As the saying goes, it’s the journey and not the destination that makes the trip. But how does one describe a destination that is as good as it gets and an even better ride? With autumn upon us, it was the best time – and maybe our last chance – for riding the Ozarks before winter.
Instead of our usual big bikes, we rode our thumpers – Bill on his Kawasaki KLR650 and me on my adventure-kitted Husqvarna 701 Enduro.
Big Singles are a great way to travel, especially if you’re not in a hurry. That made them perfect for our trip because the route I chose demands backing off the throttle to see the sights and make the corners.
Our counterclockwise route began in Clarksville, Arkansas, riding northbound briefly on Highway 21 and then turning east on Highway 292 to connect with Highway 123, a great road that climbs into the mountains through the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest. Highway 123 follows Little Piney Creek and then Hew Creek, and there are scenic waterfalls along the way.
At Sand Gap, Highway 123 connects with Highways 7 and 16. We continued east on Highway 16, which is a pleasure to ride, with the kind of tarmac that offers confidence-inspiring traction in its many curves, even with our dual-sport tires.
At Clinton, we rode south on U.S. Route 65 and then followed Highways 92 and 16 around the south side of Greers Ferry Lake, turning north on Highway 5 near Heber Springs.
Our first day’s destination was Mountain View, a small town of 2,900 people that’s surrounded by the Ozark Mountains and close to the gorgeous White River. It’s also known as the “Folk Music Capital of the World.” During the summer months, folk and country music groups gather in the city park, providing family entertainment well into the night, especially on Saturdays. In the spring and fall, when the nights are too cool for the musicians’ fingers to pluck their stringed instruments, they play in the afternoons. It’s a popular attraction, so make your hotel reservation well in advance. As you might expect, there’s not much pickin’ and grinnin’ in the winter.
From Mountain View, we rode north on Highway 5, and just before the junction with Highways 9 and 14, we turned left on Swinging Bridge Road, named after the cable-suspended wooden bridge over the crystal-clear South Sylamore Creek. Just west of the bridge, mountainous Highway 14 took us to the Blanchard Springs Recreation Area with its springs, caverns, and cliffside hiking trails. Mirror Lake, popular for its rainbow trout, is fed by the cold water from Blanchard Springs. Near the lake, one can hike a wooden walkway and down stone steps to where the spring comes out of the caverns. Pretty cool. Below the Mirror Lake dam, another trail takes you to the remains of a corn mill built in the early 1900s and the bottom of Mirror Lake Falls.
On the map, Highway 87 looked like it would be fun, so we rode it back to Mountain View. It was a good choice!
From Mountain View, we again rode north on Highway 5 along the lovely White River and through charming places like Calico Rock, Old Joe, and Norfork. A short hop west on Highway 201 took us to the sweeping curves of Highway 341 (Push Mountain Road) into the Leatherwood Wilderness area.
At Highway 14, we turned west again and crossed Big Creek and the Buffalo River. If you ride through here during hot weather, the Buffalo is a great place to cool off, with parking and access at Dillard’s Ferry.
Just south of Yellville (if you cross Crooked Creek, you’ve gone too far), we turned west on Highway 235 and rode south until it ended at U.S. Route 65. We continued west, turning onto Highway 123 again near Western Grove and riding south. We crossed the Buffalo River again just before we got to Piercetown.
Rather than ride a short 10 miles west on Highway 74 to Jasper, we continued south on Highway 123 through what’s known as the Arkansas Grand Canyon, taking the long way to Jasper via Highway 7. After only a few miles on Highway 123, my Husky’s low-fuel light lit up, but we were still some 45 miles from “good” gas in Jasper. I asked myself, Should I stop at the one gas station on 123 and put low octane in my thumper or chance it and go for the good stuff? I chose the latter – and ran out of gas just 7 miles south of Jasper. Next time I’ll know: A gallon of cheap gas is better than none at all! Bill’s KLR had just enough fuel left to get him to Jasper, and after a short roadside nap, we were off again.
Jasper is a lovely little town, and just north of it, after crossing the Buffalo again, is Highway 74, an often overlooked but fantastic motorcycling route. We rode it west to Highway 43 – famous for elk sightings – and then west on Highway 21 and south on 74 again.
Highway 74 connected us to the famous Pig Trail Scenic Byway (Highway 23). Feeling bolder than I should have, I tried to use the Husky’s superior power to pull away from Bill’s KLR, but he stretched the KLR’s throttle cable and hung with me. As fast as we dared go, some guy on a multi-cylinder crotch rocket blew by us and out of sight. One good thing about riding a thumper is that you feel like you’re going fast when you really aren’t.
Highway 23 dropped us down out of the Ozarks onto Interstate 40 and then back home to Oklahoma.
Riding big Singles for 650 miles in two days wasn’t bad at all. In fact, in the mountains of Arkansas, it was big fun.