There is not a greater freedom in the world than leaning into a curve on two wheels. There is not a greater place to find these curves than in the Arkansas Ozarks. There is not a better time to experience it all than in the fall when, thanks to Mother Nature’s paintbrush, it feels like you are gliding through a brushfire. Allow me to share our trip with you….
As we charted our “fall freedom trail” it pointed us northward on Scenic Highway 7 for a fall adventure blessed with incredible color, remarkable bluffs and scenic overpasses (and by the way, ForbesTraveler.com named Scenic 7 as one of their top 15 picks for fall excursions). Our destination: The Arkansas Ozarks and specifically The Gateway to the Buffalo National Park Region, Harrison, Arkansas, and One of America’s Dozen Most Distinctive Destinations – Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
We arose early from our slumber, waved goodbye to our jogging neighbors, and begin our adventure. We detoured off of State Highway 7 at Jasper on to the Buffalo National River corridor and headed towards The Boxley Valley. In route to this enchanted place we were presented with our first collection of “Kodak moments,” trumpeter swans and a herd of elk. Yes, elk, roaming free in Arkansas (and by the way, late September and early October are when elk are breeding (rut). This is the favorite time for wildlife watchers, because the bulls are very active).
Once we arrived at Boxley Valley, we jumped off our bike for a two-hour hike in what many claim is a true hidden treasure, Lost Valley with its secret caves, massive rock formations and mirror glass ponds. We were encouraged by some of our friends during the planning stage of our fall journey to embrace a more adventurous, yet moderate, but enormously scenic hike that would take us to probably one of the most photographed sites in The Arkansas Ozarks, Hawk’s Bill Crag. Boy, were we ever glad we took their advice. This jutting rock formation will probably make the cover photo of our trip’s journal.
As lunch called, we headed to the should-be world-famous Ozarks Diner on the Jasper (AR) Square. Following a feast of items that could be the star of any segment on the Food Network, we loosened our leathers and continued our time in Jasper with a little local antiquing. So very glad many of these shops have a shipping service.
Soon we were back on the road with those wonderful curves and visual surprises at every turn. Mystic Caverns is a great stop and the Buffalo River Visitor Center in Pruitt (AR) is the perfect place if you want to be directed off the road and on to a day-trip full of flotation fun in “The Natural State.”
We are now just seven miles from Harrison (AR), so we choose to head in and check out the 1929 Hotel Seville. Our pre-journey on-line research told us that The Seville (and by the way, this is a historic hotel but quite trendy and very biker friendly) had been recently and totally renovated to its original grandeur but better because now it includes such niceties as covered bike parking and wash station, wireless Internet, LCD televisions, a bar with an outdoor deck, and all the modern conveniences. We relaxed with a good meal –and an adult beverage- at the hotel’s John Paul’s restaurant. Even though Harrison is in a dry county, John Paul’s has a permit! The Seville was nice and a great place to gather with other bikers because it had the special pleasures of a hotel at motel prices (and by the way, I went to <http://www.hotelseville.com> and discovered discounts for bikers: 20% on weekdays and 10% on weekends).
The sound of songbirds and ever-brightening horizon told us that our next day’s journey was upon us. We only had to go down the road a mere 38 miles to go back in time nearly two centuries as we escaped to “the town that time forgot,” Eureka Springs Arkansas (by the way, we planned our routes using <eurekaspringsmotorcycleroutes.com>).
Eureka Springs has been designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of America's “Dozen Distinctive Destinations” and it is the state’s most treasured collection of preserved 19th-century commercial buildings and homes that are open and vibrant, each displaying a welcome-mat for all to see.
As we get ever closer to this community we realize why Eureka truly is the “extraordinary escape” locals claim it to be and why it is such a mecca for those of us who travel on two wheels. You can truly feel the magic of this mountain town that is adjacent to three rivers (White, Kings, Buffalo) and two lakes (Beaver, Table Rock)… so much in such a small circle of land. The historic sites are amazing from the “Little Golden Gate Bridge” in the majestic, neighboring town of Beaver to one of the country’s largest historic districts including and surrounding Downtown Eureka Springs with its more than 2,000 historic stone buildings. Driving through downtown Eureka is like driving through limestone canyon and you feel like you are on parade. Magnificent!
Our rest stop for lunch was the famous and historic 1886 Crescent Hotel and Spa. We entered their really cool lobby (like a giant step back in time) and went upstairs to their fourth floor overlook, the highest point in Eureka. What a view. The Christ statue. The ridges of the Ozarks. The valley below. Great photo opps. And a great place to wrap our lips around an unbelievable Kobe beef burger from Dr. Baker’s Bistro and Sky Bar. And since “the doctor” has al fresco seating, we had our lunch and panorama too. We noticed that the hotel now has special bike parking right out front. Quite convenient.
After lunch, we rode just a few blocks and stopped near the front entrance of another one of Eureka Springs’ historic hotels, the 1905 Basin Park Hotel that is in the heart of downtown (by the way, it is actually right next to “the spring where it all began,” Basin Spring, the reason the town was inhabited then founded). This place is biker friendly, too. So, we checked in… they told us about parking for our bike… were told of the hotel’s shuttle service… and the next thing we knew we were in a great room, settling in and preparing to discover the treasures of Downtown Eureka.
For dinner that night, we let the highway be our guide: Arkansas Highway 187 that loops around Beaver Lake and over Beaver Dam. On the way, via U.S. Highway 62 west of Eureka, and all around “the loop” there were several places to stop, put the kickstand down and catch a great meal and a great view as a side dish.
As adventurous as we legendary bikers are said to be, we of course decided to return to The Crescent that evening after dinner to take their famous ghost tour that start around 8 o’clock. How did it go? We had an awesome tour guide who told us eerie stories of what unseen had been seen. And even though we didn’t “see” anything our digital camera captured some orbs (and by the way, that morgue in the basement of The Crescent is creepy. It is everything you’ve seen on TV and more).
Since the main reason for this “freedom tour” of ours was to ride the roads of this beautiful neck of the woods, we checked out of the Basin Park Hotel early our last morning, took the shuttle to where our bike was securely parked and left the 19th century for a visit back to the Middle Ages. Destination: the Ozark Medieval Fortress in Lead Hill, Arkansas.
It was only a little over an hour-and-a-half ride and we smiled the whole way there thanks to great bike routes via Arkansas 23, Missouri 86, US 65 and finally Arkansas 14. With only one stop to see nature’s paradise at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, we were soon in the shadows of 13th century walled citadel rising up before us. It is true what we heard that there is nothing quite like this place this side of Europe.
Goodbye, medieval Europe and goodbye, Arkansas Ozarks as we began traveling south down U.S. Highway 65 back toward our home. But we will never say goodbye to the memories we made on this miraculous road trip. We have never felt so free and full of appreciation. Life is good.