Scenic 7 Byway and Side Trips
The Scenic 7 Byway extends from near Harrison, about 30 minutes south of the Missouri border, south to El Dorado, near the Louisiana border. The first designated scenic byway in the state, the 290-mile route takes you through the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains and the rolling hills of the West Gulf Coastal Plain of Southern Arkansas. Due to time constraints, I decided to only drive the northern section.
Soon after you head out from Harrison, you’ll be driving in the Ozark National Forest, where the winding road showcases views of the forested mountains. Stop at the Cliff House Inn in Jasper, which perches on top of a mountain that overlooks the wide valley dubbed the Arkansas Grand Canyon. The Buffalo National River, one of the longest undammed rivers west of the Mississippi, sculpted this gorge, which features walls 1,000 feet deep.
Farther along, a short detour down Highway 16 to Alum Cove Natural Bridge leads you to the remains of a quartz sandstone cave. The bridge at the entrance is over 100 feet long and more than 20 feet wide. I hiked a mile-long loop trail for a good look at it and then walked across the top. About 18 miles farther south, I stopped at the Rotary Ann Rest Overlook, designated Arkansas’ first official rest stop some 80 years ago. It’s a great spot to take in views of autumn leaves.
The most popular hike in Arkansas is to Hawksbill Crag, a natural attraction that sits between Highway 7 and Highway 23. If the side trip appeals, leave Highway 7 at Highway 16 near Deer and follow it for 30 miles to County Road 5. Seven miles in, the parking lot is on your right. During the 4-mile, moderately difficult hike one weekday, I passed only a few hikers.
Back on Highway 7, 80 miles from Harrison, head down Highway 154 for 12 miles to Petit Jean State Park, just southeast of Russellville. Petit Jean (“Little John”) is named for a young Frenchwoman who in the 1700s disguised herself as a man so she could explore part of the Louisiana Territory. She died before the expedition returned to France, and legend has it that she asked to be buried on the mountain now named for her. The overlook near the gravesite features beautiful vistas of the Arkansas River, especially at sunrise or sunset.
The park’s Cedar Creek Trail is best known for a 95-foot-tall waterfall. The trail also includes Rock House Cave, a large rock shelter that is the premier spot in the state for viewing Native American cave paintings created over 500 years ago. Petit Jean State Park also is home to fossils and geological formations, including Turtle Rocks.