Arkansas is working toward a future that breaks the mold of a stereotypical mountain biking destination.
The essential ingredients are there: hundreds of miles of bike-centric trails, jaw-dropping scenic vistas, and quality bike shops, all supported by an enthusiastic local riding community. Coating it all is a signature Arkansas flair—kind of like a tangy BBQ sauce—consisting of natural hot springs, the rolling Ozark and rugged Ouachita Mountains, sunsets on countless lakes and rivers, curious oddities such as alligator farms and mobster museums, and many genres of cuisine.
Perhaps the most compelling element of Arkansas mountain biking is the community buy-in. Unlike other riding destinations where land use can be a contentious issue, in Arkansas, private landowners, cities, and state and county parks believe in cycling. Public spaces have become blank canvases for professional trailbuilders, and new lines sprout annually. The state doesn’t have an issue with building trails; they have the unique task of keeping up with the constant demand for more. This fever has led to intentional trail infrastructure, which businesses and communities rally around because they’ve seen firsthand the benefits that a focus on two-wheel recreation can bring.
What would a city look like if its identity centered on mountain biking? Bentonville has sought to answer that question with a massive emphasis on singletrack development in recent years. Kids can now hit jump lines en route to school. Coffee shops are hit mid-ride to provide an espresso boost for those seeking a few more laps. Every type of trail exists here—big jumps, approachable tabletops, rocky and rooty tech, and heaps and heaps of flow. Instead of football jerseys, the walls of the local watering hole are plastered with cycling jerseys and old bikes.
Until 2008, Bentonville was best known as the birthplace of Walmart and the retailer’s current world headquarters. But then Tom and Steuart Walton—grandsons of Walmart founder Sam Walton—caught the cycling bug. Sixteen years and millions upon millions of dollars later, the town’s original five miles of singletrack have grown to 130 miles. And counting. Riding here is like visiting an ice cream shop with a flavor for literally anyone, so it’s best to be liberal with the free samples. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve tops the list of spots to check out. It’s a network designed with hot laps in mind and features many jumps, berms, and fun features. Notably, the Drop the Hammer trail commands the biggest presence, launching riders over a burly road gap step-down, followed by XL jumps. The Slaughter Pen Trails stem straight from downtown. Grab your rental bike from Phat Tire Bike Shop and you’ll be riding in seconds. This network was the Walton’s first mountain bike project and comprises old-school cross-country, new-school flow, and a fun freeride park. If you want a scenic, longer ride, head up to Bella Vista. Minutes from Bentonville, the town has three main networks: Back 40, Little Sugar, and Blowing Springs. The terrain brims with waterfalls, switchbacks, lakes, creeks, woods, caves, jumps, drops, and more. One of the most famous trails is The Ledges, known for its tight singletrack along some rocky exposure. Another must-visit is the new Huntley Gravity Zone tucked within Little Sugar. Built by the team who made the Whistler Bike Park, Gravity Logic, this mini bike park is the perfect place to session skills and get your jumping fix.
But the magic behind Bentonville doesn’t solely lie in its riding, even though it’s pretty darn fun. The Pedaler’s Pub is a chic tavern specializing in wood-fired pizzas, salads, and sandwiches. Their moonshine lemonade hits the spot on a muggy summer day. For dessert, walk next door to Oh Snap Ice Cream. Take Cold Stone-style ice cream and ‘90s tropes, and you get this funky yet lovable ice cream trailer that could double as a yellow submarine. Grab coffee at one of Airship Coffee’s many beautifully designed locations, including an open-air cafe deep within the Coler trail network. Wi-Fi is purposely not offered at this location, allowing visitors to soak up their surroundings or have quality time with friends. A bike-friendly hotel makes a whole trip much smoother, and the Bike Inn provides everything a mountain biker would want and more. Choose from modern hotel rooms to cozy glamping pods with amenities like bike storage, an outdoor bike wash stash, repair stations, and a gearbox vending machine. There is also an RV and van camping option and a spacious outdoor sitting area for hanging out.
Twenty minutes outside Bentonville lies the town of Rogers. This small town exudes Americana, complete with a historic downtown begging to be on a postcard. Beyond the charming coffee shops and boutiques, what elevates Rogers from other communities is the easy access to some of Arkansas’ most beautiful state parks—merely minutes away from its city center.
