The Mountain Gateway Scenic Byway is in southeast Oklahoma and follows U.S. Highway 59/ 270 for 22 miles between Heavener, Oklahoma and the Arkansas state line. This state highway is a two-lane paved road with some steep grades and sharp curves. All types of vehicles can safely drive the byway. Temporary closure is possible during winter, otherwise the byway remains open year-round.
The byway rides through the forested valleys of the Ouachita Mountains, one of America's oldest land masses. These mountains are unique because they stretch east to west rather than north to south. The byway also cuts through the 26445-acre Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area. Some scenic turnouts are located along the route, providing beautiful panoramic views of the mountain slopes of the Black Fork Wilderness to the north and the Robert S. Kerr Arboretum to the south. Numerous side roads and other scenic byways invite adventurers to further explore these heavily forested mountains. Wildflowers in spring proudly display their colors while autumn, not to be outdone, also puts on its own beautiful display.
White oak trees that are 200 years old and 100 feet tall on the north slopes have cousins on the ridge lines that are only 10 feet tall. The results of these two extremes are distinct plant and animal communities. Typically, shortleaf pine, post oak, blackjack oak, black hickory, and serviceberry are predominant on the south slopes. The north-facing slopes will support white oak, red oak, sugar maple, dogwood, paw paw, Carolina silverbell, wild hydrangea and various species of salamanders and snails not commonly found on any other slope. Large, unusual rock fields, made up of sandstone blocks and boulders, are located on several of the Ouachita Mountain slopes and are often called rock glaciers. Communities of worms and snails enjoy these extreme environments.
The byway offers nearly unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. Wilderness areas and the arboretum adjacent to the byway offer seclusion for hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders. Also popular with the hiker or backpacker is the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, which showcases many unique vistas and can be accessed from the byway.There is a backpacker's camp on the Talimena Scenic Drive, which parallels this byway, that is open all year and has a breathtaking view of Holson Valley.
Several national forest campgrounds are located along or a short drive from the byway. Cedar Lake Recreation Area is one of the larger camping areas. It is situated on the shores of the 90-acre lake and has 98 camp sites for tents, recreational vehicles, and equestrians. Many of the sites have hookups for water, electricity, and sewage. The campground also has drinking water, restrooms, a boat ramp, shower facilities, hiking trails, fishing, and swimming facilities. Hundreds of miles of horseback riding trails are also in the area. Billy Creek Recreation Area is a short drive off the byway and has picnicking and 11 camp units. Winding Stair Recreation Area is a solar-powered facility campground located a short distance off the byway with picnicking and 26 campsites. Drinking water and restrooms are provided.