This trip begins at Hot Springs and Hot Springs National Park and travels north along Rte. 7 through the Ouachita National Forest. It takes a side trip to Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge, and further north to Nebo State Park. It then continues on to the Ozark National Forest, a diverse million acres that contains mountain streams, waterfalls, caves, unusual rock formations and forests of pines and mountain wildflowers. This area is particularly beautiful in the spring and fall. Your drive ends at the Ozark National Forest, but plant to spend some time to enjoy all that this area has to offer.
A. Hot Springs. The city of Hot Springs is a nice mix of coffee houses, antique shops, art galleries, hotels and Victorian homes, but its real attraction is Hot Springs National Park where warm mineral waters flow to the surface from a number of springs. Visitors can bathe in its soothing waters and stroll through the beautiful gardens at the Buckstaff Bath House.
Another interesting place to visit is the Garvan Woodland Gardens located on a wooded peninsula that juts into Lake Hamilton. Its streams, waterfalls and hundreds of native and exotic plants make this visit a rewarding experience.
Secondary roads also take you up Zig Zag Mountain and Hot Springs Mountain which both offer spectacular views of the surrounding area. With their dense forests this visit is particularly beautiful during fall color.
Another area to explore from Hot Springs is Lake Ouachita State Park on Rte. 227. Set amid a forest of pines the park offers nature talks, cabins, camping, and trails. The lake is also ideal for water sports and fishing.
Head north from Hot Springs on Scenic Highway 7. The drive travels for 23 miles through the Ouachita National Forest and along Trace Creek where you can see plenty of wildflowers and wildlife.
Option. 1. At Centerville you can take a short side trip on Rte. 154 to the Holla Bend National Wildlife Refuge where bobcats, coyotes, beavers and deer can often be spotted, and further along on Rte. 154 visit Petit Jean State Park where you can see a pioneer cabin and Cedar Falls that plunges 94 ft. into Cedar Creek Canyon. This side road ends by the Arkansas River.
Option. 2. Continue on Rte. 7 north to Dardanelle which sits by the Arkansas River.
C. Dardanelle. Dardanelle sits beside the Arkansas River with its historic homes, parks and ancient oaks. From here you can take a side trip to Mt. Nebo State Park and Mt. Magazine by taking Rte. 155. Trails lead to the 1,800 ft. summit for great views of the surrounding area. The Arkansas River valley reaches its apex at Mt. Magazine which rises to an altitude of 2,753 ft. To explore this area take Rte. 22 west along Lake Dardanelle. From the town of Paris head south on Rte. 309 across the river valley. The drive will begin to climb the northern face of Mt. Magazine. At the summit you will find the Mt. Magazine State Park visitor center. There is also a lodge if you care to spend the night.
Once back on Rte. 7 the drive crosses the Arkansas River into Russelville, then continues up the northern flank of the valley where you begin to see pastures and horse farms. Near the town of Dover the Ozark Mountains begin to rise and you will soon enter the Ozark National Forest and the end of the drive, but plan to stay a while and enjoy all that this beautiful area has to offer.
Long Pool Recreation Area. You can reach Long Pool via Rtes. 1801 and 1804. The pool sits at the base of the high bluffs that tower over the banks of Big Piney Creek. You could take a refreshing swim in the pool or hike one of the numerous trails.
Alum Cove Natural Bridge Recreation Area. This side trip heads west along Rtes. 16 and 1206 and traverses the slopes of Henderson Mountain up to the recreation area. The combined action of wind, water and gravity have transformed a huge mass of sandstone into a natural bridge with a span of about 130 ft. and an average of 20 ft. wide. A nature trail crosses the bridge. In spring the dogwoods are in full bloom with their clusters of white flowers.
Buffalo National River. Rte. 7 takes a deep descent down to the town of Jasper and then on to the Buffalo National River which flows for nearly 150 miles through the Ozarks. The town of Ponca is the gateway to the river and offers a put-in point for canoes and kayaks, and also offers boats and tours. To the north a trail leads to Hemmed-in-Hollow where a veil of water plunges 209 ft. from a limestone bluff.
Mystic Caverns. The two caves at Mystic Caverns feature stalactites that hang from the ceiling, and stalagmites that grow from the cave floor. They also include formations that resemble a pipe organ and a huge crystal dome. Mystic Caverns offer guided tours.