Back on Rte. 7, beside the Arkansas River, lies the town of Dardanelle. Historic homes, parks, and stately oaks (one of which had set down its roots years before Columbus and his expedition chanced upon the New World) add to the charm of this community.
7. Mt. Nebo State Park
On the way to popular Mt. Nebo State Park, wayside overlooks make for easy viewing along steep and sharply curving Rte. 155. Once at the 1,800-foot summit, hikers have their pick of fine trails and, after a day’s exploration, can enjoy swimming or camping.
For a chance to see humans fly like birds, stop at Sunrise Point. Hang gliders, harnessed in kitelike devices, run down the slopes and take off to sail on thermals (wind currents created by rising hot air).
8. Mt. Magazine
The southern border of the broad Arkansas River valley reaches its apex at Mt. Magazine. Its steep slopes, composed mostly of sandstone and shale, rise to an altitude of 2,753 feet, the highest point in the state.
To explore this lofty wilderness, where temperatures during the often hot summer months average about 10°F cooler than in the surrounding lowlands, take scenic Rte. 22 west along Lake Dardanelle, which was created by a dam on the Arkansas River. From the town of Paris, head south on Rte. 309 across the river valley and its fertile farmlands.
The drive then climbs the northern face of Mt. Magazine, where oaks, hickories, and maples grow among the more-numerous shortleaf pines. Adding to the beauty of the scene are the ferns and wildflowers that carpet the forest floor.
At the summit, you’ll find the new Mt. Magazine State Park visitor’s center that welcomes you to the park, provides information, and offers exhibits. A lodge will be completed on the site in 2006.
In stark contrast to its north face, the southern slopes of the mountain, having a drier climate, support patches of prickly-pear cactus, stunted and twisted oak trees, prairie grass, and occasionally in spring, the purple-petaled Ozark spiderwort.
These rich and varied wildlands harbor many animals—black bears and foxes, opossums and skunks, mockingbirds and whippoorwills, to name just a sampling. Of special note are the middle-toothed land snail—look closely for them in the leaf litter under trees—and the maple-leaved oak tree—two very rare species that survive on the slopes of Mt. Magazine.
9. Ozark National Forest
Once back on Rte. 7, the drive proceeds across the Arkansas River into Russellville, then continues up the northern flank of the Arkansas River valley. Pasturelands, horse farms, and craft and antique shops line the byway. Near the town of Dover, the Ozark Mountains begin to rise, and the drive soon enters Ozark National Forest.
This diverse treasure (it encompasses more than a million acres) contains mountain springs and streams, caves and waterfalls, odd rock formations, and trail-laced forests full of pines, shrubs, and colorful wildflowers.
10. Long Pool Recreation Area
One of the first places to park and enjoy Ozark National Forest, Long Pool is reached via Rtes. 1801 and 1804. Lapping at the base of the high bluffs that tower above the banks of Big Piney Creek, the pool is a refreshing swimming hole. After a dip, sample one of the many hiking trails that crisscross the hilly terrain.
11. Rotary Ann Overlook
Scenic Highway 7 slips through Moccasin Gap, climbs even higher into the Ozarks, and then twists and turns to the Rotary Ann Overlook. Back in the 1930s, the wives of Rotary Club members were instrumental in the development of this popular roadside viewing point. It comes complete with picnic facilities, interpretive signs, and far-reaching vistas of the jagged mountains—all things considered, it’s a delightful place to admire the forest and stretch the legs.