Just north of Talihina, Oklahoma, stretches an expanse of road over 50 miles across a ridge of the Ouachita Mountains. This road is the Talimena National Scenic Byway and it travels all the way to Mena, Arkansas. It’s one of our family’s favorite scenic drives, as well as one of our favorite places to rest our tent. Full of history, scenic beauty and nature, the Byway is definitely a drive worth taking.
Whether you choose to travel east or west on the Talimena Scenic Byway, you’ll no doubt enjoy the views. The road twists and turns, climbs up, and finds its way back down, seemingly like a roller coaster. On a beautiful day, it’s a motorcyclist’s dream. Lined with trees, both pine trees and deciduous, I can only imagine the beauty that both spring and fall bring to this well-traveled road.
Historical Landmarks and Beautiful Vistas
Traveling east, Choctaw Vista lands you right on the state line between Arkansas and Oklahoma. Originally, a survey marker here marked the boundary between Arkansas and the Choctaw Nations. The State Line Trail also ran through the area and was used until around the 1930s, mainly by moonshiners trying to evade the law on either side of the state line.
Stop to take in the view of Mountain Fork Vista along the way to the Pioneer Cemetery. We love exploring old cemeteries, so when we found this little gem on the drive, we were pretty ecstatic.
Just a bit of history… Rich Mountain was home to several farms, thanks to the Homestead Act of 1862. There are still several signs of these old homesteads, things like old foundations, stone fences, wagon tracks, fruit trees and graves, as in this particular cemetery.
There are 23 graves in Pioneer Cemetery. The last person to be buried here was buried in 1949. There used to be a church with the cemetery. Now all that remains is a bunch of stone graves in amongst the weeds and trees.
Queen Wilhelmina State Park
Nearer the end of the Talimena sits Queen Wilhelmina State Park with its gorgeous views, the Queen Wilhelmina Lodge with the Queen’s Restaurant, and the miniature train at Mountain Glory Station.
On our drive, we stopped for lunch at the Queen’s Restaurant and enjoyed both our meal and our interaction with our waiter and staff. From our table, we could look out and see beyond the mountain for miles. The view is incredible.
The miniature train, which visitors can ride for a fee, chugs past the lodge and restaurant.
After taking in the view, we decided to go explore an actual train engine that sits in front of the Mountain Glory Station. The boys climbed all over, and it made for a great photo opp.
The train engine actually represents the history of Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The first inn opened in this location in 1898 and was known as the “Castle in the Sky.” The Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad built the inn as a resort for passengers. Per the Queen Wilhelmina website, “Since the railroad was largely financed by Dutch interests, the resort was named in honor of the Netherlands’ young Queen Wilhelmina.”
While we didn’t hike while visiting this time around, there is plenty of opportunity with trails like the Ouachita Trail, Lovers’ Leap Trail and more.
We’ve wanted to visit this park for quite some time, so when we happened upon it without knowing we were going to drive through it on the Talimena, it was a pleasant surprise.
Continuing on the Talimena Scenic Byway
As you continue past Queen Wilhelmina State Park, you’ll drive past more vistas that are definitely worth pulling over and taking in the view. Lake Wilhelmina Vista, with its views of the valley below, is the first stop. Across the road from the vista, the Ouachita Trail descends down Rich Mountain.
Love the opportunity for a beautiful panoramic photo? Grand View Vista is the perfect stop for a beautiful photo.
Acorn Vista, on the tail end of the Talimena Scenic Byway, gives a view of Wolf Pinnacle.
Finally, you’ll enter the town of Mena, where you’ll find restaurants, inns, and the opportunity to fill up your gas tank.
Things to Know Before You Go
If you’re planning to drive the Talimena National Scenic Byway, plan for at least a half-day, if not a full day. You’ll find plenty of recreational opportunities, photo opps, and views you may not want to leave.
If you don’t want to eat out, there are picnic areas along the way, or you can enjoy the view while picnicking at the top of one of the many vista view stops along the way. There are restrooms at several different stops, as well.
There are side roads off the Talimena, from 4-wheel drive roads to regularly traveled roads that lead to towns and other landmarks. If you’re looking to make amazing camping memories, there are opportunities for dispersed camping, as well as campground camping, available.
Trust me when I say, photos just don’t do it justice when it comes to the Talimena National Scenic Byway. There is absolutely nothing like taking in these wonderful Arkansas mountain views in person. It’s the perfect weekend getaway to unwind and relax.