Drive the Hills of Scenic Highway 7 in Arkansas

from The Most Scenic Drives in America | 217

12.Pedestal Rocks At the little community of Pelsor, Rte. 16 leads east for about four miles to Pedestal Rocks. A mile-long trail passes by wooded hollows and hillsides to these sand-stone formations. Natural forces—millions of years’ worth—have carved the rocks so that large boulders rest on pillarlike ones.

13. Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area Another side trip, to the west along Rtes. 16 and 1206, traverses the slopes of Henderson Mountain to this recreation area. Here, among craggy hillsides, the combined actions of wind, water, and gravity have transformed a huge mass of sandstone into an imposing natural bridge. With a total span of about 130 feet, the bridge averages 20 feet in width.

A nature trail crosses the bridge, overlooking the magnolias and beech trees that flourish below. In spring, blossoming dogwoods—found throughout the region—lend a contrasting brightness to the scene, with their clouds of white flowers resembling snowflakes that refuse to land.

Habitats such as Alum Cove, where overhanging rocks form numerous nooks and crannies, sometimes provide ideal conditions for uncommon species. Botanists for that very reason find this area an exciting place, especially when they come upon French’s shooting star, an extremely rare wildflower that flourishes beneath just a few sandstone ledges.

14. Grand Canyon of the Ozarks Although Rte. 7 soon departs from Ozark National Forest, the splendid scenery is far from ended, for Arkansas’s own “Grand Canyon” soon appears. The deep, wide valley, etched by the Buffalo River, teems with wildflowers. Overlooks, especially the one at the Cliff House, provide superb vantage points. The panorama includes red bluffs and the sharply defined Boston Mountains, which give way to smoother and smaller plateaus in the north. 15. Buffalo National River In a steep descent some six miles in length, the highway slopes down to the town of Jasper and then leads on to the Buffalo National River. Congress declared the waterway the country’s first national river in 1972, ensuring that neither dams nor other obstacles would impede its flow or taint its purity.

The river courses for nearly 150 miles through the Ozarks, starting high in the forest and with an outlet where it flows into the White River. Swollen with water after rainstorms, the river occasionally overflows its banks. At other times the dry spells of late summer take their toll and it slows to a trickle.

Towering limestone bluffs jut up in many places from the river’s blue-green water. Where no cliffs rise, oak and hickory trees are the predominant cover. Their leaves and branches cast a patchwork of sun and shadow across the forest floor, where the fertile soil supports a colorful array of wildflowers.

Ponca, one of the best gateways to the national river and the encircling wilds, can be reached via Rte. 74 west. The town is a popular put-in point for canoers and kayakers, and several outfitters offer boats and tours. Just to the north, a trail leads to Hemmed-in-Hollow, where a veil of water falls 209 feet from the crest of a limestone bluff. To the south lies Lost Valley, a scenic woodland worth visiting.

16. Mystic Caverns The subterranean wonders of the two caves at Mystic Caverns prove Arkansas’s beauty is even found underground. Stalactites hang from the ceiling, and stalagmites grow upwards from the cave floor. Formations resembling a giant pipe organ and a huge crystal dome are among the other sights that you’ll savor on guided tours here. 17. Harrison A lovely old town square greets visitors to Harrison, known as the crossroads of the Ozarks. Along its streets, you’ll find museums, craft shops, and inviting lodgings.

For a change of scenery, head for Baker Prairie, west of town. A remnant of a once-huge grassland, the prairie offers serenity and wide-open spaces in which to picnic and wander trails—brightened from March until October by a riot of wildflowers that colors the meadows in a rainbow of inviting colors.