Mena is the county seat of Arkansas’ Polk County and was founded in 1896, when the now-defunct Pittsburgh and Gulf Railroad was being built.
One of the town’s most recognizable icons is Rich Mountain, the state’s second highest peak. It’s also the end point of the scenic Talimena National Scenic Byway that runs for more than 50 miles between Talihina, Oklahoma and Mena, Arkansas.
With a number of historical, cultural, and recreational attractions within easy driving distance, finding things to do on your visit shouldn’t be a problem.
Below are 14 of the best things to see and do in and around Mena.
1. Queen Wilhelmina State Park
Located near the summit of Rich Mountain just off Highway 88 in Mena, Queen Wilhelmina State Park provides the most breathtaking and panoramic views of the surrounding country that you won’t likely see anywhere else on your trip.
Originally, the site was a lodge built in the late 17th century and named after the Queen of the Netherlands.
Over the years, the inn and lodge counted some of the state and country’s influential citizens as guests. Now, the park headquarters is inside the most recently refurbished buildings.
The lodge now offers world-class accommodations and dining. For those who’d rather sleep under the stars, there are more than 40 campsites nearby as well.
2. Talimena Scenic Byway
Considered stunning and unforgettable by previous visitors, the Talimena Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic stretches of road anywhere in the region.
It covers area in Oklahoma and Arkansas and winds its way through varied landscapes – from lowland forest to rolling foothills and towering mountains. Nearly 20 miles are within Arkansas, and though the byway is beautiful year-round, it’s especially so in the fall when the tree’s leaves are turning their vibrant autumn shades of yellow, purple and orange.
The byway leads through many small towns that are worth a stop, so ask a local or check online to discover a side-excursion or two.
3. Lum and Abner Store and Museum
Located on Highway 88 in the nearby town of West Pine Ridge, the Lum and Abner Store and Museum were named after popular radio characters in the ‘30s and ‘40s that were created by two local men.
Built in the early years of the 20th century, the site is dedicated to this interesting bit of local history and is now included on the National Register of Historic Places.
The characters may be too old for many visitors to recognize, but it’s still a worthwhile visit, as it gives visitors an interesting insight into the past, when radio was a major means of recreation before the television era.
4. Cossatot River State Park
Arkansas’ Cossatot River winds its way through some of the state’s most scenic and rugged areas, and the 12-mile stretch near Mena draws visitors from all over the southeast.
The river is a particular favorite of kayakers, who come to challenge themselves in its tough and treacherous class IV rapids.
For those more into calm stretches of water, there are plenty of tranquil areas as well that are popular with swimmers and fisherman. The State Park has nearly 100 campsites in different locations, and there’s a great visitor’s center that includes exhibits, a gift shop, and a wildlife viewing area.
5. Ouachita River
Boasting more undeveloped wilderness area than most states, Arkansas is a mecca for sportsmen and outdoor enthusiasts. The Ouachita Mountains and River are a few of the largest attractions.
The Ouachita River is the area’s largest, and the section between Arkadelphia and Mena is noted for its large and smallmouth bass, crappie, and bream.
Some areas of the river have shore access for anglers without boats, and there are plenty of boat launching ramps nearby as well.
Float-tubing is a popular method of getting to fishable waters and is particularly productive during the lowlight early morning and evening hours. Fishing is decent year-round, but picks up in early fall, when game fish begin feeding for the long winter ahead.
6. Ouachita National Recreation Trail
Comprised of more than 200 miles of trails that meander through an amazingly diverse landscape, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail is the longest of its kind in Arkansas and continues to its terminus at Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock.
The area between Hot Springs and Highway 88 near Mena is a favorite of mountain bikers. It includes moderately difficult portions without much change in elevation and others that are very difficult and challenging even for experienced riders.
For those interested in biking the trail’s entire length and spending the night in the forest, there are camping shelters spaced about 10 miles apart over much of the path.
7. Pine Ridge
The small town of Pine Ridge is located in neighboring Montgomery County and got its name from the fictitious town by the same name in the aforementioned Lum and Abner Radio Show.
For the first century of its existence, the town’s economy was reliant on timber harvesting, and one of the town’s largest employers was a sawmill.
