The Talimena Parkway
Oklahoma & Arkansas

Sycamore Lookout

Sycamore Lookout from
a nearby viewpoint

View west from
the same vantage

The grungy towers

Stone foundations at or
near the highest point

. . . . . .

Winding Stair Mountain

Leafy forested road hike

Now on the top ridge

Big cairn at top

Look carefully to see
a shelter

View east into Arkansas
from the Parkway

. . . . . .

Rich Mountain

The lookout tower

The top area plus benchmark

Lookout and the
trusty Soob Outback

The Talimena Parkway • Oklahoma & Arkansas

Sycamore Lookout (OK) • Winding Stair Mountain (OK) • Rich Mountain (AR)

The Talimena Parkway is a 45-mile byway that connects the towns of Talihina, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas. The road runs on the very spine of the long Winding Stair Mountains, and is meant to be driven slowly and to savor the wonderful views. We were lucky to encounter it on a crystal clear bluebird afternoon with pleasant temperatures and no humidity. Conditions could not have been better.

Southeast Oklahoma is quite hilly, and I daresay, even a little mountainous. The peaks herein are worthy peaks with respectable prominence values, probably a surprise to most people who assume Oklahoma to be flat. It is a region I have wanted to visit, but could not bring myself to come all this way just for this alone. Instead, we incorporated the Talimena Parkway into a larger trip we were undertaking.

Sycamore Lookout
• Winding Stair Mountains
• Ouachita National Forest
• Leflore County, Oklahoma

Date: October 17, 2019 • Elevation: 2,377 feet • Prominence: 771 feet • Distance: 0.1 mile • Time: 5 minutes • Gain: 30 feet • Conditions: Gorgeous


We had been travelling on Interstate-40 virtually the whole time as we headed east. However, we decided to take a scenic bypass and visit southeast Oklahoma, a chance to be in the hills again after a few days of monotonous flatness along the interstate. From Oklahoma City, we followed Interstate-40 about 80 miles to the city of Henryetta, then bailed from the interstate onto Indian Nations Tollway toward McAlester, where we had a hotel room waiting for us. The drive was not long and we arrived in the early afternoon.

The next day (today), we left McAlester and followed lesser state routes through the hills and small towns, mainly keeping to state routes OK-63 and OK-1. The roads curved with the lay of the land and with light traffic, we kept a relaxed pace through the towns of Hartshorne, Clayton and Talihina, about 50 miles from McAlester. Past Talihina, the road steepens to gain the higher ground in the Winding Stair Mountains. The Talimena Parkway starts here if heading east. We eased onto the road and started our journey.

We drove about five miles up a steep section of road, putting us on a higher ridge that contains the first "peak" of the drive, Sycamore Lookout. We parked in a pull-out about a quarter-mile to the west and wandered around the area, enjoying the clear views across the hills and valleys below.

I wanted to tag the top of this hill, so we drove to a rough track immediately below the top. We parked, and I ran out to tag the top, walking up an access road to a couple towers, then into the low trees and brush. I hunkered in the shoulders and bashed through the light tangle, going up until I came to stone foundations of some sort.

This seemed to be at or very near the highest point. I tagged a couple rocks, but views from here were limited due to the branches and greenery. I walked back out and soon was back to the car, gone five minutes. Truthfully, I was not expecting it to be this way. The map shows a road pullout "at" the top, and I figured the highpoint would be open and easily accessible. There were no views, and we got moving immediately.

Winding Stair Mountain
• Winding Stair Mountains
• Ouachita National Forest
• Leflore County, Oklahoma

Date: October 17, 2019 • Elevation: 2,451 feet • Prominence: 1,121 feet • Distance: 2.5 miles • Time: 30 minutes • Gain: 530 feet • Conditions: Clear and dry and stupendous


We continued the drive eastbound on the Parkway, coming to the Winding Stair Campground and Winding Stair Mountain, lying opposite one another. I pulled into a clearing amid the trees where an old road once led to the top of Winding Stair Mountain.

I started hiking, going light with just my camera. I found a trail near where the road is gated shut, and followed it up and through the trees for about a quarter-mile to where it fed me back onto the old road. I hoped there was a continuation of it above the road, but no such luck. The summit was only a few hundred feet from me, but up a steep and forested slope. I played it safe and followed the road.

The road itself is not open to vehicles and is covered in grass and low scrub, with a well-beaten hiker's path within the road. The road, however, makes a half-mile run to the west, then turns sharply and doubles back east another half mile to the top. Thus, I'd be obliged to hike a mile each way to a summit that was within a few hundred feet of me to begin with.

I moved quickly. The first leg of the road gains almost all the elevation, while the second leg is mostly level, although toward the end it gains upward about 40 feet. The summit area is topped by an 8-foot high cairn and a number of rock outcrops. A shelter can be seen nearby, but I did not inspect it. Moving as fast as I did, I covered the one-way distance in about 15 minutes.

For the hike down, I followed the same route, jogging much of the way. I was able to hike out in a little less than fifteen minutes, a total time apart from the car of about a half hour. The top offered no views but hiking in the trees, with the great weather, was itself enjoyable. I was pleased to get in a hike, my first one in weeks.

Back at the car, we resumed our eastward drive. The next fifteen or so miles stayed high on the mountain ridge, and we stopped a couple times for views and to stretch our legs. Traffic was never heavy, mainly motorcycle groups and other tourists like ourselves.

Soon, we crossed into Arkansas, with Rich Mountain not far up ahead.

Rich Mountain
• Highpoint: Polk County, Arkansas
• Ouachita National Forest

Date: October 17, 2019 • Elevation: 2,681 feet • Prominence: 1,921 feet • Distance: 250 feet • Time: 5 minutes • Gain: 5 feet • Conditions: Wonderful


Rich Mountain hosts a big lookout tower that can be seen from miles away and it was visible as we drove toward it. We did not have to drive far, perhaps 5 miles from the state line, until we came upon the side road that leads to the top of Rich Mountain.

We left the parkway and drove up this road, parking in the lot just short of the tower. The top is a built out as a little park, with the tower as the centerpiece, a large grass lawn, bathrooms and walking paths. Trees lined the park on the edges. I walked to the tower, then around back to the benchmark placed inside a metal post about a foot off the ground.

I inpected the area and took a few photos, but did not linger long. I also used the facilities, since it was a good opportunity to do so. I was back to the car in about five minutes. It wasn't much of a hike but it was fun.

Back on the Talimena Parkway, we started to descend steeply, now essentially at the east end of the byway. Soon, we passed the Mena city limits sign and a few homes, officially ending the journey. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable side trip and I highly recommend it to future visitors. We were lucky to catch it on a beautiful clear day.

Now, it was just a matter of driving about another 90 miles to our hotel in Hot Springs. Mena is a cute town but traffic was a little heavy, I suppose all the more apparent after our leisurely (and lightly-trafficked) drive on the Parkway. We then followed US-270 most of the way into Hot Springs, arriving about two hours later.

We spent two nights and a full day in Hot Springs, our first "non-travel" day of the journey. Having a down day was welcome. I hiked a trail up North Mountain within the National Park, and rested back at the hotel as well.

(c) 2019 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.