Local Flavours: Monument Trails Tour

Aug 25, 2021
by Brice Shirbach  
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours

MONUMENT TRAILS TOUR
ARKANSAS
Words and photos by Brice Shirbach

Presented by Arkansas State Parks

"Our mountains might not be as tall, but our valleys are just as deep." It was a point Joe Jacobs drove home on a handful of occasions throughout my tour of Arkansas's Monument Trails. The point was well taken, as someone who has been banging the East Coast drum for most of my professional career, I didn't need to be convinced of the merits behind the statement. Arkansas has been making a lot of noise as of late, with most of it coming from the northwest corner of the "The Natural State", but in addition to the valleys here, its mountain bike roots run quite a bit deeper than many might think.


While the Waltons have certainly proven to be quite a boon for the state's recent trail explosion, I was surprised to learn of the decades-long history Arkansas has with riding bikes in the woods, and just how spread out the riding opportunities are. There are two primary mountain ranges that call Arkansas home: the Ouachitas and the Ozarks. While Jason Bateman and crew have brought a certain degree of notoriety to the Ozarks, it's actually the Ouachitas that are home to the highest peaks in the state. Between these ancient and venerable ranges there exists a bevy of recreational opportunities that Arkansas have seen fit to develop a state park system around, a park model much like any other state in the Union. What is different about this place is the system of state parks that are home to the Monument Trails created through a partnership with the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation (APRF), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing parks and recreational opportunities throughout the Natural State. Yes, like much of the buzz throughout the state's massive trail development, the Walton Family Foundation is largely responsible for funding these gifts to Arkansas State Parks. However, not only are they an absolute blast to ride, somewhere in there is a model that other states might soon begin to replicate.

Brice Shirbach // Local Flavours
Age: 39
Location: Wilmington, DE, USA
Industry affiliations: PEARL iZUMi, Pivot Cycles, Maxxis, Lazer Helmets, Julbo, Shimano, Dialed Health, Stan's No Tubes, Topeak, Fox
Instagram: @bricycles
Favorite Monument Trail: Lizard Tail


A Bit About the Monument Trails

During my visit to Arkansas' Monument Trails, I had the good fortune to spend time with a handful of pretty fantastic people. Two of them in particular are specifically responsible for much of what you're about to see: Joe Jacobs and Amber Brown. Joe works on trail projects for Arkansas State Parks and has been with the park service for 15 years. He's been building trails for his community of Little Rock for decades and in addition to the work he does in an official capacity, is also a very active advocate for mountain biking within his community. Amber is the project coordinator for Monument Trails and has worked in the mountain bike and cycling industry for 17 years. Prior to her time in Arkansas, Amber cut her teeth as a rider and within the industry in Colorado working at bike shops, as well as inside and consumer sales for component manufacturers. The Monument Trails system is a pretty fascinating concept and the structure of which is one I wanted a better understanding of, particularly because I see the potential for replication in several other states. The three of us grabbed dinner on my last night in town and they were gracious enough to answer a few questions between bites.

How would you describe the early conversations regarding the Monument Trails concept? Where did it come from?

Amber: The original conversation was about building trails in state parks. That simple concept drove a lot of development, including our own organization. The work began quickly and the concept of Monument Trails grew from the work. Within our Trail Committee we developed and with our partners—we began to have broad conversations about what makes a trip. The concepts and criteria developed as did the name—Monument Trails. It came from the definition—a lasting evidence, reminder, or example of something notable or great. An idea that would shift at each park and shift with each person from their perspective. These trails would weave elements of art, architecture, history, environment, and other unique elements around world class trail. It would represent all skill levels and be a destination.

Joe: The early conversations involved park staff including our director Grady Spann and myself, along with Gary Vernon of the Walton Family Foundation during a trip to look at cycling infrastructure in Portland, Oakridge and Bend, OR. When we got back from that trip, the idea of putting state-of-the-art trails in state parks began to take shape.

Do you see a model for other state park systems to pursue similar to what you guys have done?

Amber: This model is certainly something that is attainable for state parks across the country. The key is a partnership that is open to ideas and leaning on the strengths of their organization. We could not do this without the firm support of Arkansas State Parks and our donors that believe in outdoor spaces and their ability to be transformational to communities and places. But the model is there and the diverse landscapes across the country are certainly there.

Joe: ​Yes, although every state park system will need to source funding in different ways, it starts with being open to realizing the importance of trails to visitors and creating a plan to expand and improve trails.

