Northwest Arkansas’s Best Mountain Biking, According to Locals
With so much riding to choose from, where to start? We asked some of the area’s most dedicated cyclists for their recommendations.
The northwest corner of Arkansas has been booming with trail development for the last decade. The result: It’s now a MTB hotspot with more trails than you could ride in a lifetime. This presents visitors with a very real (but very good) problem—what should you ride first? To help answer that question, we turned to four locals for their best advice.
“Bentonville is unique because you can ride out of your house and onto a trail,” says Dave Neal, a longtime resident of nearby Bella Vista and co-owner of Bentonville’s Mojo Cycling bike shop. “And most trails are connected, so you can spend the day riding and you don’t have to get on the road at all.” Whether you’re looking for expert-level or beginner terrain, Bentonville has it all.
Where to start? Head first to Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, a purpose-built system with 17 miles of trails ranging from gravity-fed jump lines to paved paths suitable for strollers and wheelchairs. Or, pedal to Slaughter Pen for a more traditional XC-singletrack ride (which begins right in the heart of their downtown square), and by night, camp within the preserve or stay just a mile away in downtown Bentonville. In the heart of the preserve, you’ll also find the Airship, a coffee shop that can only be accessed by foot or bike on ADA-accessible paths. Looking for a hearty post-ride meal? Neal will send you to Oven & Tap, owned by avid mountain bikers and known for its wood-fired pizza. “Not only will you get a phenomenal meal, but you’ll be encircled by other riders and other outdoorsy people from around the community,” Neal says.
While you’re roaming or biking around town, keep your eyes peeled for the city’s many outdoor art installations, which Lori Reed, site manager for Coler, says are worth a day of exploration on their own. Make sure to stop by the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and its satellite gallery, the Momentary, too. From now through early January, Crystal Bridges is running an immersive nighttime art installation called North Forest Lights, where you can delve into a magical and musical light display arranged around the museum’s forested grounds.
With lush, forested mountains and seven glittering lakes, Bella Vista has been the ideal location for beautiful mountain and lake-side summer homes for over 100 years. These days, says Neal, those homes—many of which are available as vacation rentals—are surrounded by mountain biking trails. “I can ride out of my garage and be on a trail in 4 to 5 minutes,” Neal says. The Back 40 trail system was built specifically with MTBers in mind and has 37 miles of trails suitable for beginners to experts (and yes, it’s open to hikers, too). If that’s not enough mileage for you, don’t worry: the system also connects to 47 miles of trails at Little Sugar, with plenty of gnarly switchbacks to earn your descents. To get your speed on and grab some air, you can hit the Staggerwing Session Zone and the Huntley Gravity Zone. And, finally, you can finish off the day at Blowing Springs Park in the Gear Garden, a picturesque tree-shaded beer garden perched next to a natural spring and—you guessed it—surrounded by another 14 miles of handcrafted single track.
There are more than 200 vacation rentals available on sites like Airbnb scattered right inside these trail networks, so it’s easy to ditch your car as soon as you arrive. Birders will love taking a rest day from biking to scout for herons and eagles and photographers won’t run out of waterfalls to shoot. So if you’re looking for a truly back-to-nature biking experience minutes away from a deck with a cold beer and a killer lake view, Bella Vista is tough to beat.
The trails in Fayetteville are pro-cyclist approved: Alec Cowan, a resident and professional road cyclist for L39ion of Los Angeles, says the city is a “hidden bike paradise.” He moved to Fayetteville from British Columbia and says the trail network is impressive. One of his favorite spots? Centennial Park, which will host the 2022 UCI Cyclocross World Championship in January. For an adventurous day that pairs countryside views with paths right through the city, set out for the 40-mile Razorback Regional Greenway. “Mile zero” on this paved trail starts at Kessler Mountain Regional Park, just south of downtown Fayetteville, and weaves throughout Northwest Arkansas. Kessler Mountain Regional Park is also a favorite spot for mountain bikers. Its natural surface trails comprise approximately 13 miles, including the Trent Trail, and are rated “easy,” “difficult,” and “very difficult,” so there’s a trail for everyone. Cato Springs Trail, a 12-foot-wide concrete trail, connects to the Razorback Regional Greenway. Be sure to keep an eye out for installations in the city’s vibrant outdoor arts scene while you cycle.
“I refer to Northwest Arkansas as ‘Little Colorado,’ with rolling hills instead of Rocky Mountains,” says Loren Whedbee of Springdale’s Lewis & Clark, a beloved and locally-owned gear shop. Though in Springdale you’ll find at least one mountain—Fitzgerald Mountain, the city’s singletrack hub—there’s no shortage of rock. Here, you can ride literal waves of the stuff: trail builders have masterfully (and painstakingly) stitched boulders together to form flowing berms of stone. The so-called Best Trail Ever is a wild ride with jumps, bridges, and rock gardens, and there are beginner-friendly trails, too.
After your ride, pedal the Razorback Greenway—the backbone of Northwest Arkansas’s cycling infrastructure—over to the new J.B. and Johnelle Hunt Family Ozark Highlands Nature Center. There, you can practice target shooting with a bow and arrow or a BB gun, and you can also learn essential skills for sustainable hunting and native plant harvesting.