The city of Mena is in western Arkansas only a few miles from the Arkansas and Oklahoma border. Due to its perfect location in the Ouachita National Forest this is a town that is surrounded by nature.

We have been exploring Mena and the Ouachita Mountains this year and have discovered although it has a population of only about 5,500, Mena, Arkansas is also a town with a thriving art scene, some delicious restaurants, and interesting history!

Not only that but you will have easy access to nature.

All of this makes Mena a perfect base from which to experience a wide variety of cultural and outdoor activities!

You will find so many things to do in Mena, AR and the surrounding area.

An older and fairly empty street in a small town. The buildings are connected but all different heights and old. One says Train Station Antiques. This is the downtown area of Mena, Arkansas. A stroll downtown is one of the best things to do in Mena, AR. Pin

Location of Mena, Arkansas

Mena is located in Polk County in the southwest region of Arkansas.

There are no major interstates to the city but the smaller highways are fine.

Here are a few of the best things to do in Mena, Arkansas and in the surrounding Ouachita Mountains.

Things to Do in Mena, Arkansas (and Nearby)

Stroll Downtown Mena

Although it is small, Mena has everything you might need right in town.

Mena Street is a wide road that is lined on both sides with commercial buildings. These include art galleries, boutiques, shops and restaurants. The commercial area continues down some of the side streets.

Like many small rural towns there some store fronts that sit empty, however others are thriving and the town is attracting an interesting art scene.

You will definitely want to take a stroll through downtown Mena while you are in the area.

Art Galleries

You may be surprised by how many art galleries there are in town.

  • Be sure to stop by the Mena Art Gallery which supports community involvement in the creative arts for all ages.
  • American Artisans is a combination restaurant and art gallery that showcases quality work from local artists.
  • Wild Hare Art Glass Studio sells art supplies and also has classes.
This is a photo of two signs on the top of the exterior of the buildings. One says Mena Art Gallery, the other says Wild Hare Art Glass. These are located in downtown Mena, Arkansas. Pin

Ouachita Little Theatre

The Ouachita Little Theatre is housed in the building that was once the Lyric Movie Theater. This old theater has been around since the silent movie days in the late 1920’s.

The theater was remodeled to accommodate live shows by the Ouachita Little Theater. They do several plays a year and have even won statewide competitions. If you are going to be in the area be sure and check out their calendar.

A mosaic floor in blue and white and black hexagonal tiles that surrounds a mosaic black and white tiles that say Lyric Theater. It appears in decent shape but older and worn. Attending a show at the Lyric Theater is one of the best things to do in Mena, ARPin

You might be interested in: Things to do in Nearby Southwest Arkansas Town of Hot Springs

Janssen Park

Janssen Park is an interesting little 10 acre community park just off the main drag in Mena.

You must stop by and see the log cabin from 1851 which is in the park and rumored to have been used as a hideout by Jesse James. This park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places!

Historic kansas City Southern Depot

The Kansas City Railroad depot building was once a passenger depot in Mena. It now serves as the Chamber of Commerce and a museum that houses local history including memorabilia from the Lum & Abner radio show.

A photo of the old train depot in Mena, Arkansas. This is a small red brick building next to the train tracks. Pin

Drive the Talimena National Scenic Byway

This gorgeous 54-mile drive with stunning views runs through the Ouachita Mountains from Rich Mountain in Mena, Arkansas, across the top of the Winding Stair Mountains and ending in Talihina, Oklahoma.

From Mena the road quickly enters the Ouachita National Forest, climbing Rich Mountain, which happens to be Arkansas’s second highest peak, passing through Queen Wilhelmina State Park and then on to Oklahoma.

Even if you just drive the section from Mena to the state park you will be impressed with the views!

The drive is beautiful any time of year but we particularly love it during the fall season in Arkansas when it is one of the best places in the state to see fall color.

Driving all or a portion of the Talimena Scenic Byway is definitely one of the best things to do in Mena, Arkansas.

This photo is of a winding two lane road that goes off into the distance on the right side. There is a hillside that dominates the photo showing a forest of trees in blazing Fall color in Arkansas from the Talimena Scenic Byway. The Talimena Scenic Byway is one of the best things to do in Mena, Arkansas.Pin

Visit Queen Wilhelmina State Park

Queen Wilhelmina State Park sits atop Rich Mountain not too far from the town of Mena. One route to the park will take you along a portion of the beautiful Talimena Scenic Byway.

Once you get to the top of the mountain where the park is located you will be astounded by the panoramic views.

There is a lodge and restaurant at the Queen Wilhelmina state park as well as a campground. You will also find picnic tables, a playground, a volleyball court and other amenities for day use.

There is even a miniature train that you can ride in a loop along the mountain top and through the woods in the park.

The Queen Wilhelmina State Park Lodge is silhouetted against a bright blue sky. This lodge sits atop Rich Mountain near the town of Mena, Arkansas and is part of the Queen Wilhelmina State Park. Pin

Lum and Abner Store and Lum and Abner Arts Festival

Lum and Abner was a radio show in the 1930’s. The actual actors were two young men from Mena, Arkansas named Chester Lauck and Norris Goff. The characters they played on the radio were old codgers Lum and Abner who ran the Jot ‘Em Down General Store in the tiny fictional town of Pine Ridge.

Pine Ridge was based on the actual tiny Ouachita Mountain town of Waters, Arkansas. In 1936 Waters officially changed its name to Pine Ridge in honor of the radio show.

Today, Pine Ridge is also home to the Lum and Abner Museum and store which you can visit while you are in the area. You will also want to attend the Lum and Abner Arts and Music Festival which is normally held in early June in downtown Mena.