Pine Ridge is full of old-time character and charm, and the historic downtown area is home to the original post office which was built in the ‘20s.
Lying just off the Talimena Scenic Byway, it’s a convenient diversion for those in need of food and rest while en route.
8. Wolf Pen Gap
For those looking for a little quiet time of contemplation with Mother Nature, Wolf Pen Gap would not be a good choice.
For those who prefer the hum of powerful engines and rugged vehicles making their way over rugged landscapes, however, Wolf Pen Gap is a must-visit area.
It’s designated as an area for dirt bikes and all-terrain vehicles and includes nearly 40 miles of trails of varying levels of difficulty.
Located in the Ouachita National Forest, it offers visitors three trailheads that are easily accessible from Highway 375 near Mena. There is ample parking for large vehicles and those pulling trailers.
9. Rich Mountain Ride
Whether you’re doing it by car, bike, or motorcycle, the Rich Mountain Ride portion of the Talimena National Scenic Highway along Highway 88 is an alluring stretch of road. It includes some of the state’s most impressive sites, including the Queen Wilhelmina State Park, which is often referred to as ‘The Castle in the Clouds.’
Every September, there’s a popular biker’s extravaganza that features some of the area’s steepest and most scenic climbs and descents.
Many of the views seen from the vista points near the mountain’s peak are nothing short of remarkable. The event offers visitors a variety of routes of varying length and difficulty, so it’s appropriate for beginners and experts alike.
10. Ouachita Little Theatre
Previous visitors to Ouachita Little Theatre have remarked that the talent and products were remarkably good – even better than they were expecting.
The group that runs the little theatre is a not-for-profit organization that’s dedicated to promoting the arts. Nearly all of the talent – from the actors to producers – are local citizens.
The original Old Lyric Theatre on the site was built in the ‘20s as a movie house and has been the theatre’s permanent home since the mid-‘80s.
Admission is very inexpensive, and they host a variety of live performances throughout the year, so check online to see what’s on their calendar for when you’ll be in the area.
11. Mena Flea Market
Located on Mena Street, the Mena Flea Market features several booths run by different vendors. Due to its constantly shifting stock, the items you’ll see will be a little different each time you go.
Antiques, art, clothes, housewares, and tools are on-hand. For those who’ve got the free time and patience to sift through the offerings, there’s always the chance of uncovering that one true gem buried amidst all the other stuff.
The flea market is indoors, so it’s a great place to spend an hour or so when the weather outside is hot and humid in the summer, or cold and icy in the winter.
12. Mena Art Gallery
Local art galleries are great places to check out when you’re visiting a new area.
Most rural galleries feature art almost exclusively from local and regional artists. Nearly all of what you’ll find is one of a kind, and often surprisingly good and reasonably priced as well.
Located on Mena Street, Mena Art Gallery specializes in contemporary art. In addition, they offer instructional courses and workshops, seminars, group trips, art classes, and visiting exhibitions from other galleries.
It’s a great community resource, especially for those looking for some inspiration or a unique piece to remind them of their trip to Arkansas.
13. Ouachita Renegade Ranch
At nearly 300 acres, the Ouachita Renegade Ranch is open to the public every day. It offers visitors dozens of miles of trails leading through lowland forests, rolling foothills, and open fields that are great places to explore on a dirt bike, ATV, or mountain bike.
They also offer campgrounds for those who’d like to stay for a night or two, and cabins for those who’d rather not rough it.
The range has access to the Ouachita River as well and is a favorite spot for those looking to explore in a canoe or do a bit of fishing.
They’re located on Highway 88 east of Mena, and remember; if you plan on fishing, you’ll need a license – whether you’re an Arkansas resident or not.
14. The Blue Zip Line and Farm
If you’ve never tried zip-lining, your trip to Mena might be the perfect time to give it a whirl.
It’s exhilarating, inexpensive, and will give you panoramic views that you won’t see if you keep your feet firmly planted on solid ground.
The Blue Zip Line and Farm are located just outside Mena among old-growth forests in the Ouachita Mountains.
They offer many lines for those of most ages and levels of physical ability. You’ll get all the equipment and instruction you need before taking a high-altitude ride through the canopy.
Tours of the working cattle ranch are available too.