Your Guide to the Talimena Scenic Drive

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View of talimena scenic drive.

This fall, you might be looking for a scenic drive to take in the season’s yellows, oranges, and reds. You have popular locations like Acadia National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and Rocky Mountain National Park. But you should consider the lesser-known Talimena Scenic Drive.

This route sits in America’s heartland and winds through the Ouachita National Forest and offers spectacular views of the Ouachita Mountains. 

Let’s learn more about this drive and why you should consider visiting it for your fall color fix this year!

What Is the Talimena Scenic Drive?

The Talimena Scenic Drive is a 54-mile route through the Ouachita National Forest. Part of the road runs parallel with the Ouachita National Recreation Trail. The drive offers beautiful mountain views, which are incredibly stunning during the fall color change. 

In September 2005, it became a national scenic byway. The route only takes about 70 minutes, but you’ll want to take your time and enjoy the sights and scenery along the way. 

Where Is the Talimena Scenic Drive?

Straddling the Arkansas-Oklahoma border, the Talimena Scenic Drive starts in Mena, Arkansas, and ends near Talihina, Oklahoma. It began as one of the first national forest scenic byways in 1989 since most of the route travels through the Ouachita National Forest. Both the Oklahoma and Arkansas highway departments now maintain the scenic highway.

Tips for Driving the Talimena Scenic Drive

The Ouachita Mountains are a beautiful part of mid-America. But when you head out on the Talimena Scenic Drive, you must be prepared. As with many scenic highways in the country, you’ll pass through remote, unserviced areas.

Be Prepared

Whether you start in Oklahoma or Arkansas, ensure you have a full gas tank before heading out as you’ll find no service stations along the Talimena Scenic Drive.

You’ll also want to pack plenty of snacks or take a lunch because your food options will also be limited. You have vending machines at the information center and one restaurant along the route. You also want to make sure you have water to drink.

View along talimena scenic drive.

Pay Attention to the Weather

Anytime you venture out for a day of scenic driving, you should pay attention to the weather. In this part of the country, ice and fog could cause problems at higher elevations. Severe weather also remains a threat during the spring and summer. So always stay alert to the local weather forecast.

Stop at the Visitor Centers

Two visitor centers sit along the Talimena Scenic Drive: the East End and the West End Visitor Information Station.

However, they’re only staffed seasonally from spring to fall. If you visit, you’ll find a wealth of information in brochures and educational materials. You can also talk to knowledgeable staff who can help answer questions or give suggestions for your route.

Bring Sunscreen and Bug Repellent

Finally, bring sunscreen and bug repellent if you plan on hiking the trails. Remember, you’re traveling through the Ouachita National Forest.

Lakes, rivers, and streams are breeding grounds for bugs. And although you may be in the shade for much of the hike, you still want to protect your skin from the summer sun.

Are There Hiking Trails Along the Talimena Scenic Drive?

To experience the Talimena Scenic Drive the best, you need to get out of the car and hike a trail.

You’ll find interpretive trails at Queen Wilhelmina State Park, the Orchard Trail at the East End Visitor Information Station, and the Ouachita Recreation Trail. You also have several shared-use trails. You can find maps detailing all of the hiking trails at one of the visitor centers.

7 Best Stops Along the Talimena Scenic Drive

Below we have seven of the best stops along the Talimena Scenic Drive. Although you can enjoy the beautiful scenery from your car, plan to spend a few hours exploring along the route. You could take a whole day to enjoy this part of Arkansas and Oklahoma.

View of talimena scenic drive.

1. Rich Mountain Fire Tower

The Rich Mountain Fire Tower sits at the highest point along the Talimena Scenic Drive at 2,681 feet. Rich Mountain is the second-highest peak in Arkansas.

Although the tower was once used for fire detection, the 58-foot-tall tower is now used as an observation tower for travelers. You’ll find breathtaking views of the Ouachita Mountains from the top.

2. Queen Wilhelmina State Park

You can grab a meal by visiting Queen Wilhelmina State Park and eating at the Queen’s Restaurant in the lodge. You can also enjoy hiking and picnicking or spending a night or two at the lodge or at a campsite.

There isn’t much to do here, but it’s worth stopping to stretch your legs and enjoy the mountain scenery.

3. Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area

If you want another place to spend the night, consider the Winding Stair Campground at the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area.

You can hike the Emerald Vista Trail, a difficult 7-mile hike through the Black Fork Mountain Wilderness, or choose another trail system. This area allows you to get out of the car and immerse yourself in the beauty of the Arkansas landscape.

Pro Tip: We don’t recommend driving your RV at night, but sometimes it’s necessary. Before getting behind the wheel at night, read these Safety Tips!

4. Talimena State Park

You can also visit another state park along the Talimena Scenic Drive: the Talimena State Park. This one sits in Oklahoma.

Here you’ll see ATV and dirt bike riders entering to access the nearby national forest, campers enjoying partial hookup sites, and children laughing on the playground. You’ll also find more hiking trails.

View of talimena scenic drive in Ouachita National Forest.

5. Horse Thief Springs Historic Site

The natural beauty of the Ouachita Mountains isn’t the only draw of the Talimena Scenic Drive. You’ll also discover the rich history of the area. According to legend, outlaws used Horse Thief Springs as a water source and would attack travelers as they passed through. You can read about these tales at a nearby exhibit.

6. Oklahoma/Arkansas State Line Monument

Legal battles still persist over Native American territory. The border between Oklahoma and Arkansas has been disputed for over 100 years.

A monument at the 48th milepost along the Talimena Scenic Drive marks the Arkansas-Choctaw nation boundary and reminds travelers of the struggle for Native Americans to regain their lands.

7. The 22 Vistas and Overlooks

You’ll find 22 overlooks along the Talimena Scenic Drive. Although you may not stop at them all, it’s worth stopping at a few. Especially for visitors who can’t hike or explore the state parks. 

These vistas allow everyone to savor the beauty of the Ouachita Mountains. The views are stunning when the spring blooms fill the valleys and the fall leaves turn gold, red, and yellow.

When Is the Best Time to Drive the Talimena Scenic Drive?

You can’t go wrong with driving the Talimena Scenic Drive in the spring or fall. The wildflowers are beautiful, and the fall foliage is spectacular.

Plus, if you’re going to hike one of the trails, the spring and fall will offer the most comfortable times to enjoy the landscape without getting too hot or worrying about icy conditions. However, keep in mind that the visitor centers are only staffed seasonally. 

Keep in Mind: While in Arkansas, you’ll love exploring these state parks!

The Talimena Scenic Drive: A Hidden Treasure Through Oklahoma and Arkansas

If you’ve never heard of the Talimena Scenic Drive, you’re not alone. It’s not a well-known American byway, but it’s well worth a visit. Spend a few days this fall driving through Oklahoma and Arkansas. Enjoy the forests, mountains, and valleys of mid-America.

Escape the crowds of the Great Smoky Mountains or the Rockies and enjoy a more peaceful, serene setting. You may find yourself returning year after year!

Have you ever driven the Talimena Scenic Drive? Are there additional tips you have for visitors?

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