For motorcyclists, Arkansas Highway 16 is one of the top highways in the Ozarks that has the added virtue of being one of the least used highways in the state. It’s mostly known to local riders and some savvy visitors but is overlooked by most travelers because it doesn’t lead anywhere in particular.
Another reason it’s mostly unknown is that it doesn’t have a cool moniker like the “Pig Trail” section of Arkansas Highway 23. So I propose that the 160-mile stretch from Fayetteville to Clinton henceforth be known as the “Ozarks Scenic Highlands Skyway.”
Arkansas Highway 16: ‘Your last route of choice’…by car at least
Highway 16 begins in the northwestern part of Arkansas at the Oklahoma border and runs southeasterly across about two-thirds of the width of the state. From Fayetteville to Greers Ferry, it winds from one little town to another through small communities with unique names like Swain, Nail, Deer, Lurton, Witts Springs, and my personal favorite, Ben Hur.
If you were traveling by car from Fayetteville to Greers Ferry, Highway 16 would be your last route of choice. That’s exactly what makes it fantastic for riders. From Fayetteville, the ride east on Highway 16 out of town is fairly pedestrian, but once you get past Elkins, the road parallels the upper portion of the 710-mile White River.
The highway becomes more serpentine as it climbs into the highlands of the Ozarks. At Brashears, Highway 16 intersects the Pig Trail Scenic Byway section of Highway 23 for about 4 miles until Hawkins Hollow and becomes very twisty.
A look at the Arkansas State Highway map reveals that the highway has more than enough squiggly lines to delight the sport rider. And it has more than enough drop-dead gorgeous scenery to delight the cruising rider.
Just shy of 10 miles later at Boston, Highway 16 breaks out on the ridge tops and stays up there. The highway then defines what I call the “Ozarks Divide.” Creeks and rivers on the south side of the highway flow into the Arkansas River while those on the north side flow into the White River. The result of being up on the ridges on Highway 16 is that you often have spectacular vistas and views on both sides of the road at the same time – thus my suggestion to call it the Ozarks Scenic Highlands Skyway.
Arkansas Highway 16: Watch for Deer…and Ben Hur?
The 161-mile ride from Fayetteville to Clinton takes up to four hours, depending on how many stops you make. But if you don’t stop along the way, you’ll miss out on interesting experiences with the locals in those unique places with unique names.
For example, there’s a tiny spot on Highway 16 called Fallsville. At the least, I like the town for the irony of its name as a stop on a top-tier motorcycling road, considering it contains a four-letter word for riders if there ever was one. Fallsville is located at the western junction of Highway 16 and Arkansas Highway 21, and despite the odd name, it’s a great spot for a break. Besides the wonderful roads, it’s places like Fallsville that make the Ozarks marvelous for riders who want to experience the local culture.
If you’re inclined to take a hike (not a good idea in July or August) you can go to Glory Hole Falls, 5.7 miles northeast of Fallsville on Highway 16/21. It’s beautiful, especially when the water is flowing fast. The hike is a mile each way, downhill to the falls and uphill on the way back.
Twenty miles east of Fallsville (and about 11 miles past where Highway 16 splits off Highway 21) is a veritable metropolis compared to Fallsville. The town of Deer has one convenience store and a public school whose mascot is cleverly named the Antlers. Only in the Ozarks!
A couple of miles past Deer, Highway 16 joins Arkansas Highway 7 heading south, where the roads occupy the same right-of-way and eventually join Arkansas Highway 123. This trifecta of outstanding Arkansas highways – 7, 16, and 123 – are all dynamite roads. Highway 7 is revered as “Scenic 7.” Highway 123, like 16, is a lesser-known road that should be on every rider’s bucket list.
The roads go their separate ways at Sand Gap – formerly Grand Gap and Pelsor – where you’ll find the old-time Hankins Country Store. During peak riding season, hang around a while and you’re bound to meet riders from all over the country.
As much as I like Deer, my favorite place name along the way has got to be the dot on the map called Ben Hur, which has no store or businesses. It’s just a tiny community with a great name. According to an article in the Arkansas Times, the town was named in honor of actor Charlton Heston, presumably a nod to his 1959 movie of the same name. In Heston’s twilight years, he reportedly asked the town fathers to consider renaming it “Cold Dead Hand” but to no avail.
There are dirt roads winding off across the area on either side of Highway 16. One of my favorite routes is the Hurricane Wilderness Ramble, which begins in Deer. These are wonderful roads for ADV riders. But regardless of what you ride, you will enjoy traipsing across this twisty Ozarks Scenic Highlands Skyway.