How to Experience Fall Colors on Talimena National Scenic Byway
Dotted Globe contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read my full Disclosure here. Thank you!
Are you visiting Arkansas in Fall? You should absolutely drive the Talimena Scenic Drive for epic fall colors and beautiful vistas. Talimena National Scenic Byway is one of the most popular scenic byways for fall foliage viewing and offers spectacular scenery similar to Blue Ridge Parkway or Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. Read Dotted Globe’s guide to experiencing fall colors and mountain air on Talimena Drive and plan your trip today.
Where is Talimena National Scenic Byway
Talimena Scenic Byway is located in the large, dense Ouachita National Forest (pronounced Wash-i-tah) along the borders of Arkansas and Oklahoma. Talimena Drive is 54 miles long and going west, starts in Mena, Arkansas and ends at Talihina, Oklahoma. The byway is named after the two towns on each end of the drive. Talimena Scenic Drive follows Arkansas Highway 88 (AR-88) in Arkansas and Oklahoma State Highway – 1 (SH-1) in Oklahoma. Talimena Drive is a winding road on the mountain ridge that follows the highest peaks in the area including Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain.
Best time to visit Talimena National Scenic Byway
Driving the Talimena Scenic Drive is most popular from Spring through Fall. Fall is the best time to visit Talimena Scenic Drive. Arkansas Fall is characterized by the fiery red and gold colors and Talimena Drive area offers many magnificent fall vistas and Arkansas mountain views. The area peaks mid-October to early-November depending on the weather. Spring is the second most popular time to visit. The trees are in bloom in April and May. Talimena Scenic Drive is also popular with bikers, campers, and hikers in summer. Winter is Talimena Drive’s least popular season. The trees are bare and the road is often iced or covered in fog.
How much time do you need to see Talimena National Scenic Byway
The Talimena National Scenic Byway is just 54 miles long and can be driven in 2 hrs without stopping. However, the beautiful byway has 22 scenic vistas, 3 state parks and recreation areas and innumerable hiking trails along the byway. Dotted Globe recommends spending at least 2 to 3 days to experience everything Talimena Drive has to offer.
Talimena Scenic Drive on Motorcycle
The gently rippling curves and gorgeous scenery of Talimena Drive are very popular with motorcyclists. Talimena Drives scenic vistas, steep inclines and winding curves passing through miles of forests is a biker’s paradise. The drive is especially popular with motorcyclists in Fall. There are many motorcycle friendly hotels in Mena, Talihena and other areas. Talimena Scenic Byway is regularly featured among best motorcycle routes in the country.
Where to stay to experience Talimena Scenic Drive
There are many lodging options around Talimena Scenic Drive including camping, cabins, hotels, and lodges. On the drive, Queen Wilhelmina State Park has a lodge and camping area while Winding Stairs Campground has many walk-up tent sites and backpacking area. Many gorgeous pine cabins and vacation rentals are located in close proximity to Talimena Scenic Drive.
Must Stops along Talimena Scenic Drive
Going west, Talimena Scenic Drive begins in the town of Mena in Arkansas. Mena is a small town with restaurants, inns, southern hospitality and mountain charm. Mena was our base; we rented a gorgeous mountain cabin in Mena and filled up on gas in Downtown before driving Talimena National Scenic Byway. Talimena Drive’s Eastern Visitor Center, open from April to November, is located in Mena.
Rich Mountain Fire Tower
Rich Mountain (2681 ft) is the second highest peak in Arkansas, the highest peak in the Ouachita Mountains and the highest point on Talimena National Scenic Byway. The 58 foot tall historic Rich Mountain Fire Tower was constructed in 1952 and used for fire detection until 1975. It is now operated as an observation tower from Memorial Day to Veteran’s Day on weekends, weather permitting. The tower lookouts offer great views of the valley and of Talimena Drive as it follows the mountain ridges. The area has several picnic tables scattered across the open expanse and a short interpretative hike explaining the history of the family that originally lived in the tower.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park
Queen Wilhelmina State Park has gorgeous views, Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge and a restaurant, several campsites and hiking trails. The park also has a miniature train ride starting from Mountain Glory Station. Visitors can also climb and explore an actual train engine that sits in front of the station.
