We will head out the last week of April for a family visit just south of Branson, MO. We will have about 4 days to ride (LT, 2 up).
What routes should we plan to visit in that corner of Arkansas?
We are also planning to spend a few days near the Hot Springs National Park, and again, what routes are good ones that some of you have traveled?
We are good for 3-400 miles/day two up. We don't sniff flowers, but we enjoy the picnic by the side of some back road near a stream for a break. It's a brand new area for us.
Thanks for any help you might have
(Sorry for the novel this turned into.)
That's my neighborhood - sorta. I take a lot of weekend bike trips to SW MO and NW AR, as it's an easy four hour drive away. Eureka Springs a draw for the ladies; the roads a draw for the guys. The area really is a geographic motorcycle magnet for everyone in the US located between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
As you might know, there really aren't a lot of bad roads in the area, with some exceptions. My personal opinion is that the roads get better the further east you get from the Bella Vista-Fayetteville corridor. If you don't have a reason to be there, I'd just steer completely clear of that strip of towns. The road infrastructure hasn't kept up with the population explosion over the last 20-25 years, so outside of I-49 there's all the clogged, stoplight-to-stoplight surface street riding a sane person can handle. You'd be surprised at the extent of urban sprawl that's happened in those towns, if you're not from this part of the country and are unaware of the growth they've seen somewhat recently. I'd also avoid Highway 62, unless you're going to or coming from another destination, as this is sort of a major E-W highway across the northern part of Arkansas. It's busier than you'd assume, and is blown out to four lanes in areas. It's a neat ride around and to the immediate west of Eureka Springs, but be careful with the traffic. Farther south, 412 is a lot like 62 as well.
Notable roads - generally northerly to southerly direction:
23 from I'd say a little south of Huntsville to maybe a little north of I-40 is a nice stretch. The southern half of that section is what is referred to as the Pig Trail, which you might have heard of. The Pig Trail portion of the stretch is certainly scenic, but the road surface can be a little sketchy for spirited riding. Some switchbacks. Nice ride though, under a complete tunnel of trees in many spots. The stretch of 23 from Eureka Springs to Huntsville is not bad by any means, but it's simply not as pretty as many other roads in the area. Turner Bend, at the south end of the section, has a gas station/general store that's a popular place for motorcyclists to stop for a drink and gas.
123 from Mt Judea to Hagarville (or Clarksville) is probably my personal favorite stretch of road in the area. Very nice road surface generally, and lots of sweeping but not too tight corners. A few switchbacks and tight stuff near My Judea though. Haw Creek Falls is a beautiful campground for a break along the stretch. Very pretty spot, and you can walk over and wade in a scenic section of the river right there. Has a low water bridge at the campground entrance near 123, so sometimes this might not be an option (the campground stop, not 123).
7 effectively parallels 123 just a few miles to the west (between Jasper and where 7 dies into 123). I know some people like it, but I'm never on it because I always take 123. It does have some nice views and overlooks, plus a really scenic place to catch a bite called the Cliff House Inn a little south of Jasper. If you plan a lunch or dinner stop at Cliff House, check their hours because they're not open for business as much as most eateries. Jasper itself is also a neat spot to take a break or get a meal. Couple of restaurants that always look to be doing a good business to motorcyclists and rafters/kayakers, and a gas station with a little picnic area by the Buffalo River. A few miles north of Jasper on 7 the road crosses the Buffalo River, and at that spot there's a beautiful place to picnic or take a break.
Notable roads - generally easterly to westerly direction:
215/103 between Cass and Clarksville is also competing for my personal favorite spot in the area. Cass is near the southern end point of the Pig Trail (Hwy 23) mentioned earlier, and 215 from Cass to Oark is really unique as it runs right along and above the Mulberry River. In Oark is the famous Oark General Store, which is like 100 years old and has amazing burgers. The other half of the section - 103 - that goes from Oark down to Clarksville is great for the northern bit that's still in the National Forest, but does become uninteresting close to Clarksville.
74 (also including 21 and 43) between Kingston and Jasper runs along/across/near the Buffalo River. The Buffalo is gorgeous, and at Ponca there's an elk herd, a historic homestead, plus a popular spot for the river folks to launch. As mentioned earlier, Jasper - where this road begins or ends - is also a good spot to take a break.
16 between 23 and Witts Springs doesn't have a lot to mention as a predominate spot to stop or take a break, but it runs almost entirely through the National Forest. It's a nice ride too.
You can make any of these roads above into a day ride loop totaling probably 250-400 miles to and from Branson. If I was staying in Branson, I'd find my way to Jasper (whatever way you want to get there), then 123 or 7 south to Sand Gap, 123 southwest from Sand Gap, drop down into Clarksville for gas or drinks, then the 103 and 215 stretch back up to Cass, then 23 north from Cass through the Pig Trail all the way up to Eureka Springs, and then again whatever way back to Branson from Eureka Springs you'd like. Options for meals along the way would be one of the places in Jasper, the Cliff House Inn, Oark General Store, or any number of places in Eureka Springs (Local Flavor Cafe is awesome for lunch and dinner, and Mud Street Cafe is pretty solid for breakfast).
If you find yourself in Eureka Springs for a day (which you might accidentally if you've never been, as it's a neat place, kind of the cultural antithesis of Branson) then a real simple, short loop in that area is 62 west out of Eureka Springs, south on 187, across the Beaver Lake Dam, continue north on 187 back to 62, a couple of miles west again on 62 until you hook back up with 187 going north again, then follow 187 until you hit 23 north of Eureka Springs, and go one way back down south to Eureka Springs or the other back north toward Holiday Island and the state line.
It goes without saying that you'll want a GPS, a good map like a Butler map or DeLorme Gazetteer, or ideally both.
I don't know much about the Hot Springs area, as I've never been that far south. It's on our list, but really with the enjoyable Eureka Springs base being so much closer to where we live for weekend outings, I'm not sure when we'll get down there.
Hope this helps!