The town’s most distinct landmark is the 30,000-acre Beaver Lake, a sprawling man-made reservoir that boasts some 487 miles of shoreline. Towering limestone bluffs, caves, and swaths of forest adorn its shores, making it a beloved outdoor haven. While many folks experience the lake and its grandeur via fishing, scuba diving, or other water sports, mountain bikers can take in the scenery with a ride at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. The first system in the Monument Trails family, Hobbs features 40 miles of riding, a mix of downhill-only trails, and meandering cross-country. Swim spots are everywhere, so pack a swimsuit to jump in the water. But biking isn’t confined to the woods. In downtown Rogers is the Railyard Bike Park, where riders can weave through man-made jumps, berms, and a repurposed railcar. There’s lighting that keeps it open until 9 p.m., and everyone from tiny groms on Striders to seasoned jumpers ride until the park closes. The park also connects to Lake Atalanta, offering winding loops through the Ozark Forest.
Camping is one way to immerse yourself further in the landscape. Hobbs State Park has 11 primitive campsites, six accessible by mountain biking—the first of its kind for the state. The Onyx Coffee Lab at the 1907 is worth visiting even if you don’t drink coffee (they serve tea too). Given the space’s beautiful interior, you might think you’re in the pages of Architectural Digest as you savor your morning coffee. Also in the building is Yeyo’s Mezcaleria & Taqueria, one of many Mexican family-owned businesses in northwestern Arkansas that prides itself on fresh-sourced ingredients. The Rogers location boasts the largest selection of mezcal in the state and a mouth-watering menu of tacos; it’s the obvious choice for lunch or dinner.
If Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley had an American sister city, Eureka Springs would be it. Its historic, Victorian architecture enchants visitors, transporting them to a different era. Originally renowned for its healing waters, Eureka Springs’ new claim to fame is as a home to real, technical mountain biking. The Lake Leatherwood Gravity Project is Arkansas’ only shuttle-served bike park. It features seven purpose-built trails that emanate from two hubs. Book a ride with The Gravity Feed to lap it incessantly. The riding is consistently long and fast, and the terrain varies from trail to trail. It is rockier and full of challenging features (all have go-arounds), and those who enjoy challenging terrain will find themselves in a downhill paradise. DH 5 is a fan-favorite blue trail. It drops 430 feet in nearly a mile and features beautiful rockwork reminiscent of Moab’s chunky, natural staircases—albeit without the red dirt. For advanced riders, DH 2 is a must. The upper flow section has fast corners, tabletops, gap jumps, and a burly rock drop. The lower section switches to technical and chunky riding to round out the trail. If you haven’t found your adrenaline fix by then, DH 7 will do the trick. It features the biggest drop in Arkansas, and plenty of intimidating gaps.
However, Eureka Springs’ riding isn’t purely for daredevils; there’s something here for any skill level. Adjacent to the downhill park is Lake Leatherwood City Park, an excellent zone for cross-country riders and provides access to the water and great camping options. Across town are the Passion Play trails, where dirt church takes on new meaning at the sprawling 18-mile purpose-built network on the property of a Christian performance center. After whizzing by the iconic 66-foot-tall statue of Christ—drop into Holy Roller for a fun ride of rollers, jumps, drops, and berms. Atonement was the network’s first expert gravity trail and is still a favorite for its technical rock gardens and huge jumps. Deliverance takes things up a notch—with a road gap and boulder farms—and is considered one of the most challenging trails in northwestern Arkansas. All trails can be shuttled or made into loops with one of the many multi-directional trails.
The Topo Motel makes an ideal base camp. Perched right next to the Lake Leatherwood downhill tracks, you can roll straight from your room to the trails. Also in the parking lot is the Red Eye Supply food truck, which makes delicious sandwiches and gyros at a great price. La Familia Tex-Mex has frozen margaritas and fajitas that hit the spot after a full day of riding. For dessert, save room for Colossal Cupcakes & Cones, an itty-bitty sweet shop with not-so-small cupcakes and ice cream cones. The shop is not exaggerating when they say its servings are “four times the ordinary,” so head straight here after riding to avoid a food coma.
Hot spring haven, Major League Baseball’s spring training birthplace, and the relaxing escape for 20th-century mobsters like Al Capone are just a few fun tidbits about the resort town of Hot Springs. While Central Avenue’s ornate bathhouses are considered the town’s focal point, many argue that the main attraction lies five minutes from downtown, deep in the forest: The Northwoods Trail System.