Ouachita National Forest

One of the best things about the town of Mena, Arkansas is the accessibility to a multitude of outdoor activities. This is due to its proximity to the Ouachita National Forest.

Mena is the perfect gateway for exploring the Ouachita National Forest which happens to be the south’s largest forest with 1.8 million acres.

Wolf Pen Gap Trail

Is off-roading your thing? Then you will have to visit the Wolf Pen Gap Trails. This area was designated for use by ATV’s and dirt bikes back in 1991.

There are 41 miles of connecting trails that range from easy to difficult looping through the rugged and beautiful Ouachita Mountains. You can even ride your ATV to various swimming holes in the area.

If you don’t have your own ATV look into renting one from Wolf Pen Gap ATV.

Ouachita Renegade Ranch

The Ouachita Renegade Ranch is another place where you can ride ATV’s and motorcycles on acres of land adjoining the Ouachita River. This is also a place to put in or take out canoes and kayaks on the river.

Cossatot River State Park

The Cossatot River State Park is one of the most stunning state parks in Arkansas. It is located just 45 miles south of Mena.

In the spring when there has been ample rainfall the Cossatot River is a paradise for experienced canoeists, rafters and kayakers. These are mostly class 3, 4 and even on occasion class 5 rapids so they are NOT recommended for beginners.

In addition to the river this state park has camping areas, swimming spots, picnic grounds, and a number of hiking trails including the Brushy Creek Trail and the Harris Creek Trail that has a spectacular view of the Cossatot River.

Blue Zipline and Farm

Want to ride a zipline on a working cattle ranch in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains? Take a look at Blue Zipline and Farm. This is a family farm and adventure destination located on the banks of the Irons Fork River.

It is about 15 minutes from Mena and they have several different zip lines to choose from!

Board Camp Crystal Mine

Board Camp Crystal Mine is not only a great place to dig for quartz crystals, it is also one of the most fascinating places in Arkansas!

Of course you can dig for your own crystals at Board Camp Crystal Mine, but you can also hear about some very odd and unexplained things that have happened there.

Could there be a sasquatch in the area? Or perhaps…aliens?

You have got to check it out!

Trails, hiking, and Waterfalls

There are plenty of hiking trails and waterfalls to choose from near the town of Mena. Here are a few of our favorites:

Where to Eat in Mena, Arkansas

Here is a list of some really excellent restaurants in Mena that you should try when you are in the area!

  • The Skyline Cafe is located in an historic building downtown and serves a great old-fashioned breakfast and lunch.
  • The Ouachitas is SUCH a cool restaurant with great vibes. They are a coffee house, a brewery, and a pizza joint and they do all three really, really well.
  • American Artisans is a combination restaurant and art gallery. They have excellent sandwiches with homemade chips! Always check out the daily special here as well.
  • Suzy Q’s Restaurant and Ice Cream serves up some of the best ice cream around. Plus they have delicious soups and sandwiches. This is such a pretty and fun place with a great location in a big old historic building.
The interior of an ice cream shop. it is in an old building and there is a white painted wooden counter. the back wall is painted tourquoise. There is a sign that says sit down, relax, your food is made from scratch. This is the Suzy Q ice cream shop and restaurant located in Mena, Arkansas.Pin

Where to Stay in Mena, Arkansas

Some of our favorite places to stay in the entire state of Arkansas are located in or around Mena!

  • My favorite place to stay in the area is Bethesda Lake Cabins which is located only about 8 minutes from town. Y’all, these cabins are stunning! This is the perfect place to come with your family or a group of friends. We stayed here and loved everything about the accommodations and the property. Be sure and read our entire review about Bethesda Lake Cabins.
  • Queen Wilhelmina State Park is one of only a handful of Arkansas state parks that have a lodge for visitors to stay. This lovely state park sits atop Rich Mountain and many of the hotel-like rooms have gorgeous views of the valley below.
  • If you are looking for a place to stay that is both historic and right near town then check out the Janssen Park Place B & B. They have a variety of suites and cottages and serve a deliciously memorable breakfast!
There are black adirondack chairs around a stone firepits in the lower foreground. In the back ground and trees and through the trees you can see a beautiful lake. This is the Bethesda Lake Resort and Cabins. One of the best places to stay in Mena, Arkansas.Pin

History of Mena, Arkansas

Mena was founded in 1896 as a railroad town. It served as the terminus of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, a major transportation route for the timber industry in the region.

The railroad facilitated the transportation of timber, minerals, and other natural resources and laid the foundation for Mena’s development as a thriving community.

Mena also played a pivotal role during World War II as a training ground for pilots. The nearby South Field Airport served as a training base for the Army Air Corps, and the town was home to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) who played a crucial role in the war effort.

The legacy of this period is preserved in the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport, which continues to be an essential part of the town’s identity.

This same airport played a part in one of the more controversial eras of Mena’s history. In the 1980’s Mena became the center of allegations involving illegal activities and connections to the Mexican drug cartels. Barry Seal, a former commercial pilot, was at the center of these claims.

Seal was accused of using the Mena Intermountain Municipal Airport as a base for smuggling drugs, particularly cocaine, into the United States. These operations believed to have ties to the notorious Medellín Cartel, led by the infamous Pablo Escobar.

This allegations continue to be a subject of debate. There has even been a major motion picture made about it these possible events called American Made featuring actor Tom Cruise. .

Today, Mena has evolved into a charming and vibrant community known for its natural beauty, outdoor recreational opportunities, and a thriving arts scene.

We hope that you have enjoyed learning about the many things to do in Mena, Arkansas!

Let us know what we have missed!

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