With cooler weather upon us, the fall season is in full swing. For visitors to Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas, one of the most popular activities to do during this time of year is enjoying the fall foliage.
From mid-October to early November in the Ozarks, the leaves change color in spectacular fashion, making for breathtaking views throughout wooded paths, scenic overlooks and even inside the city, considering how green Fayetteville is during the spring and summer months.
During this window of opportunity each autumn to see the leaves at their peak colors, there are countless places to explore. But, to help you out here are a few popular places to see and enjoy the fall colors, all of which are a quick drive from Fayetteville.
Pig Trail Scenic Byway
This 19-mile stretch of windy backroad through the Ozark National Forest has long been used by Razorbacks fans headed to Fayetteville for games, thus its name (and because of all the switchbacks that can make it feel like a curly pig’s tail). However, since the opening of Interstate 49, the Pig Trail Scenic Byway is traveled more for its scenic views, including far-viewing overlooks and canopy tunnels of foliage.
Both motorcyclists and motorists are often seen enjoying this famous drive and stopping at designated areas for memorable photo opportunities. Very little development has occurred along this route, offering travelers a glimpse of the Ozarks that would have been familiar to the early settlers. The Ozark Highlands Trail actually passed through the Pig Trail.
From Fayetteville, head east on Highway 16 (MLK Jr. Blvd.). Along the way, you’ll pass Terra Studios, which makes for a fun stop either before or after driving the Pig Trail. As you come to the town of Brashears, head south on Highway 23 toward Ozark.
The Pig Trail officially lasts until you get to Cass, but the entire drive to Ozark offers beautiful scenery. From Ozark, either turn around and do the Pig Trail again, or take I-40 to I-49, which features some truly amazing overpasses through the Boston Mountains.
Devil’s Den State Park
About 30 miles south of Fayetteville is Devil’s Den State Park. It is home to some of the first mountain biking trails in the state, as well as several hiking trails that range in difficulty and length, but are all some of the best trails in Arkansas and most traversed year round.
Nestled deep in an Ozark valley, Devil's Den connects you to picturesque Lee Creek Valley and the craftsmanship and conservation legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the "Tree Army" of Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. Their work includes an impressive native stone dam that spans Lee Creek in the heart of the park forming peaceful, eight-acre Lake Devil.
Any of the park’s hiking trails are picturesque this time of year, including the relatively moderate 3-mile Yellow Rock Trail that climbs a few hundred feet to a rocky overlook. Longer trails include the Old Road Trail (4.5 miles), Gorley King Trail (7 miles), Vista Point Trail (9 miles) and Butterfield Hiking Trail (15 miles).
From Fayetteville, take I-49 south and exit at either West Fork or Winslow. The West Fork exit has a little longer drive into the park, and the Winslow exit features more switchbacks coming into the park. Either way allows for a beautiful drive and gets you there quick — and, you can always take the other way out! (Some people enjoy driving out of Fayetteville on U.S. 71 and crossing I-49 at West Fork. A popular attraction along the way is the Arkansas Air & Military Museum.)
Also known as Whitaker’s Point, Hawksbill Crag is Arkansas’ most iconic scenic overlook and truly a must-see for visitors to Arkansas, as well as locals. Though only a 3-mile round trip hike, the drive from Fayetteville takes more than an hour — but is definitely worth the effort, and full of beautiful scenery along the way.
This picturesque rock crag juts out over the forest, so please be careful while taking in the scenery! The nearby Buffalo National River was the first national river to be designated in the United States. Both the river float and overlook hike are always among the most popular outdoor attractions in Arkansas year after year. Photographers flock to the crag, and it’s a popular engagement spot. Hawksbill Crag has even been listed as one of the “Best Places in Arkansas to Get Kissed”, so bring a breath mint!
From Fayetteville, go east on U.S. 412 (E. Mission Blvd.) past Hunstville, then just after Marble head south on Highway 21, past Kingston. Just before the bridge over the upper Buffalo River in Boxley Valley, turn right and head up on Forest Road 5 for several miles, passing Cave Mountain Church. (This final road is primarily uphill, and if it has rained recently a car with 4x4 capability is recommended.) The pull-out for parking is about a half-mile past the church.