This network is a sprawling 31-mile purpose-built system winding past three lakes. Originally designed and constructed in 2017 by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA), the trails have exponentially grown into one of the top-rated trail networks for the state. It features a variety of green, blue, and black terrain that is meticulously kept up by a dedicated trail crew and local volunteers. Ragnarok and Blue Jay are popular blue downhill trails with small, fun jumps. For advanced riders, Lucky 13 has the park’s biggest jumps. Even though it’s tempting to spend your whole visit in Northwoods alone, Hot Springs can be a springboard to explore nearby IMBA Epic Rides: the popular backcountry Womble Trail, the Ouachita National Recreational Trail, and the Lake Ouachita Vista Trail. The famous Iron Mountain trail system is also a reasonable drive away. Time your trip with the Güdrun-Northwoods Mountain Bike Festival for an extra memorable visit. The weekend event celebrates the local trails, featuring races, a jump jam, and a slow roll through downtown in your finest Viking garb.
From bathhouses to cabins, Hot Springs offers some distinctive lodging options. However, mountain bikers will find the Best Court a stand-out choice. The hotel took a 1930s motor inn and remodeled it into charming cottages, complete with a cafe and bar. Additionally, each room includes a garage to store bikes and gear. The garages were initially meant for Model Ts, so don’t try to squeeze your Tacoma in one. A must-visit is the Superior Bathhouse Brewery, located right on Central Avenue and the only brewery based within a national park. Enjoy one of their refreshing brews from the town’s famous spring water. Fun fact: Studies have shown that thermal spring water has the perfect chemical composition for craft beer—only one more reason to get yourself a flight. The go-to pizza spot is Deluca's Pizza, a bustling New York-inspired pizza joint where Chef Anthony has become a local celebrity. The dough is handmade, the pizzas baked in a brick oven, and the premium hamburgers are formed from meat flown in overnight from New York. Red Light Roastery and Coffee House is the favorite coffee shop among riders. The owners are avid cyclists, as evident in trail maps hung around the shop, ride recommendations on their website, and their continued support of the local National Interscholastic Cycling Association chapter. The coffeehouse, decorated more like a cozy reading nook, is ideal for relaxing and sipping an iced coffee after a day of activities.
Little Rock is the most urban of all of Arkansas’ riding destinations. For a state capital, it’s easy to be in a green space within minutes of downtown. The city honors the state’s motto as “The Natural State,” with access to the Arkansas River, more than 1,200 miles of regional cycling trails, six mountain biking networks, and a state park within 25 minutes of the city. Plus, when you’re done riding for the day, you can explore a delectable multicultural food scene, world-class museums, street art, and one-of-a-kind experiences only found in Little Rock—like the World Cheese Dip Championships (held every fall, FYI) or the state capitol which is a three-quarters scale replica of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
River Mountain Park is a city park converted into a professionally built mountain bike network, and you don’t have to leave the city to get there. Its 11 trails are fun to lap and the central trail hub delivers beautiful views of the Arkansas River, Big Dam Bridge, and other notable Little Rock landmarks. Headwaters is a favored descent for its rock lines and fast flow but check out all the trails since they’re easy to lap. To avoid driving, hop on the Arkansas River Trail for a scenic cruise along the river, which connects directly to River Mountain Park. The paved path also links North Little Rock and Little Rock and connects to a pumptrack crafted by Velo Solutions. Pinnacle Mountain State Park is a must-ride, home to 16.5 miles of the best trails in Little Rock. Pinnacle is one of four major Arkansas State Parks part of the Monument Trails system, which are expanding bike access into park land. Once on the cone-shaped peak of Pinnacle Mountain, it’s easy to forget that the city is a mere 20 to 25-minute drive away. The 2,000-acre park is known for outdoor activities ranging from mountain biking to hiking and water access points. Jackfork is a popular 5-mile intermediate trail known for its fast and flowy lines and viewpoints of the Arkansas River.
A trip to Little Rock is worth it for the food and drink scene alone. It’s hailed as the dining capital of the state and was included in the article, “Five Secret Foodie Cities,” published in 2014 by Forbes Travel Guide. All it takes is one meal at one of Little Rock’s locally sourced restaurants to understand why this city’s cuisine is outstanding. El Sur Street Food Co. is a Honduran and Latin American eatery that started as a food truck and eventually transformed into a brick-and-mortar establishment, now teeming with locals. Another spot to sample is the Afrobites food truck on historic Wright Avenue. Senegal owners Madere Toure and Pap Dior used their passion for their local cuisine to open the truck. They share food from all over the continent, and the dishes are consistently bold, full of flavor, and the perfect choice after a ride. Sterling Market in Little Rock’s East Village is a dining and gathering concept where chefs use local ingredients to create menus for any craving. Imagine a five-in-one dining experience inside a reimagined historic paint factory where you and your riding buddies can unwind.
