Complete Guide to the Talimena Scenic Byway
The Talimena Scenic Byway is a breathtaking 54-mile-long drive that, at times, feels like a roller coaster as you ride atop a mountain ridgeline. This is one of the best motorcycle roads in Arkansas and Oklahoma. I enjoyed it so much, that I rode it five times during my trips through the area in 2023.
In this blog, I’ll guide you through a few travel tips, things to do, where to eat, and stay to make your trip to the Talimena Scenic Byway a bit easier.
This blog was made possible by Arkansas Tourism. The thoughts and opinions are my own.
About the Talimena Scenic Byway
The Talimena Scenic Byway is named after the towns it starts and ends in: Talihina, Oklahoma and Mena, Arkansas. Located within the Ouachita National Forest, it traverses the Winding Stair Mountains and the Ouachita Mountains, which are some of the tallest mountains between the Appalachians and the Rockies. Talimena Scenic Drive was designated a National Scenic Byway in 2005.
How Much Time Do You Need? At only 54 Miles in length, you can ride the entire byway in an hour if you do not stop. If you plan to stop and enjoy the panoramic views at a few of the vista points, you’ll need 2-3 hours. If you want to see everything, you can spend half a day on this route.
There is no gas on the Talimena Scenic Byway. Both Talihina, OK and Mena, AR have services available.
The roadway is rough in some areas. Because the area receives snowfall, Winter maintenance has made some sections of the Talimena Scenic Byway a little rough. It doesn’t stop exotic car and motorcycle enthusiasts from enjoying when the weather permits, though!
In my opinion, the Oklahoma side of the Talimena Scenic Byway offers the best riding, from views to pavement quality. And, while most of the Talimena Scenic Drive is in Oklahoma, the 18-mile Arkansas portion of the byway holds the most dining and lodging options in the area.
Getting to the Talimena Scenic Byway:
If you plan to fly in and rent a motorcycle from Eagle Rider, the closest locations are in Dallas and Northwest Arkansas. I’d recommend starting the ride (or drive) in Talihina, Oklahoma since there are more amenities on the Arkansas end of the byway.
Here’s how long it will take you to get to Talihina from nearby areas:
- From Dallas, TX: 200 Miles or 3.5 hours
- From Bentonville, AR: 150 Miles or 2.5 Hours
- From Oklahoma City, OK: 180 Miles or 3 Hours
If you choose to start the Talimena Scenic Byway in Mena:
- Little Rock, AR is 140 Miles away or 2.5 Hours
- Hot Springs, AR is 75 Miles away or 1.5 Hours
When to Visit the Talimena Scenic Byway:
- Spring: Early spring is a bit chilly and the surrounding trees will still look “dead” and leafless. However, if you hold off until mid to late April, you’ll see vibrant greenery as all the trees come back to life! Spring months bring rain showers to the area that typically are accompanied by heavy fog at higher elevations. Be wary of traveling the byway in those conditions.
- Summer is the hottest time of year to ride the Talimena Scenic Byway. Arkansas and Oklahoma can both be very humid in the Summers, which doesn’t help with the brutally hot temperatures.
- Fall is the most popular time of year to ride the byway, as the area is known for its vibrant fall foliage display. Peak color is typically in late October.
- Winter: It snows on the Talimena Scenic Byway in the Winter! Travel may be restricted and plowing may not be enforced. It’s a dicey time of year to be riding this area.
If you’d like more information about Arkansas and the thousands of miles of phenomenal riding options available, check out the Arkansas Motorcycling Guide! I’ve ridden more than half of the ride routes in this guide since 2020 and can confidently say that Arkansas should be your next motorcycle destination.
Here are a few other blogs I’ve written about Arkansas:
- The Ozarks: Where to Grab a Slice of Pie
- Where to Eat along The Great River Road National Scenic Byway
Alternatively, you can check out my entire Arkansas playlist on the Ride to Food YouTube Channel!
Things to do along the Talimena Scenic Byway:
In some ways, the Talimena Scenic Drive reminds me of a MUCH shorter (and smaller) Blue Ridge Parkway road trip. There are only a handful of things to do along the 54-mile scenic drive, and for the most part, the scenery is the main highlight until you reach Talihina or Mena. Nonetheless, here are a few things to stop and see along the way:
Enjoy one of the 22 Scenic Vistas! Many of the vistas have info boards explaining the history of the region, including the Native American tribes that once called this area home. A few of my favorites are:
- Panorama Vista
- Shawnee Vista
- Sunset Point Vista
- Queen Wilhelmina State Park
- Grand View Vista
Take a photo with one of the official byway signs: The easiest one to access is at the Oklahoma/Arkansas state line
Rich Mountain Lookout Tower: You can’t climb this old lookout tower, but it’s still pretty cool to see up close. Take note that the driveway and parking area are a little steep, but manageable.
Pioneer Cemetery: A short hike will lead you to a small Cemetery with info boards available.
Horsethief Springs: the spring was supposedly used as a water source by outlaws back in the day. There are info boards and a picnic area with more information at the site.
Visit Queen Wilhelmina State Park: This is undoubtedly the top destination along the Talimena Scenic Byway. Once known as the “Castle in the Sky” the Lodge was originally built in 1898. It’s since burned down and been rebuilt and remodeled a few times, but has an interesting history nonetheless. You can read about it in detail within the Lodge. There are numerous books in the main public room that overlooks the mountains to the south.
All Arkansas State Parks are free to enter, so there’s no fee to stop and check it out. Near the entrance, you’ll also see the Wonder House, a 9-level building disguised as a two-story rock house. There’s also a Locomotive right by the road. Both are free to poke around and see.
Where to eat near the Talimena Scenic Byway:
Mena has PLENTY of food options! These are the options I’ve been able to try in Mena:
- The Queen’s Restaurant: This is the only food option located along the Talimena Scenic Byway. Located inside the Lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park, it’s a popular stop for anyone visiting the byway and offers a great view of the surrounding mountains. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I’ve eaten here a few times, and would again. They also have a rotating assortment of pies, which is worth a stop on its own!
- The Ouachitas: This is a coffee roastery and craft brewery with pizza, wings, and other great food items (get the fried pickles!)
- The Skyline Cafe: This is a classic diner that’s been serving up home-cooked meals since 1922. It’s the most popular place in Mena for motorcyclists to congregate for a meal. I’ve tried to eat here twice, and both times have been (unfortunately) turned away due to low staffing and high wait times. This is a cash-only establishment, so come prepared.
- Sherwood Bistro: Great for a quick coffee and a small breakfast sandwich.
- Rich Mountain Country Store: I have not eaten here, but I’ve had many people recommend their burgers!
If you’re looking for food on the Talihina end of the Byway, Pam’s Diner is the most recommended spot in town.
Where to Stay in Mena, Arkansas:
During both of my trips across the Talimena Scenic Byway, I stayed at The Lodge at Queen Wilhelmina State Park. They offer exceptionally clean and quiet accommodations. There are rags to clean your motorcycle upon arrival (or departure), a restaurant on-site, and depending on your room, beautiful views of the surrounding Ouachita Mountains. You can also camp here.
There are plenty of privately owned lodging options as well as a few small hotels in Mena, and a few options in Talihina as well.