JASPER — Dismal Hollow is a stunningly beautiful Ozark valley and the Jasper Disaster one of the state’s most scenic drives.
Misnomers like these get the noggin wondering if someone didn’t come up with the names to keep hikers and drivers away. In the case of the Jasper Disaster scenic drive, travelers on the 60-mile loop see quickly it’d be a disaster to miss out on this lovely road trip.
There are plenty of twists and curves as the route corkscrews through forests and countryside in Newton and Boone counties. Road trippers can stop at two places to skip rocks at the Buffalo National River. Travelers can grab a bite at well-known eateries along the way and enjoy lofty hill-country views.
The loop visits Ponca, Harrison and Jasper on three two-lane paved state highways — Arkansas 43, 7 and 74. A drive can start at anywhere along the Jasper Disaster loop. Ponca is the closest starting point for legions of Northwest Arkansas travelers.
Getting to Ponca is a scenic drive on its own that tacks on another 60 or so miles from Interstate 49 towns for a 120-mile round trip. Heading east into Ponca, keep an eye out for elk in the meadows between the highway and the Buffalo River. A stop at the Ponca low-water bridge access is a good break to enjoy the transparent water and maybe use the restroom.
To take the Jasper Disaster scenic drive clockwise, drive north through the main drag in Ponca on Arkansas 43, past the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Ponca Elk Education Center. Stop in to learn all about Arkansas’ elk herd and other Ozarks critters.
The route heads out of Ponca up a long climb to the Centerpoint trailhead. If a hike is on the agenda, this is a good place to start one. Travelers continue on through Compton where there’s another trailhead just off the highway. A hike to the fabulous Hemmed-In-Hollow waterfall starts here. It’s a tough 5-mile out and back trek that visits the tallest waterfall, at 225 feet, between the Appalachians and the Rockies.
Forests and fields greet travelers on the 20 mile drive into Harrison. Rock outcrops from cliffs beside the asphalt where Arkansas 43 starts downhill into Harrison. Off to the right, views with major altitude delight passengers or give some the willies who don’t like heights.
In short order Arkansas 43 joins Arkansas 7 on the south side of Harrison. Turn right for a picturesque 18 mile drive to Jasper. The closer Arkansas 7 gets to the Buffalo River, the more it curves downhill toward the storied stream. The Pruitt river access is just off the highway. It’s a good spot to let kids get out and play in the shallow water or break a picnic lunch out of the trunk.
What twists downhill must go up as Arkansas 7 climbs its way out of the Buffalo River valley. Jasper’s historic downtown is a short drive ahead and worth the short detour off the Jasper Disaster loop. Just before Arkansas 7 enters downtown Jasper, it joins Arkansas 74 and the last highway of the loop. Turn right for a curvy drive of about 16 miles back to Ponca.
Travelers cruise through Low Gap, then enjoy the series of hairpin turns as Arkansas 74 curls downhill on hairpin curves and across the Buffalo again at Ponca.
It’s wise to top off the tank before exploring the Jasper Disaster scenic loop. Gas stops are far between and running out of fuel could be a real disaster.
More miles of smiles
If a 60-mile loop only whets your road-trip whistle, all sorts of options abound to add more miles. One is to keep going south on Arkansas 7 through Jasper to see the Grand Canyon of the Ozarks south of town. It’s one of the region’s widest and longest valleys.
Arkansas 7 keeps going south to Arkansas 16, where travelers can head west on that scenic highway through Deer, Nail and Swain. It joins Arkansas 21 where drivers can turn north and return to Ponca.
Source: Staff report