Many rides are bookended with coffee and libations and Little Rock has an abundance of both. Smack in the heart of downtown Little Rock is Lost Forty Brewing, named after a 40-acre tract of protected old-growth forest in southern Arkansas. Much like the 200-year-old trees for which the brewery is inspired by and vows to protect, the year-round, seasonal, and limited microbrews are natural and original. The crowd-pleasing menu of famous wings (vegan, too), munchies, satisfying salads, pizza, sandwiches, and burgers is not to be missed. Nexus Coffee & Creative, located in the heart of downtown, minutes from the river, runs a modern and spacious shop. They craft their espresso from ethically sourced beans, roasting them right in-house. The space beckons guests to sit, relax, and enjoy breakfast with friends. Another uniquely Little Rock coffee experience is Fidel & Co Coffee Roasters where friends Fidel Samour and Jorge Raul Rivera have defined “farm to mug” with their carefully roasted beans sourced directly from Raul’s farm in El Salvador.
Bustling Little Rock is best experienced from a townie bike or along the Arkansas River by kayak. Rock Town River Outfitters, which offers bike rentals, kayak rentals, and guided cycling tours of the city, has everything you need for different types of adventure. For lodging, consider one of the many Airbnbs. Finding a reasonably priced spot with a full kitchen and space to store your bike equipment is easy.
Russellville & Dardanelle
The captivating Arkansas River Valley is home to Russellville and Dardanelle. Both cities are well-known for their access to the Ouachita Mountain Range, Lake Dardanelle, and the crown jewel of Arkansas mountain biking: Mount Nebo State Park. The 1,350-foot-tall mesa looms in the distance and is the cornerstone for outdoor recreation in the area.
Mount Nebo is the state’s second-oldest park, steeped with an intriguing history dating back to the late 1800s. Now, as a member of the Monument Trail system, Mount Nebo offers 25 miles of purpose-built trails that weave through the park’s pristine terrain. Some visitors and Arkansans hail it as the best riding in the state. Given its lush pine forests, waterfalls, impeccable rock work, trails for beginner and expert riders, and views, it’s hard to disagree. Trail vistas peer out to sights like Arkansas’ tallest peak, Mount Magazine, or the Arkansas River Valley. In May of 2023, Mount Nebo hosted the opener of the Big Mountain Enduro, expanding the series’ horizons beyond the Rocky Mountains for the first time. The race prompted the construction of additional enduro-style tracks and showcased Arkansas as a riding destination worthy of hosting any modern race. Racer or not, there are many trails to love. Hayes Creeks starts with a spectacular view and sends riders down a two-mile directional path that plunges 900 feet. It features weaving berms, rock features, and a beautiful winding bridge. The Chickalah Valley Loop Trail is a longer intermediate ride with more views, immaculate rock work, jumps, and drops. Riders must observe the directional signs and pack lots of snacks and water because the ride finishes with a climb.
Jackalope Cycling in Russellville epitomizes the vision of a friendly bike shop, complete with a cute fluffy dog named Jack. Drop in to find all the biking essentials, rent an e-bike, stock up on disc golf frisbees or fishing flies, or just say hello to owner Johnny Brazil, who loves sharing intel on the region. Also located in Russellville are some tasty options for dining: Pasta Grill and The Old Bank. Retro Roast is a funky spot down the street that makes a good latte. Tarascos is the go-to taco spot known for its hearty plates of fresh food. For lodging, look no further than Mount Nebo itself. The park has 15 cabins and 35 campsites available year-round.
The Big Picture
Arkansas has undertaken a major period of development to reinvent itself as a mountain biker’s playground. With Rock Solid trail builders at the helm, Arkansas’ trail development embraces the natural terrain with modern craftsmanship, focusing on trails for everyone, modern flow, playful features, and convenient access. Tucked throughout its leafy forests, undulating hills and mountains, and bodies of water are expansive networks of singletrack that reinterpret its legacy as “The Natural State.”
Byproducts of this movement are passionate communities, businesses, and infrastructure aimed at getting more folks—Arkansans and visitors alike—out on bikes. At the grassroots Grit MTB Festival, held recently at Centennial Park in Fayetteville, veteran riders mingled with total newcomers to the sport in an environment made to be inclusive of anyone interested in getting out on two wheels.
Of course, traveling encompasses more than just biking. Arkansas offers a comprehensive package: delectable cuisine, a robust arts and music scene, and many experiences that are nearly impossible to find beyond The Natural State: bathhouses, alligators, and more. The result is a unique flavor that must be experienced to fully understand.