Arkansas Fall Foliage Train Rides (2024): A Complete Guide

Last revised: December 31, 2023

By: Adam Burns

It's hard to argue there is a more beautiful state in the West South Central U.S. than Arkansas; it's home to four major rivers (White, Black, Arkansas, Red, and Ouachita) as well as the Ozark, Boston, and Ouachita Mountains.  There are also many, many gorgeous lakes here like Lake Ouachita, Millwood Lake, DeGray Lake, Lake Maumelle, Greers Ferry Lake, Norfork Lake, and Bull Shoals Lake.

In addition to countless bucolic farms and a region rich with forests, Arkansas is fantastic state to view the fall colors.  Due to its southerly location, however, the peak season arrives later than most states.  According to Arkansas State Parks the colors peak on these dates in the follow areas of the state:

  • Northern Arkansas (Ozark Mountains): Colors begin changing in late September to early October with the peak in late October. 
  • Central/West-Central Arkansas (Ouachita Mountains):  Colors begin to change in early/mid-October with peak arriving in late October/early November.
  • Southern/Eastern Arkansas:  Colors begins to change in mid/late October and peaks in early/mid November. 

Long ago, when much of the nation used the railroad to travel from place to place one could take a train on the Cotton Belt, Missouri Pacific, Rock Island, St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (Frisco), and Kansas City Southern all across Arkansas.

These rail lines offered a unique view of the state not afforded by automobile or any other mode of transportation and the sights during the autumn must have been spectacular, even if most of the passengers then were probably more interested in their destination than the views!

Today, fall foliage train rides have become a popular attraction all across the country, especially in states like Arkansas where the colors are incredible.  Of the two locations offering trips through the autumn season, the Arkansas & Missouri provides the most amenities with first-class accommodations and climate-controlled cars.

Their "Fall Foliage Train" is a big hit every year and usually sells out.   To learn more about excursions hosted by the Arkansas & Missouri and Eureka Springs & North Arkansas during the fall please visit their websites.

Overview

Arkansas & Missouri Railroad

(Springdale):  The A&M is a large, short line freight carrier operating between Fort Smith, Arkansas and Monett, Missouri. 

They offer excursions nearly year-round, including two different "Fall Foliage Train" tours: a 70-mile, round trip from Van Buren to Winslow and a 134-mile experience from Van Buren to Springdale. 

During the journey you will pass through countless acres of farmland within the Arkansas River Valley and see the beautiful Boston and Ozark Mountains.  All trains head north out of Van Buren along the old St. Louis-San Francisco Railway (commonly referred to as the "Frisco"). 

You will first pass along Frog Bayou (which is crossed several times) before passing near Lake Fort Smith.  Next, trains stay near Clear Creek and then head through a tunnel beneath Winslow. 

Continuing north along the White River's West Fork you will see the small community of West Fork before arriving in Fayetteville/Springdale.  During most trips the train stays within the Ozark National Forest.  This is one of the top fall foliage experiences in the country! 

Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway

(Eureka Springs):  The ES&NA is tucked away in the small town of Eureka Springs, located within the beautiful Ozark Mountains.  The railroad hosts short trips of just 2.5 miles over the old Missouri & North Arkansas (later the Arkansas & Ozarks Railway), a little short line which stopped running in 1961. 

Today's tourist attraction was made possible by a group of train enthusiasts who rebuilt a section of the old right-of-way in 1981. 


Trips depart from the town's restored M&NA depot (built in 1912) where a small turntable is also located; heading north from Eureka Springs the train rolls along near Highway 23 before crossing Leatherwood Creek, which is the northern terminus. 

While the trips are short (lasting only about an hour) they nevertheless provide a nice experience, offering the chance for those uninitiated to experience what it was like to travel by train.  During warmer months the railroad regularly hosts lunch and dinner trains.

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