What to know
Scenic 7: Among the Most Scenic Drives in America
Route: 290 miles
Drive Scenic Byway 7 in Arkansas, the state's first state-designated scenic byway, and travel through four of the state's varied geographical regions. Arguably one of the most scenic drives in America, the route begins on the south end within the West Gulf Coastal Plain, a region that saw an oil boom beginning in 1921 near El Dorado. It continues to Camden and on to Arkadelphia through rolling terrain with dense pine forests and stream valleys with bottomland hardwood forests.
Arkansas Scenic 7 Byway is a nationally recognized riding treasure that traverses almost the entire state from north to south. It crosses the Ozark and Ouachita mountain ranges along with the Arkansas River Valley before running through the dense pine woodlands of southern Arkansas.
AR 7 begins in the Ozarks near the shores of Bull Shoals Lake. About 10 miles south of Harrison, it becomes a tightly wound and challenging road, but still manageable by beginners. It remains that way until climbing out of the Little Buffalo River Valley at Jasper. Once on top of the ridgeline, the curves broaden a bit, and the scenery is top-tier.
When AR 7 reaches Pelsor, it begins its descent into the Arkansas River Valley at Russellville. This valley features rich farmland with patches of woodlands. It isn’t very wide, for soon you will climb into the foothills of the Ouachitas. The folds of the Ouachitas run east-west, which is uncommon for mountain ranges in the U.S.
Near Arkadelphia, the route enters the Ouachita Mountains, famous for their quartz crystals, and passes by DeGray Lake, home of Arkansas' only resort state park. At Hot Springs, the byway journeys through the historic downtown and immediately in front of the famed Bathhouse Row of Hot Springs National Park. This resort town is known for its thermal waters from which it gets its name, and with five lakes in the region, it’s also a popular destination for fishing, boating and water sports. Resorts and marinas are located on the lakes for lodging, boat rentals, bait, tackle, snacks and more.
Leaving the valley, Scenic 7 ascends into the Ozark Mountains, famous for fall foliage, and the Ozark National Forest, and passes through the mountain town of Jasper along the Buffalo National River on its way to Harrison.
Just before Scenic 7 sharply twists its way down to Jasper, the Cliff House Inn and Restaurant offers a great meal and amazing vistas of the "Grand Canyon of the Ozarks." A quaint small town square boasting several antique shops awaits visitors at Jasper. Across from the Newton County Courthouse is a legendary diner -- the Ozark Cafe. Originally opened in 1909, it is, as the sign on the front says, "A North Arkansas Landmark." It's a place where swapping stories over cups of coffee is as important to the locals as getting a good plate of inexpensive food.
A little farther 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 the Main Street Harrison Historic Walking Tour, which includes downtown parks, the historic Lyric Theater, the 1909 Boone County courthouse, the 1914 Boone County Jail, and the completely restored 1929 Hotel Seville. Downtown Harrison also embraces restaurants, an art gallery, antique stores, and other retail shops. In addition, the town has the Boone County Heritage Museum and Mystic Caverns.
Scenic 7 can be connected to two other Arkansas scenic byways: the West-Northwest Scenic Byway (it intersects in Ola) and the Ozark Highlands Scenic Byway (at Jasper take Arkansas State Highway 74 to Ponca, then 43 to the top of the route).