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Mena | A Town for All Seasons


Few towns in Arkansas offer great options for visitors 12 months out of the year. Mena is one of those places. Even in the chill, you can take in all the thrills.

Arkansas will be a central location for the 2024 North American eclipse path of totality. With the most extended timeframe of totality in Sevier County, near Gillham, their northern neighbor at Queen Wilhelmena State Park in the Ouachita National Forest will host some of the best skies for viewing, especially in open sky spots of lakes and clearings.

We know that Mena, Arkansas, the gateway to the Ouachitas, is a busy and fun place throughout the year. The growing popularity of the Wolf Pen Gap corridor, the attention of the first brewery in a dry county, a historical railroad and train depot, a growing staycation destination, a national scenic byway and a year-round Arkansas State Park and a designated Main Street preservation community. It is truly a place to experience any time of the year, even in our first quarter’s grayest and icy skies.

Its central location in southwest Arkansas, central Arkansas, and the Western corridor of Arkansas makes it a great weekend getaway for couples girlfriends, a quick night out or a weekend day trip for families.

When my family lived in the southwest part of the state, Mena was a town we would visit multiple times throughout the year to watch the foliage and blooming flowers, ride a train and dodge black bears munching on roadside berries.

History of Mena

Mena was founded in 1896 and served as the mid-anchor of Arthur Stilwell’s Kansas City Southern Railroad. Arkansas.com calls it “a railroad town at the eastern foot of Arkansas’ second highest peak, Rich Mountain, and the eastern terminus of the Talimena National Scenic Byway.”

Early on, the town established itself as a tourist destination, claiming to be a spa city with economic interests in timber and natural resources. Over the years, Mena has been an education hub as the home to Commonwealth College in 1924 and later, a technical school opened in 1975. Over time, Rich Mountain Community College became a remote location of Henderson State University, and in 2017, it moved under the University of Arkansas umbrella, keeping the distinct Rich Mountain name.

While the 2017 movie American Made, starring Tom Cruise, depicts an intriguing portion of Mena’s history, multiple tornadoes over time have nearly destroyed the town, but the resilient community and their tenacity to be a destination for economic growth and tourism have rebuilt time and time again. History buffs, hikers, trail riders and artists find this buzzing community far from stale.

What can you do in Mena, Arkansas?

  • Queen Wilhelmina State Park is family-friendly, with trails, playgrounds, a lodge, a restaurant and picnic tables. It’s an easy park to drive in winter and fall and get out and explore in warmer months.
  • Mena KCS Historic Train Depot is a restored historic train depot from the passenger era. The depot serves as the Visitor Center and tourism office. The primary passenger area displays founders, famous residents, historic home tours, pioneer artifacts and Lum and Abner memorabilia. A 1939 Dodge police car rounds out the grounds of the active railway system. All Aboard!
  • Janssen Park is one of many Mena city parks that are great options for children to play and adults to rest and read. Included is an original 1851 log cabin from the city’s founding, considered by some to be a hideout for outlaw Jesse James.
  • The Blue Zipline and Farm is a family destination with ADA accommodations, using the farmland as an outdoor classroom.
  • Wolf Pen Gap, in the Ouachita National Forest, is 41 miles of recreational trails for ATVs and off-road vehicles. Nearby, many cabins offer ride-in/ride-out accommodations.

Photo used with permission from The Ouachitas.

Where can you eat in Mena, Arkansas?

  • The Ouachitas Entertainment District – Pizza. Coffee. Tap Room. That’s all you need to know!
  • American Artisans Eatery & Gallery – specialty foods and eclectic tastes surrounded by local art
  • Skyline Cafe opened in 192 and still serves a similar menu to downtown diners.
  • Myers Cruizzers Drive-in is everything you want from a 50s drive-in – fried appetizers, flattop burgers with all the veggies, shakes, and sundaes dripping with hot fudge.
  • Chopping Block – what started as a butcher shop and deli turned into a full-service restaurant serving the finest meats for nearly 50 years.
  • Suzy Q’s – coffee, gourmet hot chocolate, decadent sundaes and burgers
  • Sassafrass Bakehouse is a pop-up bake shop with treats served at several restaurants around town.
  • Fully Baked Cafe is everything you want in a local diner where people gather for weeknight dinners and weekend brunch.
  • Big D’ Station – Don’t miss this stop behind the Exxon station with breakfast platters and plated BBQ lunches.
  • Little Italy – authentic Italian-made dishes.
  • Reiki Hibachi and Sushi House is the local spot for Asian cuisine.
  • Cocina Flores – local authentic Mexican food.
  • Sherwood Bistro – sandwiches, soup and coffee to warm your heart.

What else can you do near Mena, Arkansas?

Mena truly is a year-round destination. It’s a perfect Saturday drive when you have been homebound with school-aged children all week. It’s an easy spring break staycation destination. And it’s the kind of place where seniors, teenagers, couples, families and children can all find their thing!

Have you been? Tell us in the comments what you love to do near Mena, Arkansas.

Meet the

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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