The Ouachita Mountains are true mountains in that they are uplifted folds between continental plates. Interestingly, the Ouachitas run east-west instead of north-south, which is uncommon for mountain ranges in the US. The majority of the mountain range is in Arkansas, but a portion also runs into Oklahoma.
This is one of the best rides in Arkansas and includes the 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 to the mountain ridges 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 is on winding pavement of challenging, tight curves.
Atop Rich Mountain, AR 88 passes Queen Wilhelmina State Park, which offers spectacular views from its mountaintop setting. The lodge has undergone major renovations to its 40 guest rooms, restaurant, lobby and meeting rooms. Park facilities include campsites and hiking trails.
At the Oklahoma line, AR 88 becomes OK 1, but the name change doesn’t affect 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. Consider taking a side trip east on AR 88 to visit the Lum and Abner Museum in Pine Ridge.