Tim Ernst’s Favorite Special Scenic Spots

Special-est, scenic-est … spottiest, if you will

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“Arkansas is blessed with thousands of ‘special scenic spots,’ or SSSs, along our many hiking trails and roadways,” writes wilderness-photographer-slash-writer Tim Ernst. “I’ve noted many of them in my guidebooks over the years.” But while any number of glittering vistas or flowing waterfalls has captured his attention, there’s just one thing that ties them all together, says Tim: “The BEST special scenic spots are those places where the mood strikes you. Here’s a list—in no particular order—of some of my favorites.”

You can find detailed directions and maps for all of these areas and hundreds more in Tim’s guidebooks, available at book and outdoor stores, park visitor centers or online direct from Tim at TimErnst.com.

Champion Tree Trail

White River National Wildlife Refuge near Ethel

“An easy mile hike through bottomland hardwood forests will take you to the base of the largest living thing in Arkansas—and the largest tree. It is an enormous bald cypress tree, 45 feet in circumference (and still growing) with ‘knees’ that are taller than you are. This giant really puts the world into perspective to me—I’m very tiny, yet connected to everything.”

Sam’s Throne

Ozark National Forest near Lurton

“It’s not just for rock climbers anymore—this is one of the very best sunsets in all of Arkansas. It’s a short hike from the parking lot to the top of the great sandstone bluff where you can just sit and admire the view. There is also a trail that drops down and follows below the bluff for close-up views of this spectacular rock layer—many spots to stop and study all the shapes, textures and colors—but be sure to make time to get back on top for the sunset!”

Talimena Scenic Drive

Ouachita National Forest near Mena

“Well known for its amazing fall colors, you can find amazing scenery on this National Scenic Byway all year long. In fact, I believe there are more scenic vistas along this route per mile than any other drive I know of in Arkansas. It’s especially beautiful at dawn and at sunset, when the colors of the sky melt with the landscape, both reaching far to the horizon. Bear, deer and wild turkey frequent the route, too, so drive slow and enjoy the ride.”

Marinoni Scenic Area

Ozark Highlands Trail near Cass

“We first discovered this magical area in 1982 while laying out the route for the Ozark Highlands Trail, which passes right through the middle of it. The trail follows Briar Branch past sandstone bluffs, waterfalls and towering trees. In the spring, there are wild azaleas and blooming umbrella magnolias—the sweetness will blow you away!”

Cossatot Falls

Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area near Umpire

“It’s not really a waterfall, but rather a quarter-mile long series of cascades that roar and splash through many boulders that have been polished smooth by the powerful action of the Cossatot River (the name means ‘skull crusher,’ and it lives up to that name quite well). This area is terrific to visit even when the water is low—the sculptured rocks are really something to see, plus there is a great swimming hole or two downstream.”

Mirror Lake Falls

Blanchard Springs Recreation Area near Fifty-Six

“Most folks come to visit the beautiful springs or tour the amazing caverns. But I love to spend time on this little loop trail that follows Mill Creek from the springs downstream alongside turquoise-colored Mirror Lake. Follow the trail below the dam to a multitiered waterfall that is formed by two spillways that were built on top of each other. The falls flow all year, and the spray they produce can really cool ya off on a hot summer day!”