Located in the southern portion of the United States, Arkansas is quite simply a mountain bikers’ dream, largely because of its diverse topography and unique characteristics. Bordered by Louisiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas, the state features a wide range of geography that appeals to riders, including the Ozark and Ouachita Mountains; the dense southern forest known as the Arkansas Timberlands; and the Eastern Lowlands, which closely follow the banks of the Arkansas Delta and Mississippi River.
Within these vast outdoor regions, one will find a bevy of fun and unique trails systems—trail systems that collectively serve to challenge riders of all ages and ability levels. To help you become more familiar with the Arkansas cycling scene, below we have featured five of the state’s most popular and well-loved mountain biking trails, and provided a brief description of each of these courses.
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Located in the quaint town of Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Iron Mountain is a fun and exciting 17-mile course when ridden as an out-and-back. The trail is defined by its series of switchbacks that gradually work riders down the hill. If ridden counter-clockwise (the preferred direction, according to locals), the first section from the parking area includes a rock garden, which will sadly give those all-important sidewalls some true grief. The trail north of Corps Road offers a beautiful view of the lake and a nice rocky climb, and the trail flows nicely throughout.
The scenic route that is the Iron Mountain Trail is the perfect getaway for novice and intermediate riders, one that showcases the full extent of the beauty that makes Arkansas such an outdoor paradise for local and visiting riders. Here riders will find a course that is (mostly) wide and meandering, giving them the perfect opportunity to practice their bike-handling skills. In fact, if not for the rocks scattered throughout the Iron Mountain course, it would probably be rated “beginner” rather than “intermediate.
Slaughter Pen Trail
Situated in the city of Bentonville, Arkansas, the Slaughter Pen trail system is packed with hills, chills, and plenty of variety, including a fun gravity line down a mountain known as Medusa. Frequently, this trail system is ridden in conjunction with the Blowing Springs trail system, together making up the “The Bentonville-Blowing Springs Tour.”
Consisting of a combination of fast single track and paved bikeways through the beautiful forests of Northwest Arkansas, the Slaughter Pen trail is a free-flowing course that contours through hardwood forests and around rocky crags.
The Slaughter Pen Trail begins at the Crystal Bridges Trail parking area, located just north of the water park in downtown Bentonville. From here riders will make their way along a paved trail to the All-American Trail (on the left), just past the entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum. This trail serves as an exciting introduction to Slaughter Pen, consisting of flowing terrain and optional lines that include ladder bridges, boulders and a series of berms. Once on the Slaughter Pen Trail riders can expect some moderate to grueling climbs, and extremely thrilling descents in which riders will need to negotiate rocks, roots, sand a variety of other impediments.
The Slaughter Pen Trail system is rated moderate or intermediate by the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), and riders are urged to utilize all of the recommended safety equipment.
Pea Ridge Trails
Arkansas’ Pea Ridge Trails are located in the Pea Ridge National Military Park, just off US Highway 62, 10 miles northeast of the city of Rogers. Rated as “Easy, with some Hills,” the 7-mile beginner’s trail takes about 2-3 hours to complete when ridden as a loop.
The Pea Ridge Trails wind through Oak and Hickory forests and near fields associated with the battles of Leetown and Elkhorn Tavern during the American Civil War. The trail, which passes right by the aforementioned Elkhorn Tavern, has some hilly sections, but these are quite manageable for most riders. Along the way, riders will meander through some of the state’s most gorgeous scenery, spotting many different varieties of birds and other wildlife, including many white-tailed deer.
The Pea Ridge Trails will take riders down the renowned “Telegraph Road.” Built in 1828 between Springfield, Missouri and Fayetteville Arkansas, the road was part of the infamous “Trail of Tears,” that saw thousands of Cherokees and other American Indians forcibly relocated from their homes in Georgia and the Carolinas to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma. It is estimated that some 10,000 American Indians lost their lives during the journey. In 1858, Telegraph Road also became part of the Butterfield Overland Mail route to California, and in 1860, one of the first telegraph wires was strung atop the road.
The Pea Ridge Trails include many site amenities, including restrooms, drinking fountains, bike wash stations and a visitor’s center, where guests can learn the history of the famous site. Camping is also available just 10 miles north of the park at Beaver Lake,
Cedar Glades Trail
Located just outside the city of Hot Springs, Arkansas, the Cedar Glades Trail is a single track/loop that measures approximately 5.5 miles in total distance. The trail is the newest member to the Ouachita area trails, and was built by the Hot Springs Bicycle Association (HSBA) after the Water Works trail system was closed because of the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
The course is a very groomed, well-maintained and manicured track (thanks to the diligent work of the HSBA) so it is always a pleasure to ride. The trail itself is very smooth meandering, and while certainly not too rocky or over-technical, it still makes for an entertaining course.
There is only one big climb on the Cedar Glades Trail, with a series of switchbacks that gradually bring riders to the mountain’s apex. From here riders can rest as they take in the glorious scenery of the valley below, before tackling one of the fastest descents in all of Arkansas—a descent that continues to bring riders back time and again. The remainder of the trail meanders in and out of coves and small valleys and features some twisty and uneven terrain in certain sections. A couple of small creek crossings add a measure of coolness and sparkle to the ride, and the course has plenty of nice open spots where riders can test their flatland speed. During certain times of the year, cyclists may encounter a few muddy spots, but soon these will be covered by boardwalks. Simply put, if you are in or near the town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, you should definitely take some time to explore this gem of a trail.
Note: For those interested, camping is available in the Hot Springs National Park and nearby Ouachita National Forest. Moreover, the nearby city of Hot Springs has a slew of great places to eat, sleep, and shop.
Located in Mt. Ida, Arkansas, the Womble Trail stretches over 37 miles from Northfork Lake to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail at Highway 27. The trail is generally considered one of the best single track courses in the area—a trail that briefly skirts the bluffs of the Ouachita River, providing breathtaking views of the water below.
Perhaps the best asset of the Womble Trail is that it provides opportunities for riders of all skill and ability levels. There are a multitude of options for both out-and-back rides and shuttling, or riders can utilize the adjacent highways and county roads for return loops.
Womble consists of a series of heart-pounding, yet manageable climbs that are aided by the course’s switchbacks. It features an abundance of undulating trail on mostly groomed, hard-packed single track, with some intermittent technical sections and creek crossings. Riders are reminded to be extra cautious when traversing the bluff areas—it is a very long fall.
Camping is available near the Womble Trail park area at most times of the year, and riders are urged to call ahead for reservations.
image credit: Flickr, Karin