Oklahoma’s Talimena National Scenic Byway

With a cold front at our heels, we continued our southward migration and headed to an area in Oklahoma known for its glorious mountains and wilderness areas – Chocktaw Country.  When I think of Oklahoma, I imagine vast plains, tornadoes and generally bad weather.  It was a pleasant surprise to see mountains with fall colors on the horizon as we crossed the border from Arkansas.

We had planned two stops in the Sooner State – first in Hodgen, camping at Big Cedar RV Park (Steve’s review here), then in Broken Bow at Beavers Bend State Park (review here). Both locations were known for their fall foliage.  What?  Did she say fall foliage in Oklahoma?  Hmmm, we shall soon see.

Our first camping home base was located in the Kiamichi valley, surrounded by forested mountains and just a few miles from one of Oklahoma’s renewed scenic drives, the Talimena National Scenic Drive (TNSD).  I may be partial to the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina (click here for my stories) or the Skyline Drive in Virginia (here’s my post), but I have to say Oklahoma has its own gem which we were about to explore.

Talimena Scenic Drive SignDesignated by the U.S. Department of Transportation as an official National Scenic Byway, the Talimena Drive was built specifically to highlight the area’s beautiful foliage.  It runs East to West for 54 miles along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita National Forest (pronounced Wash-i-tah).  It is highway 1 on the Oklahoma side and highway 88 in Arkansas.

Talimena National Scenic Byway Plaque

We took advantage of our campground’s location right at the midpoint of the byway. Taking two days, we drove half of the route each day so we could tackle some hiking opportunities along the way.  One day we headed to the east, where the byway ended at Mena, Arkansas.  The next day was a westward trek to the end at Talihina, Oklahoma.  As you may have guessed by now, Talimena is derived from the name of the towns at both ends of the drive.

We were here during the last week of October, and the foliage was showing just light yellows and patches of autumn colors on the still mostly-green trees.  We stopped at every overlook and enjoyed panoramic vistas of forested peaks in Quachita National Forest. Especially during the early morning hours, we saw areas with shades of green in the foreground forests and blue haze in the distant mountains.

Lenox Vista,
Lenox Vista, Oklahoma
Talimena National Scenic Byway
Looking down at the town of Acorn, Arkansas

Many of the turnouts had exhibits/plaques that explained the natural and historical significance of the area.  The image below was taken from Emerald Vista, and we learned that in 1930 the area in the picture was completely denuded by the logging industry.  As a result, it was appraised with no commercial value at that time.  The only bidder willing to purchase the area from the Buschow Lumber Company was the U.S. Forest Service, and they got quite a deal – 48,257 acres for $1.42 per acre!  Today it’s managed for all of us to enjoy as the Indian Nations Nationals Scenic and Wildlife area.

Indian Nations National s Scenic and Wildlife area
Indian Nation Nationals Scenic and Wildlife area, Oklahoma

The twists and turns over the gently rolling Quachita Mountains is a popular drive for all kinds of vehicles – including some antique ones.  At one of the vista overlooks, we saw two Model T’s parked and creating quite a stir among the folks there.  Of course, Steve had to do a mechanical inspection of these unusual cars, and while talking to one of the owners we were able to get an invitation for me to sit in his cool ride for a picture!

Besides the scenic drives, we found other interesting things to do.  We chose to check out the controversial Heavener Runestone.  It’s a large inscribed stone slab about 12 ft. high, 10 ft. wide and 16 inches thick, located in Heavener Runestone Park.  It has very unusual “runic” letters inscribed on it.  Turns out that a rune is an ancient Scandinavian form of writing used on gravestones, charms or property markers.  A short walk down a hillside led us to the area where the slab was found and subsequently moved into a building that protects the ancient rock.

Heavener Runestone Park
This is a beautiful place to take a walk, even if you don’t care about the Runestone. And it’s free!

The theory of Vikings roaming around prehistoric Oklahoma is controversial.  It is said that the rune inscriptions are of Viking origin, demonstrating a Norsemen exploration of the area.  But there is considerable debate over their age and validity.  As of now the official theory is that this particular slab was erected as a property boundary marker between 600 A.D. and 900 A.D.

Heavener Runestone Slab
The ancient slab is encased in a display built for it
 Heavener Runestone.
Close-up of the Inscription.  There are different theories as to the translation of this one

On our drive home we spotted a pod of Pelicans swirling overhead and landing on a lake.  I exclaimed, “Oh my goodness, they’re following us from Iowa!”  After slamming on the brakes for a picture as I have trained him to do, Steve just rolled his handsome eyes 🙂

Lake Wister, OK
Are these the same Pelicans we saw in Iowa?  We’ll never know.  Click on the image to see my post about the ones we saw in Iowa

Our Hikes

There was a threat of a storm and rain (big surprise in Oklahoma, right?), but it did not deter us from following some of the trails in the area.  Although we didn’t get wet, the wind was blowing pretty hard as we walked along.

Big Cedar, OK
Not what you want to see when preparing for a hike

The longest trail in the forest is the Quachita National Trail, spanning 192 miles – a bit longer than our usual jaunts.  Instead, we followed some of the short trails that intersect with it.  The Mountain Top Trail was only 1.7 miles long, and it took us to the north side of the mountain where some leaves had changed colors and others had already fallen.

Mountain Top Trail, Winding Stair Mountain
Steve loves walking on this kind of “carpet”

Fall Leaves at Mountain Top Trail

After 3/4 of a mile, we reached a spot where rocks and boulders formed a point overlooking Holson Valley and the Talimena Scenic Drive as it continued west along the mountaintop.

