Arkansas is a hidden gem when it comes to experiencing the breathtaking beauty of fall foliage. With its diverse landscapes and stunning natural scenery, the Natural State offers a truly unique and captivating autumn experience. From the winding backroads of the Ozarks to the picturesque lakeshores, Arkansas transforms into a kaleidoscope of vibrant colors during the fall season. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a road trip lover, or simply someone who appreciates the wonders of the great outdoors, Arkansas is the perfect destination to witness the magic of fall. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a journey through the best places to see fall foliage in Arkansas, providing you with insider tips, scenic drives, and hidden gems that will make your autumn adventure unforgettable.
When Do the Leaves Begin to Turn in Arkansas?
The changing of the leaves is a highly anticipated event during the fall season in Arkansas. While the exact timing can vary from year to year, typically you can expect to see the first hints of color in mid to late October, with peak foliage occurring in early to mid-November. However, it’s important to note that the timing of fall color can vary depending on weather conditions and the specific region of the state. The northern part of Arkansas tends to experience earlier color changes, while the southern areas may see foliage transition later in the season. To ensure you catch the leaves at their most vibrant, it’s recommended to check local color forecasts and conditions before planning your trip.
Best Drives to Experience Fall Color in Arkansas
One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the beauty of Arkansas fall foliage is by embarking on a scenic drive. The state is blessed with an abundance of winding backroads that traverse the Ozark, Ouachita, and Boston Mountains, providing breathtaking views of the changing leaves. Here are some of the top scenic drives to consider during your fall adventure in Arkansas:
Arkansas Scenic Highway 7 Byway
Arkansas Scenic Highway 7 is a designated scenic byway that spans four of the state’s geographical regions. Starting near El Dorado and ending in Harrison, this picturesque route offers a diverse range of landscapes and stunning fall foliage views. For the best fall colors, begin your journey just off I-40 near Russellville and head north. Along the way, you’ll encounter “The Grand Canyon of the Ozarks” and have multiple opportunities to stop and soak in the awe-inspiring scenery. Don’t miss the Cliff House Inn and the charming town of Jasper, nestled along the Buffalo River.
Drive the Pig Trail
Arkansas Highway 23, also known as the Pig Trail, is a 19-mile stretch of road that winds through the Boston Mountains and the Ozarks. This scenic drive is a favorite among locals and offers a truly immersive fall foliage experience. As you navigate the twisty, turning road, you’ll be surrounded by a canopy of vibrant trees, creating a stunning visual display of autumn colors. The Pig Trail gets its name from the route many fans of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks used to take to attend football games in Fayetteville.
US Hwy 71 Through the Boston Mountains
US Highway 71 is another fantastic route to experience the beauty of fall foliage in Arkansas. This scenic drive takes you through the picturesque Boston Mountains, starting just outside of Alma. Along the way, you’ll encounter charming small towns, scenic overlooks, and breathtaking vistas. Take your time to explore the stops and soak in the natural splendor of the changing leaves.
Talimena National Scenic Byway
While only 18 miles of the 54-mile-long Talimena Scenic Byway are in Arkansas, this drive is a hidden gem for fall foliage enthusiasts. Beginning near Mena, Arkansas, and continuing along the crest of the Ouachita Mountains into Oklahoma, this scenic byway offers unparalleled panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes. With 22 scenic pullouts along the route, you’ll have ample opportunities to capture stunning photos of the vibrant fall colors. Keep an eye out for wildlife, as you may even spot a black bear on your journey.
Mount Magazine Scenic Byway
The Mount Magazine Scenic Byway takes you across the highest mountain in Arkansas, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding forests and foliage. Starting in Havana, Arkansas, and ending in Webb City, this picturesque drive offers a chance to witness the beauty of fall from a lofty vantage point. As you descend from the mountaintop, you’ll be treated to stunning vistas and plenty of stops to explore along the way.
The Twisted Lady
For those seeking a more adventurous and scenic route, The Twisted Lady motorcycle loop is a must-try. This 126-mile loop begins and ends in Harrison, Arkansas, taking you through charming towns like Jasper, Deer, and Ponca, as well as the stunning Boxley Valley. With its 517 curves and breathtaking views, The Twisted Lady offers a thrilling and immersive fall foliage experience.
Best Places to Go for Fall Color in Arkansas
In addition to the scenic drives, Arkansas is home to several extraordinary destinations where you can witness the vibrant fall colors up close. From state parks to natural landmarks, here are some of the best places to visit for fall foliage in Arkansas:
Hawksbill Crag / Whitaker Point
Hawksbill Crag, also known as Whitaker Point, is one of Arkansas’s most iconic and photographed spots. This natural rock formation offers panoramic views of the surrounding forest, which transforms into a stunning display of fall colors during autumn. While the hike to Hawksbill Crag is not too challenging, it’s important to be cautious as the trail includes heights and edges. Capture unforgettable photos and immerse yourself in the beauty of the changing leaves at this picturesque location.
Petit Jean State Park
Nestled in the heart of the Arkansas River Valley, Petit Jean State Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. This scenic park offers breathtaking overlooks, hiking trails, and the opportunity to witness the vibrant fall foliage. Take a leisurely hike through the Seven Hollows Trail, which winds through colorful forests and unique geological formations. Enjoy a meal with a view at Mather Lodge or simply relax and soak in the natural beauty of this enchanting state park.
Mount Magazine State Park
As the highest point in Arkansas, Mount Magazine State Park offers unparalleled views of the surrounding landscapes and foliage. Drive along the Mount Magazine Scenic Byway to reach the mountaintop, where you can explore the park’s hiking trails and capture stunning photos of the changing leaves. Don’t miss the opportunity to witness a breathtaking sunset from Cameron Bluff, an unforgettable experience that amplifies the beauty of the fall foliage.
