An Arkansas scenic byway might best be enjoyed on the seat of a bicycle.
Seeing the sights along the Mulberry River Road Scenic Byway at pedaler’s pace makes for one of the state’s best bicycle road trips. The two-lane blacktop follows the turquoise water of the Mulberry River most of the way. Sometimes riders are sandwiched between the river’s rapids on one side and tall cliffs on the other.
It’s a fabulous bike ride any season of the year, but the beauty of the Ozarks autumn and spring is the siren song that draws bikers to the byway.
Our little Tour de Madison County bicycle group makes the trip most every November and April. Fall color was at its best on Nov. 8 when Tom and Karen Mowry of Nob Hill and yours truly pushed pedals along the byway.
Mulberry River Road Scenic Byway runs some 15 miles between Cass and Oark, in Franklin and Johnson counties, along Arkansas 215. The west end is at the junction of Arkansas 23 and 215, north of Cass. Eastern end is where Arkansas 215 and 103 meet near Oark.
Lately we’ve been starting our ride at Redding campground 3 miles east of Arkansas 23. We ride to Oark for a delicious lunch at the historic Oark General Store and Café, then pedal back to Redding. We enjoy a nice 27-mile ride that’s scenic like a calendar page.
Pull-off spots with mountain vistas are fine for breaks from the pedals. These have information panels that tell about the wildlife, nature and settlement days in the Mulberry River valley.
A bike ride through this rugged and hilly land may sound like a huffing and puffing ordeal. The byway is more level than one might think since it follows the river. There are some climbs, but most rate low on the wheezer scale.
The only hill that really gets our attention is at the Little Mulberry River. Pedaling west and climbing away from this pretty tributary is a minor lung buster.
On weekdays, traffic is minimal on this state highway. Sometimes we can count the cars with 10 fingers and no toes between Redding and Oark. We’ve found that Mondays are ideal for a Mulberry River ride. The highway is ours and the Oark Café is open.
The food is superb but there’s only one problem — will power. You want to go for the gusto with a burger and fries and pie, but then there’s that long ride back to Redding. About a mile into it you go, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing.”
Karen has the only will power. She gets a chocolate shake and sometimes a biscuit. Tom and I go for the gastronomical gusto. I got a reuben and fries this trip. The sandwich was the best reuben I’ve ever had, loaded with hot corned beef and sauerkraut.
It’s easy to make a Mulberry River ride longer or shorter than 27 miles. To add distance, start at Arkansas highways 23 and 215 where there’s a large gravel parking area. That’ll add 6 miles for a 33-mile ride. Or start there and ride past Oark for another 3 miles to the tiny town of Catalpa where the pavement ends. If my D-student math is correct, that bumps it to 39 miles.
To ride fewer than 27 miles, start at Indian Creek, High Bank or Wolf Pen canoe launch areas and pedal from there to Oark.
Long ride or short, Mulberry River Road Scenic Byway lives up to its name.