you follow it further to the quaint little fishing town of Diamond City there are beautiful pastoral views and a majestic lake awaiting you.
Things to Know:
- Shopping, lodging and dining can be found in the byway’s major cities and in smaller communities along the way. Cabins, resorts and camping options are also available.
- Map: http://www.arkansashighways.com/scenic_byways_program/highway7.aspx
- Scenic 7 can be connected to another Arkansas scenic byways: the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway (at Jasper take Arkansas State Highway 74 to Ponca, then 43 to the top of the route).