While it may seem unconventional, Maplewood Cemetery near Harrison, Arkansas, is one of the best places to witness fall color in the state. The cemetery is home to over 700 sugar maple trees, which create a mesmerizing display of deep reds, vibrant oranges, and bright yellows. Walking or driving through the cemetery allows you to immerse yourself in the stunning colors of autumn while paying respect to the peaceful surroundings. Be sure to check the cemetery’s Facebook page for updates on the leaves and always maintain respectful behavior during your visit.
Hike The Goat Trail to Big Bluff
For adventurous hikers seeking a one-of-a-kind fall foliage experience, The Goat Trail to Big Bluff is a must-do. Located in the Buffalo National River area, this trail offers panoramic views of the rugged Ozark Mountains and the Buffalo River below. While the trail can be challenging and requires caution due to its heights, the stunning vistas and vibrant colors make it a truly unforgettable hiking adventure.
Visit Lost Valley
Lost Valley, located in the heart of the Ozarks, is a hidden gem that showcases the natural beauty of Arkansas. This enchanting trail takes you through beautiful woods, a natural bridge with a small waterfall, a massive bluff overhang, and the stunning Eden Falls. The fall season amplifies the beauty of Lost Valley, especially after rainfall, when the colors become even more vibrant. Explore the trail, climb into the cave (with a flashlight and caution), and immerse yourself in the captivating beauty of this unique destination.
Ride the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad
For a relaxing and scenic way to experience fall foliage, hop aboard the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad. This historic railroad offers several round-trip rides through the mountains of western Arkansas, departing from Springdale and Van Buren. As you wind through river valleys and traverse high trestles, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the stunning fall colors. Sit back, relax, and let the rhythmic sounds of the train transport you to a world of natural beauty.
The charming town of Eureka Springs is a must-visit destination during the fall season. Its historic architecture and vibrant downtown area perfectly complement the surrounding hills adorned with fall foliage. Take a stroll through the town, exploring its unique shops and art galleries, or venture out to nearby Lake Leatherwood for a walk or bike ride amidst the colorful trees. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a guided boat cruise on Beaver Lake aboard the Belle of the Ozarks, offering a unique perspective of the fall colors.
Pinnacle Mountain State Park
Located just outside of Little Rock, Pinnacle Mountain State Park is a favorite destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Climbing Pinnacle Mountain in the fall has become a tradition for many locals, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscapes and the vibrant colors of the turning leaves. If you prefer a less challenging experience, explore the park’s Arboretum or hike the Rocky Valley Trail, which provide opportunities to witness the beauty of fall foliage at a more leisurely pace.
Mirror Lake and Mountain View Arkansas
Mirror Lake, nestled near Blanchard Springs Caverns, is a hidden gem for fall foliage enthusiasts. Fed by the waters flowing from the caverns, this serene lake reflects the vibrant reds and golds of the surrounding trees, creating a captivating visual display. Take a short and easy trail to reach Mirror Lake, where you can immerse yourself in the colors of autumn. The nearby town of Mountain View is another fall fantasyland, with live music performances in the town square until the end of November.
Float the Buffalo River
If water levels permit, floating the Buffalo River during the fall season is a memorable experience. The Buffalo River, known for its pristine beauty and scenic views, offers a unique perspective of the fall foliage. Check the water levels and plan your trip accordingly, ensuring a safe and enjoyable adventure. The Buffalo Outdoor Center can provide information on floating and water conditions, ensuring you have an unforgettable fall journey on the river.
Capture the Beauty: Tips for Photographing Fall Foliage in Arkansas
As you embark on your fall foliage adventure in Arkansas, you’ll want to capture the beauty of the changing leaves through photography. Here are some tips to help you capture stunning photos of the vibrant autumn colors:
- Use the golden hours: The soft, warm light during sunrise and sunset, known as the golden hours, can enhance the colors of fall foliage. Plan your photography outings during these times for the best lighting conditions.
- Experiment with different angles and perspectives: Don’t be afraid to get creative with your compositions. Try shooting from low angles, capturing the leaves against the sky or water, or framing them with interesting foreground elements.
- Incorporate leading lines: Utilize natural elements such as trails, roads, or rivers to create leading lines that draw the viewer’s eye into the frame and highlight the fall colors.
- Shoot in RAW format: Shooting in RAW allows for greater flexibility in post-processing, enabling you to enhance and adjust the colors of the foliage to your liking.
- Include reflections: Look for opportunities to capture the colorful leaves reflected in bodies of water, such as lakes, ponds, or streams. Reflections can add depth and visual interest to your photos.
- Don’t forget the details: While wide-angle shots of sweeping landscapes are beautiful, don’t overlook the smaller details. Focus on individual leaves, tree bark, or the interplay of light and shadow to capture the intricate beauty of fall foliage up close.
Remember, the best camera is the one you have with you, so don’t hesitate to capture the beauty of fall foliage with your smartphone if that’s what you have on hand. The most important thing is to enjoy the experience and savor the moments as you immerse yourself in the stunning colors of autumn.
PLAN A TRIP TO SEE FALL FOLIAGE IN ARKANSAS
Plan Your Perfect Fall Adventure in Arkansas
Now that you have a comprehensive guide to the best places to see fall foliage in Arkansas, it’s time to plan your perfect autumn adventure. From scenic drives to hiking trails, state parks to hidden gems, Arkansas offers a wealth of opportunities to witness the vibrant colors of fall. Whether you choose to embark on a road trip through the Ozarks, hike to picturesque overlooks, or simply relax and soak in the beauty of nature, Arkansas promises an unforgettable fall experience. So grab your camera, pack your bags, and get ready to immerse yourself in the kaleidoscope of colors that awaits you in the Natural State.