Tour One – a trip back in time
Tour One starts at the site of the westernmost expansion in 19th-century America. Historic Fort Smith and Van Buren, formerly on the fringe of Indian Territory, are now the hospitality centers for this part of Western Arkansas' Mountain Frontier.
The fastest way for east-west highway travelers to reach Van Buren and Fort Smith is via Interstate 40, which connects to Interstate 540. Exit I-540 at 4th Street in Van Buren to access Main Street, Van Buren.
At the Visitor’s Center, housed in the Old Frisco Depot, you can request a map for a Walking Tour of the well preserved Main Street National Historic District, which looks much as it did 100 years ago: turn-of-the-century Victorian architecture, ornate storefronts and throngs of shoppers. More than 70 restored Victorian buildings are here to see as you stroll and shop. A unique attraction in downtown Van Buren is the 1836 Scott-Drennen House, which belonged to a Revolutionary War descendent and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cross the I-540 bridge over the Arkansas River to continue towards Fort Smith. Driving south on I-540, exit west on Grand Avenue or onto State Hwy. 22 (Rogers Avenue) to tour the Fort Smith National Historic Site, National Cemetery, Belle Grove Historic District, Fort Smith Museum of History, Trolley Museum, Air Museum and other attractions located downtown. Fort Smith is the only city in the nation that officially welcomes tourists into a restored turn-of-the-century brothel, Miss Laura's. Located on North "B" Street, Miss Laura’s is now a Visitor’s Center and is an excellent place to learn more about Fort Smith.
Returning to I-40, travel east to Alma, home of Popeye brand spinach then take Scenic Byway 71 north for a look at the Ozark National Forest countryside. Off Scenic Byway 71, you can take connecting routes to reach the Natural Dam and scenic Lee Creek. On Scenic Byway 71, Artist Point, just beyond Mountainburg, offers a panoramic view of the "Grand Canyon of the Ozarks." White Rock Mountain, one of the area’s highest peaks, is located a few miles west via county roads. Mountainburg area lake – Lake Fort Smith – features good fishing for bass and panfish.
Tour Two – a walk through Wine Country
One of the most popular destinations in the Tour Two area is Arkansas Wine Country, where several wineries practice traditions passed down through many generations. Here, you can enjoy free tours, tastings, festivals and other events. From I-40, exit Hwy. 186 for a beautiful drive through the countryside. You will first come to Wiederkehr Village, home to Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Weinkeller Restaurant, then you will continue onto Altus, the site of Post Familie Vineyard & Winery, Mount Bethel Winery and Chateau Aux Arc. Head west on Hwy. 64 from Altus to view the Ozark-Jeta Taylor Lock and Dam and an amazing overlook on the Arkansas River.
Back on I-40, take Scenic Hwy. 23, a National Scenic Byway, north through the Ozark National Forest to visit the Mulberry River, one of the state's premier white-water canoe streams. Near the town of Mulberry, Shores Lake is an 82-acre lake known for excellent fishing, swimming, hiking and picnicking.
Driving south of scenic Highway 23 across I-40 cross the Arkansas River on the lighted Ozark Bridge named one of the most beautiful bridges in the country. The town of Ozark offers great shopping and dining. It’s home to Aux Arc Park featuring more than 80 RV sites with hookups and primitive sites with beautiful views and easy access to the Arkansas River and Ozark Lake with boat launching facilties.
Tour Three – a view from the top
From Ozark, Tour Three takes you through the Ouachita and Ozark National Forests. Take Scenic Hwy. 23 south to Booneville where you will find great shopping and antiquing. While in town, visit the interesting South Logan County Courthouse listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A side trip along Hwy. 116 south from Booneville will lead you to Jack Creek and Knoppers Ford Recreation Areas. Scenic Hwy. 23 also connects with Hwy. 10, which offers easy access to Blue Mountain Lake and Mount Magazine, the state’s highest peak. Take the Mount Magazine Scenic Byway (Ark. 309) to the mountain’s summit for unforgettable views and memorable adventures. Mount Magazine State Park offers luxury lodging, cabins, a restaurant, visitor’s center with interpretive exhibits, picnic areas, nature trails and, for the thrill-seekers, mountain climbing, rappelling and hang gliding.
Tour Three outings in and around Paris include Hwy. 309 south to Paris, which leads to the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum at Cowie Wine Cellars; Scenic Hwy. 22 east from Paris to Subiaco Abbey and Academy, where Benedictine monks assist with spiritual and academic pursuits; and Scenic Hwy. 22 west of Paris to Charleston, an area known for its access to excellent fishing and hunting at the Fort Chaffee Wildlife Management Area. Also in Charleston, view the National Commemorative Site honoring the Charleston School District’s role as the first public school district in the South to integrate.
Meandering south, Scenic Hwy. 23 connects with another splendid route, Scenic Byway 71 which travels to Waldron in the heart of the Ouachita National Forest. In Waldron, locate RV parks, cabins and campgrounds. This area is also home to the Turkey Track Bluegrass Festivals, eight miles east of Waldron on Hwy. 250. From Waldron, you can take Hwy 248 to Lake Hinkle, a dandy fishing spot.
Scenic Hwy. 71 travels north from Waldron to eventually connect with Fort Smith. Take Scenic Hwy. 10 east off Hwy. 71 to visit Greenwood and its interesting town square and Old Jail Museum listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Greenwood is also known for its antique stores, Vache Grasse Recreation Area and Lake Jack Nolen. Scenic Hwy. 71 also travels south to Mena.
Tour Four – a riverside retreat
Mena is the starting point for Tour Four. The Talimena National Scenic Byway (Hwy. 88) west from Mena should be at the top of your to-do list. This drive winds 54 miles from Mena to Talihina, Oklahoma, offering breathtaking panoramas of the Ouachita Mountain countryside from a vantage point of nearly 3,000 feet. Beautiful Queen Wilhelmina State Park is located along this route, about five miles from the state line. In Mena, visit the Mena Depot, a restored 1920s Kansas City Southern Railroad Depot, for a glimpse into local history.
Scenic Hwy. 71 travels through the Tour Four area from north to south, offering scenic touring all the way. Gillham Lake is near the southernmost leg of Hwy. 71. Off Hwy. 71 take Ark. 246 near Vandervoort to visit the Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area which extends 11 miles along this wild and beautiful river. The white water at the Cossatot River challenges the most experienced kayakers and canoeists. Day-use facilities at the park include picnic sites and a nature trail with easy access to the river itself. To reach Cossatot Falls, take Ark. 4 from Wickes to Umpire.