Holson Valley, Oklahoma

Next we followed two Kerr Arboretum Trails located at the Kerr Nature Center.  One trail told a fascinating story of how a tree competes with other inhabitants for survival, and the other explained the process of soil formation and its importance in the forest life cycle.

Both trails were easy and fairly short, and we thought they were very informative and well done.  Each wooden plaque along the trail had a concise explanation of what had happened in the area around it, and we learned quite a bit about the variety of ecological components that exist here.

Kerr Nature Trail

Porta-potties displaying their fall colors
Even the porta-potties were displaying their fall colors

Kerr Nature Center

For our final hike we drove to one of the COE’s (Corp of Engineers) projects that created Cedar Lake.  Here we followed a 3-mile loop that circled the lake.  Under cloudy skies we followed this easy trail, which had only a few small elevation changes.  It stayed close to shore most of the time, providing many scenic views of the lake, the fall foliage and surrounding mountains.

The pretty trail at Cedar Lake
The pretty trail at Cedar Lake

I enjoyed looking at these shrubs which are  just about to show their fall hues:

Cedar Lake, Oklahoma
Cedar Lake with Winding Stair mountain in the background. Perhaps by this time first week of November, the fall foliage may already have peaked.

Finally,  a decent sunset from one of the few overlooks that faced west, aptly called Sunset Point vista.  Hey, it’s not like Arizona’s sunsets, but it’s the best I can do here!

Sunset Vista point , Talimena National Scenic Byway

Having driven and explored the 54-mile Talimena National Scenic Byway, I can say with confidence that it holds its own against the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Skyline Drive.






  1. Glad to hear, you too have a well trained husband LOL. Also nice to see the beauty of Oklahoma…. something other than a tornado 🙂

  2. Thanks for this great peak into Oklahoma, a state we have not visited yet. Glad you did see some nice foliage even if you were a little early. Looks like beautiful hiking on the carpet of leaves:) Interesting story about the Runestone! Seems all of the men have learned the lesson of those all important photos:) Way to go, Steve!

    • When I saw many motorcycles during our drive I wondered if you did this byway. The byway was full of twist and turns and steep climbs and scenic too.
      Steve smiled and shook his head when he read your comment. Now that we are in TX he is getting himself prepared for more “brakes” when birds are in the area. 🙂

  3. I’d never heard of a scenic byway in Oklahoma! It looks like you found plenty of nice hikes and vistas along the way — it would be interesting to see the fall foliage in full color, but of course, you can’t be everywhere for that! Will you send me some tips on training Eric to pull over for photos? He’s not yet fully trained! 🙂

    • We did not know as well. We actually extended our stay at Big Cedar when we learned the scenic byway was just a few miles from us. Im so glad we did that, for we discovered some hidden gems in Ok other than bad weather.
      And oh, as long as Steve is driving the Honda, sometimes 🙂 he relents stops and let me snap some photos of birds on the go.

  4. DARN OK was on my list….I too was so surprised it had 8 different geological areas. I wanted to get to the northern Indian area too. Next time…. Your photos surpass all of them as usual….beautiful!

    • Thank you. I know OK is another pleasant surprise for us. We rarely hear about the beauty this state has. We only hear about bad weather.
      Our next door neighbor had a Solitude and I took a good look at it as it is similar to your new home.

  5. I am loving your lush green environment! Very dry dry dry where we are. It’s always a pleasure to be taken away on someone else’s travels!

    Surely that 192 mile trail is on your bucket list?! 😉

  6. Such a lovely peep into the gorgeousness of Oklahoma, a place I’ve never been to. How intriguing to think that the Vikings may have been in this area so long ago. The pic of Cedar Lake is Really breathtaking, Mona. Beautiful shot of the pelicans. You must be so glad that Steve has swift reflexes. I hope the brake pads and tire treads didn’t suffer. 🙂

    • Thank you Sylvia. this is my first year of leaf peeping as we missed Vermont last year. So we are so glad we took this route from the Ozarks to this part of OK.
      As long as Steve is not driving Betsy, he is pretty good in braking when I see birds flying in the vicinity.

  7. We have never heard of Talimena Drive. What a lovely drive.
    Heavener Runestone sounds so interesting. The tail looks like a fairly easy and enjoyable one.
    Love the fall colors…no matter what state.

  8. “After slamming on the brakes for a picture as I have trained him to do” Steve what truth is there in this… or is it just one of those things we do to make them think they have power over us.??… lol

    • Um, I’m sorry but I refuse to respond to your comment on the grounds that it may incriminate my marriage and general well-being 😉

  9. Thanks for showing us such a beautiful part of Oklahoma. I’m sorry to say this, but in the past Oklahoma was a state to be driven through on our way somewhere else. Now I know better.

    All our leaves are down now, its raining/snowing and the branches are bare, I guess its November in New York State!

    Dave smiled knowingly at your comment about Steve dutifully braking for a photo op…..he knows its a very important part of the blogger’s life. MonaLiza, aren’t we lucky to be married to such accommodating men!


  10. Since out trips to OK are always to visit family and we always seem to encounter inclement weather, I didn’t know there was anything else in OK. And as for having a well-trained husband, mine still needs a bit of work. 😉

  11. Thanks for a peak at Oklahoma…another state we have not visited yet. I love the scenic highways and byways. How nice it is to have the time to stop along the way and hike. Beautiful photos…and I agree with Steve about walking on a carpet of fallen leaves!

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