Wickes is a small town in Polk County and is located around 20 miles north of De Queen in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains. The county was named for President James K. Polk. Arthur E. Stilwell founded the Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad, now the Kansas City Southern. He chose a site for a new town called Mena. Stilwell founded other towns along his railroad, naming them for friends and investors. He became friends with George Pullman, of the Pullman sleeping train car. The second vice president in Pullman's company was Thomas Wickes. The town of Wickes was also established by the railroad.

Five rivers—the Kaimichi, Ouachita, Cossatot, Poteau, and Little Missouri—originate in Polk County. The Cossatot begins in the Ouachita Mountains southeast of Mena and flows south for about 26 miles to Gillham Lake. The Cossatot is considered to be the toughest river in Arkansas to navigate and is famous for its Class IV and V rapids. The word "Cossatot" is an Indian word meaning "skull-crusher."

Cossatot River State Park/Natural Area, Arkansas's 48th state park, is jointly managed by the state Department of Parks and Tourism and state Natural Heritage Commission to preserve - while allowing public use of the river. The park is located between Ark. 246 and U.S. 278 near Wickes. It is the largest natural area in the state and conserves a twelve-and-one-half-mile stretch of the Cossatot River. The park/natural area is also home to two types of fish—the Ouachita Mountain shiner and the leopard darter—that are found only in streams of the Ouachita Mountains. Several rare plant species are found within the park/natural area's five major plant communities.

Queen Wilhelmina State Park is located nearby on Rich Mountain on the site of a former lodge built by Arthur Stilwell in 1898. Nearby attractions also include Black Fork Wilderness, part of the Ouachita Trail, Shady Lake Recreational Area, Bard Springs Recreational Area, and the Wolf Pen Gap ATV Trails. The fifty-four-mile Talimena Scenic Drive, from Mena into Oklahoma, has been designated a National Scenic Byway.