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9 essential Arkansas bike rides 

Bike routes, paved and rocky.

click to enlarge PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND TOURISM
  • Photo Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

If you want to have something to brag about next time you're quizzed on why you live in Arkansas, say, "Bike trails. That's how we roll, pal."

Arkansas is increasingly becoming a cycling destination, from the brilliantly conceived Razorback Regional Greenway to the Arkansas River Trail (central to the Big Dam Bridge 100) to the Delta Heritage Trail rail-to-trail conversion. You can find information on the road and mountain bike trails of Arkansas at arkansas.com/bicycling, traillink.com, arkansasrivertrail.org, bikearkansas.com, nwatrails.org and mtbark.com. Mountain bikers can find great trail maps for Northwest Arkansas at fasttrails.org. Here we cover just a minute portion of what could someday be laced together to form the Tour de Arkansas.

Slaughter Pen
Bentonville
(off the Razorback Regional Greenway)

Slaughter Pen, which is actually a network of trails in the Bentonville city limits, is one of the several mountain bike systems off the paved (mostly bike- and hike-dedicated) 36-mile Razorback Regional Greenway that runs from Bentonville to Fayetteville. Slaughter Pen features 20 miles of beginner, intermediate and expert mountain bike trails, with names like Seed Tick Shuffle (.74 miles) for first-time bikers to the more difficult Medusa (1.43 miles), Tatamagouche (1.97 miles), Cry Baby (.17) and the challenging Choo-Choo (.21 miles).

The backbone of Slaughter Pen is the All-American trail, a section of the Razorback Greenway that hugs the edge of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art's woody grounds. Slaughter Pen's mountain bike trails are single-track soft routes with features like log runs, wall rides and downhills. There's also a free ride park for riders who like to be in the air as much as on the ground. Slaughter Pen connects to Lake Bella Vista and Blowing Springs routes on the north through the Greenway.

Other mountain bike routes off the Razorback Greenway include Lake Atalanta in Rogers, 10 miles of flow and fast downhills; the nearby Railyard, for riders of all skills; Hobbs State Park in Rogers, 20 miles with sections for all riders; the new Thunder Chicken trail in Springdale for more downhill and wall rides; the Lake Fayetteville Trail, 7 miles of single track shared by hikers, runners, mountain bikers and birdwatchers; the 10-mile Mount Sequoyah trail in Fayetteville, a hilly route close to town; and the 7-mile Mount Kessler Trail outside Fayetteville, a challenging ridgetop trail 1,856 feet above sea level.

click to enlarge Back Forty - CRAIG FRAISER
  • Craig Fraiser
  • Back Forty

Back Forty
Bella Vista

Mountain bikers confident enough to rattle along ledges only a foot or two wide should check out The Ledges, the 3 1/2-mile offshoot of the new Back Forty trail outside Bella Vista. The Back Forty, developed by the local International Mountain Biking Association chapter F.A.S.T., circles the east side of the town. The first 15 miles of the 40-mile track are now open, allowing a zip through a landscape of bluffs, waterfalls and deep woods. Access to the Back Forty is from Blowing Springs Park, the Buckingham Trailhead, Lake Ann Trailhead and Bear Hollow Trailhead.

Sweet Spot Trail
(Ouita Coal Co. Trail)
Russellville

Mountain bikers describe this trail as a roller coaster that takes cyclists by the water's edge of Lake Dardanelle in places and provides challenging climbs in others, including a tight curve that one cyclist warned could send you flying into the lake if you aren't careful. The trail was once used by motocross bikes, but no more, and the ruts those bikes created have been smoothed out. You access the trail at the Sweet Spot landing. Other trails in the area include the Old Post Park and the Illinois Bayou trails; north of Russellville, on Mount Nebo, is the Nebo Bench Trail and the more difficult Moccasin Gap trails. Russellvillearkansas.org has links to trail information.

Wye Mountain Loop

Road bikers in Little Rock who like to pedal in low gear while standing up should check out the Wye Mountain Loop on the pastoral and hilly lanes of westernmost Pulaski County. Wye Mountain is known mostly for its thousands of daffodils, but to cyclists it's also known for its category 5 climb up the Ouachita Mountain foothills. The route circles Lake Maumelle. Head south from Pinnacle Mountain State Park (Hwy. 300) to state Hwy. 10, turn right and then right again on Hwy. 113, where you'll head up Wye Mountain, a climb that will take you from 335 feet above sea level to 834 feet asl. Then wheee! There's a fast 3-mile descent and you're halfway through the 37 mile-route, with just rolling hills to Roland and back to Pinnacle. (A category 5 climb is the least difficult of all, if that makes you feel any better.)