A short trail leads down to Rich Mountain Pioneer Cemetery. Pioneer Cemetery, a small cemetery with 23 scattered graves, celebrates the lives of the community that lived on Rich Mountain. An interpretative sign explains the history of the Rich Mountain community, their struggle for survival atop the mountain in winter and the legend of a teenage girl buried in the cemetery.
Choctaw Nation / State-line Historic Marker
Choctaw Vista is on the state-line marker between Arkansas and Oklahoma and once marked the boundary between Aransas and Choctaw Nations. The vista has interpretative signs explaining its significance. The site has historical survey markers and a short trail called State Line Trail.
Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area
Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation area has Winding Stair campground (closed in winter), a backpacker’s camp, several picnic tables, Emerald Vista and several trail systems.
Horse Thief Springs Historical Site
Historical site with interpretative signs explaining the origin of the name dating back to the time when Oklahoma was the ‘Wild West’ and outlaw gangs were common. The site contains Horse Thief Spring enclosed by a rock wall and picnic tables.
Military Road Historic Site
Military Road Historic Site is a park that preserves faint traces of the old military road that connected Fort Towson, Oklahoma to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The site contains a historic marker, interpretative signs, and picnic tables.
Talihina is known as the ‘Village Between the Mountains’ and is the western end of the Talimena Scenic Byway. Talihina is also the gateway to Talimena State Park. The town is named after the railroad around which the town was built. There are many lakes, rivers, camping areas and hiking trails around Talihena.
Talimena State Park
Talimena State Park, located 1 mile from the visitor center in Talihina, is a great place for fall colors. The park has many well-marked hiking trails and the drive through the park is excellent with stunning overlooks and plenty of wildlife. Talimena State Park also has a good restaurant, playground and camping facilities.
Things to do along Talimena Scenic Drive
Talimena Drive has 22 scenic pullouts that offer beautiful vistas. Grandview Vista, just before Rich Mountain Fire Tower, offers magnificent panoramic views of Ouachita National Forest and Lake Wilhelmina.
Talimena Scenic Drive is located in the Ouachita National Forest. The dense evergreen and deciduous trees are home to deer, squirrels, and other wildlife. C & I saw many deer, as well as eagles and hawks, soaring in the sky. Bear sightings in the area have also been reported.
While we didn’t hike near Talimena Scenic Drive, there is plenty of opportunity with several hiking trails in the area. Ouachita National Recreation Trail, a 192-mile long backpacking trail, starts in Talimena State Park and parallels the Talimena Drive. Earthquake Ridge Trail is a 4.4-mile moderate trail starting in Mena. Lovers Leap Trail in Wilhelmina State Park is popular for its spectacular views.
Talimena Scenic Drive is a photographer’s paradise. The lookouts offer plenty of opportunities to stop, explore and take photos of the incredible views. Photographers will enjoy Sunset Vista, Panoramic Vista, steep inclines, fall foliage and abundant wildlife in the area.
Watersports & fishing
The region around Talimena Scenic Drive has several lakes including Lake Ouachita, Broken Bow Lake, Cedar Lake and more. Most of these lakes have excellent fishing, boating and water sports opportunities. The area also offers white-water canoeing and kayaking opportunities.
Many equestrian ranches located around Talimena National Scenic Byway offer day-use and overnight camping facilities for riders and horses. The ranches also offer horse rentals.
Things to know before visiting Talimena Drive
Talimena Drive has no gas station so cars and motorcycles should fill up on gas. There are no restaurants along Talimena Scenic Byway except Queen’s Restaurant in Queen Wilhelmina State Park. There are many picnic tables and recreational areas along the drive, so visitors can pack a picnic lunch. Restrooms are located at Rich Mountain Fire Tower (seasonal) Queen Wilhelmina State Park and a few other areas. Dotted Globe recommends checking weather conditions before you drive.