I don’t know how I lived so much of my life in Oklahoma without ever hearing about the Talimena National Scenic Byway, but that is unfortunate. The 54-mile parkway that stretches from Talihina, OK to Mena, Arkansas and the somewhat-adjacent 192-mile hiking trail are gorgeous and especially popular in the fall when the leaf colors start changing.
Unfortunately, as Talihina is about 3 hours from OKC, it does not make for an easy day trip, though it’s certainly not impossible. My friends and I decided to do a long weekend there: driving down on a Friday and having a relaxing night in, doing a day of hiking and scenic driving on Saturday, and then heading home after breakfast on Sunday.
Here are the tips and tricks we learned from our amazing weekend there!
Lodging Near the Talimena Byway
We started our planning a bit late for booking the nice lodges in Broken Bow and similar. In other words, if you want a spot in those coveted places, better book soon! We looked a month before our October trip and the lodges which were still available were $1000 a night, much more than our budget.
However, we were able to get a great deal on an AirBnB farm house outside of Talihina. It wasn’t a fancy lodge, but I actually liked that it was off of the tourist path.
In retrospect, it might have worked in our favor to stay in Talihina anyway, since Broken Bow is about an hour away. Most of the lodging options in Talihina itself are eclectic B&B’s or cabins. If you prefer well-established hotel chains, Poteau, another town about 40 minutes off of the Byway, has a Best Western, Holiday Inn Express, and Day’s Inn.
If you enjoy camping, you can pitch your tent or park your RV right in the Talimena State Park!
Talihina: Where It All Begins
The starting point of the Talimena National Scenic Byway in Oklahoma is Talihina, which is quite a small town. Since we were on a tight budget (and we enjoy cooking together), we chose to cook meals at our lodging and pack picnic lunches. We brought the majority of groceries with us from OKC, but Talihina does have a grocery store and a Dollar General.
You certainly can find good food in Talihina, though, if you want to dine out. Pam’s Hateful Hussy Diner is a well-loved local favorite and we enjoyed breakfast there. The food was tasty and the prices were even better – so cheap! It’s fun to walk the main street of Talihina and check out the other local businesses bursting with character, such as the 50’s style ice cream parlor or the cute dessert shop.
Also in town, you’ll find the Talimena Visitor’s Center with hiking maps for the Talimena State Park.
Hiking the Ouachita Trail
The 192-mile hiking trail, the Ouachita Trail, starts in the Talimena State Park near the Scenic Byway and ends in Pinnacle Mountain State Park in Arkansas, trekking through the beautiful Ouachita National Forest. Though the longest trail in the area, the Ouachita is actually one of many trails that intersect in the Talimena State Park.
Near the entrance to the Talimena State Park, there is a visitors center. This location is perhaps an even better place than the center in Talihina to get advice on the types of trails for the hiking you want to do. When planning ahead, I found the official trail maps and ouachitamaps.com to be helpful online resources.
You can also park at this center for a small fee and hike out from there. But entry into the Talimena State Park is completely free and depending on which trails you want to take, you may find free parking inside the park, as well.
If you’re not already a seasoned hiker, you may want to acquaint yourself with the blue blaze system. It was very handy to know to look for the painted blue marks for the Ouachita Trail. (Other trails were marked with white paint.) The trail itself can be covered by brush, but the tree markings make it fairly easy to follow.
When we chatted with some of the locals, they warned us that it would be good to wear bright colors when hiking during hunting season. We soon realized they weren’t joking, so we obtained some rather obnoxiously bright orange hats.
Driving the Talimena National Scenic Byway
If you don’t want to hike, you can certainly just drive the Byway. I find the curvy roads beautiful and fun to drive, though some of my friends found it an easier way to get carsick. Just a word to the wise – you might want Dramamine, if you get motion sickness easily.
Fill up your car with gas in advance and use the restrooms in the welcome center, because you won’t find any of those amenities inside the park. Also, be prepared to bring in your own food and water.
It’s well worth the hassle, as the views are stunning. You’ll find multiple vistas where you can park to admire and take pictures. I especially recommend the Panorama Overlook at 2,260 feet over sea level, where you can see for miles!
Besides checking out the great scenery, you might want to consider stopping in Heavener to see the Viking runes. Yes, Vikings in Oklahoma! Heavener is about 45 minutes from Talihina.
You can drive the entire byway to Arkansas in just over an hour, if you don’t stop at all. We chose to take our time and just do a portion.
When to Go
We didn’t quite hit the right time for full fall foliage. If you call the Talimena Scenic Byway center, the recording will start by telling you whether the colors are in full bloom yet! That would work, if you’re just driving through or live nearby. It’s a little more challenging to coordinate if you have to book your lodging far in advance.
You may want to coordinate your visit with other fun local events. For example, in October, Poteau holds a hot air balloon festival! Also in late October, you may want to come during the Talihina Fall Foliage Festival, complete with arts and crafts, a Wild West re-enactment show, food, and fun activities for kids.
Whenever you decide to go, I highly recommend the Talimena National Scenic Byway and the Ouachita Trail for a fabulous weekend in nature!