Arkansas Scenic 7 in the Ozarks: A Guide
Length: 105 miles from Russellville to Diamond City
Best Colors: The green trees of summer are dipped in brilliant fall colors as they brush up against the robins-egg blue of October skies.
Dreamiest Place to Overnight: Cedar Crest Lodge (State Highway 43; (870) 861-5700) in Ponca boasts a 6,000-square-foot luxurious native stone and wood cabin that sleeps about 20. It’s ideal for family reunions or weekends with friends.
The Drive: Arkansas’ first scenic byway actually covers 290 miles, from 1920s oil boom town El Dorado all the way up to the Missouri line by Diamond City. Once the route crosses the Arkansas River valley, it ascends into the jumbled folds of the Ozarks.
As Scenic 7 crosses the Ozark National Forest between Russellville and Jasper, there are dozens of opportunities to camp, hike, mountain bike, canoe and ride horses within a few miles of the highway. Over at Long Pool Recreation Area (1200 State 27 in Hector; (479) 964-7200), you can put up a tent, paddle Big Piney Creek, fish, hike and seek picturesque bluffs. Meanwhile, craft-lovers know to pull in at Nellie’s (HC 30, Scenic 7 in Pelsor; (870) 688-2314) about halfway between Russellville and Jasper for a selection of handmade quilts, cedar chests, and tasty jams and jellies.
When you work up an appetite, the tasty home cooking and Company’s Coming pie served up with spectacular views at Cliff House Inn and Restaurant (about one mile south of Jasper on Scenic 7; (870) 466-2292) above the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks will satisfy your cravings. The folks at the nearby Ozark Café (107 E. Court Street; (870) 446-2976) in Jasper also know how to feed you right, with hearty stick-to-your-ribs fare like fried chicken, potatoes and gravy, and homemade fried pies. Originally opened in 1909, the café is as much a gathering spot for swapping stories over cups of coffee as it is for a reasonably priced meal.
If you have time, take a side trip down Highway 74 to the National Park Service’s Steel Creek (Steel Creek Road off State 74 one mile east of Ponca; (870) 439-2502) on the Buffalo River for a spectacular view of towering bluffs topped with colorful fall foliage. On early mornings and during the twilight hours, Arkansas’ elk herd can be seen congregating in nearby Boxley Valley—bring a telephoto lens for your camera to catch the bulls bugling.
Continuing on Scenic 7, head to historic Harrison, about 30 minutes beyond Jasper. Pick up a brochure at the Visitors Center (200 W. Stephenson Ave.; (870) 741-1789) and take a walking tour of the old brick storefronts that line the square, seeking out the 1929 Lyric Theater, the 1909 courthouse and 1914 jail, and the restored Spanish architecture of the Seville Hotel.
End your sojourn at Diamond City. Meet the good folks who hang out at Diamond City Lakeside Resort (1447 N. Diamond Blvd.; (870) 422-2668), where fall’s intense colors are mirrored in the calm waters of Bull Shoals Lake.
(ADG file photo)