Arkansas River Trail

The Big Dam Bridge, the longest pedestrian bridge in the U.S. until the Big River Crossing was built across the Mississippi River between West Memphis and Memphis, threw Central Arkansas's interest in biking into high gear. It connects the River Trail (Ride No. 10 on arkansas.com's Road Cycling section) that loops north and south of the Arkansas River. The original 16-mile route, a paved, mostly dedicated (on the north side) route from the Clinton Presidential Center on the east and the Big Dam Bridge on the west, has been extended to Two Rivers Park on the west. The 88.5-mile "Grand Loop" starts at Two Rivers and runs on state roads to Natural Steps, Roland, Wye and Bigelow south of the Arkansas River, over the Toad Suck Ferry Lock and Dam to Conway and then south to Mayflower to its connection with the dedicated trail at the north end of the Big Dam Bridge. The scenery along the River Trail on the north side is sandy, riparian grasslands and willow trees; Two Rivers Park includes marsh and meadow; the Grand Loop takes you into the Ouachita Mountain foothills and along the ridgeline between Conway and Mayflower.

Sunken Lands Cultural Roadway
Turrell

The New Madrid earthquakes of 1811 and 1812 shifted and sank parts of East Arkansas, allowing us to give this area its wonderfully poetic name. The Sunken Lands bike ride, which starts in Turrell and goes through Tyronza, Lepanto, Dyess and Marked Tree, is elevated by all kinds of cultural stops: The Southern Tenant Farmers Museum in Tyronza; the Painted House (the set for the movie based on John Grisham's book, in Lepanto); the Johnny Cash Boyhood Home in Dyess; the Marked Tree Delta Area Museum; Whitton Farms; and the Hampson Archeological Museum State Park that features artifacts from a 15th century Indian site. This route is used for the Tour duh Sunken Lands Cultural Bike Ride each November.

Hot Springs area trails

There are on-road and mountain bike trails galore in the Hot Springs area, ranging in difficulty from "I just had a beer at the Superior Bathhouse and want to cruise a bit" to the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, a 108-mile International Mountain Bike Association "Epic ride" from Hot Springs Village to Mena through the Ouachita National Forest. You'll have to dismount on the most rugged areas of this trail, and it is shared with hikers. It's the longest mountain bike trail in the state, so you'll be glad to get to civilization in Mena, where you'll be able to get a meal and a drink (via the old "private club" method in dry Polk County). Speaking of libations, you won't be too far away from the Superior Brewery if you ride the Hot Springs Loop, which starts and ends at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Central Avenue and loops on U.S. Hwy. 70 on the south loop and state Hwy. 5 on the north. Another kind of wet you'll pass: Magic Springs. For beginners, there's the 2.25-mile Creek Greenway Trail that will one day connect Hot Springs to wetlands near Lake Hamilton. Bike Hot Springs at hotsprings.org is another good resource for trails, including maps.

click to enlarge Cane Creek - PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND TOURISM
  • Photo Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
  • Cane Creek

Cane Creek Lake Trail
Star City

The Lake Trail at Cane Creek State Park, near Star City, is a 15.5-mile shared trail that should provide three to six hours of mountain biking through forest, over creeks and three suspension bridges, and by Cane Creek Lake. Given that it's in South Arkansas, you might think the trail is perfectly flat, but Cane Creek State Park is on the edge of the area of the state known as the Timberlands, hilly forests of pine and cypress. The trail crosses into the Delta, so geology buffs will appreciate the transition. You can camp and fish at the state park; there is also a secluded camping shelter in the woods. More at arkansasstateparks.com/canecreek.

click to enlarge Delta Heritage Trail - PHOTO COURTESY ARKANSAS DEPARTMENT OF PARKS AND TOURISM
  • Photo Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
  • Delta Heritage Trail

Delta Heritage Trail
Lexa

This rails-to-trail endeavor of Arkansas State Parks began construction in 2002, 11 years after it was endorsed by the agency's commission. One day, it will run 84 miles from Lexa to Arkansas City; today, 20 miles are complete, from Lexa south to Elaine. The trail is densely packed gravel, like the 240-mile Katy Trail in Missouri, suitable for hybrid mountain-road bikes and mountain bikes. There are additional trailheads at Walnut Corner at the U.S. 49 overpass, Lick Creek (state Hwy. 85 just south of Barton), and Lake View. Another 7 miles, from Arkansas City along the Mississippi River mainline levee, is paved and for vehicular traffic as well. A visitors' center at Barton occupies a former cotton gin and serves as headquarters for the state park. There are 10 campsites there as well, rental bikes and a small gift shop. The trail follows the old Union Pacific line from a mile south of Lexa to Rohwer; Union Pacific donated its right-of-way to the state in 1992. To date, the state has spent $7.7 million on the trail; the total cost (most of which is unfunded) is estimated at $51.3 million in state and federal sources. More at arkansasstateparks.com/canecreek.


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