Arkansas bills itself as 'The Natural State' - and when you drive Highway 7, the first state-designated Scenic Byway, it's easy to see why. This 465-km (290-mi) journey shows you many different faces of Arkansas, starting just north of the Louisiana state line on the West Gulf Coastal Plain, where an oil boom began near El Dorado in 1921. From there, the road continues to Camden and Arkadelphia through rolling country of river valleys and dense forest. Highway 7 then enters the Ouachita Mountains, famed for producing amazing quartz crystals, and passes De Grey Lake en route to Hot Springs National Park. The road continues through Ouachita National Forest, past Lake Nimrod and enters the level terrain of the Arkansas River Valley at Russellville. But not for long - it soon climbs into the Ozark Mountains, swinging through the Ozark National Forest, the town of Jasper and on to Harrison, the end of the line.
The journey can be done in a day if scenery is your thing, but Highway 7 deserves a more relaxed approach, with many worthwhile attractions (and distractions) to be found along the way. It's almost impossible not to linger in Hot Springs - the top tourist - destination in Arkansas with numerous tempting excuses to pause ... not least the US.Ns oldest National Park, pre-dating the much-touted Yellowstone by 40 years (plunging into therapeutic hot springs mandatory!). Lake Ouachita in the State Park of the same name is delightful, as is the Lake Dardanelle State Park near Russellville. Pedestal Rocks and the Great Arch at Alum Cove will encourage you to linger in the Ozark National Forest. Further north, the Buffalo River is one of the few remarrung unpolluted and free-flowing rivers in the USA, as it cuts its way through the Ozarks between massive bluffs.
WHEN TO GO
September or October for sensational fall foliage.
TIME IT TAKES
At least a day.
The terrific Arkansas Museum of Natural Resources at Smackover – 1920s scene of one of the wildest mineral booms in North American history as up through the ground came that bubbling crude.
A side-trip from Camden that takes you to poison Spring State park, site of the Battle of poison Spring in the American Civil War.
The best view in Arkansas, after a short hike to the top of Pedestal Rocks in the Ozark National Forest.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
Mountain sections of Highway 7 are not for faint-hearted drivers – they have numerous steep gradients and hairpin turns.