Can you describe the structure and process of how Monument Trails work vs typical trail building at AR State Parks?

Amber: Because of the private nature of our foundation, we work through processes pretty quickly as well as building concepts/plans quickly. Our workflow involves identifying areas with our internal Foundation and donors and working with parks on their feedback of those areas. We typically do a lot of site work and visits prior to beginning on a plan. The Foundation develops the plan, works with ASP on evaluation and feedback and ultimately approval. From the approval of the organization, we move towards build and execution. The product is multifaceted because we infuse elements beyond just trail building and that will be area you will see develop through the next year or so. As we do not work within a state funded endeavor we can’t speak to that process.

Are there plans for additional Monument Trails to be built at other locations?

Amber: We are working on a couple plans, but we do not want the brand to be over saturated.

Joe: We are currently looking at options throughout the state. The trails built so far have been the low-hanging fruit where we (State Parks) have control of the land. Many of our parks are on land that is leased from federal or local land management agencies so there will be more hoops to jump through to make these happen, but we are working in that direction.

What separates the Monument Trails from the existing trail networks throughout AR State Parks?

Amber: The Monument Trails are a master planned trail system created by our partnership. So, the plan and process are different from the traditional State Park system.

Joe: Since the early days of the park system, trails were built by park staff or volunteers for the most part. While many of these trails are phenomenal hiking trails, the needs of today's mountain bikers were not being met. By bringing the latest in design and build techniques, the Monument Trails are not only meeting those needs but also getting hikers and trail runners to areas of our parks that were previously inaccessible.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails





Mount Nebo State Park

The drive up Highway 155 sets quite the tone for this stunning natural playground in the heart of the Arkansas River Valley, winding up a mountain road with 11 switchbacks and a gradient maxing out at 18%. At the end of the road lies the summit of Mount Nebo, where park facilities and the Monument Trails reside. Arguably the most scenic of the 4 Monument Trails networks, Nebo features stunning rock work and terrain, with views across the valley towards Mount Magazine, the highest summit in Arkansas, as well as both Ouachita and Ozark ranges. Rock Solid was contracted to develop the 24 miles of trail at Nebo and wrapped things up in June of 2020. Because Nebo sits 1,300 feet above the valley below, conditions here are typically a little bit cooler than other spots in the state, and many of the trails offer up a plethora of overlooks and views of the surrounding landscape.

Key Trails:
Lizard Tail - This might be my favorite of the Monument Trails... trails. There are a handful of sections that feature real exposure, along with some relentlessly physical descents and climbs. It's one of the most unique and fun trails I've ridden in the state, and is about as "must ride" as it gets.

Hayes Creek - A two mile, directional downhill trail that drops riders almost 900 feet, Hayes offers a bit of everything. There's a beautiful start overlooking the Arkansas River Valley (don't get distracted or you'll fall off of a cliff), before diving into a combination of purpose-built flow and natural rock features. The bridge toward the bottom is worth a stop as well.

Chickalah Valley Loop - A "dark blue" featuring some amazing rock work, moderate jumps and doubles, and some incredible views. The trail is located along the western aspect of the mountain, so if you can time the ride right you'll be rewarded with a stunning sunset.




Local Flavours Monument Trails
Mist obscures the view west from the Mount Nebo summit.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Storms skirt by to the west of Nebo.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
This was perhaps my favorite of the four Monument Trails networks.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Johnny and Jen Brazil of Jackalope Cycling are all smiles at Nebo.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
A bit of exposure along the start of Hayes Creek.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails





Devil's Den State Park

Devil's Den is the newest of the Monument Trails, opening earlier this year in May, but is loaded with a history that pre-dates the Monument Trails by a few decades. Superintendent Monte Fuller and assistant superintendent Tim Scott are both deeply entrenched in Arkansas' mountain bike culture and history, and it's fitting that some of the newest trails in the state are also its best. Rogue Trails rehabbed the historic 6 mile Fossil Flats system in 2020, and Rock Solid Trails built up the new 12 miles of trail. Both outfits had their work cut out for them here, as the terrain is jagged, raw, and especially unforgiving. Where most places feature trails that work their way towards the top of a summit, Devil's Den dives deep into the rock instead. Riders are rewarded with 2 of the state's newest Downhill trails and plenty of fun optional lines that features caves, chasms, waterfalls, and more.

Key Trails:
Sparky - A beautiful directional trail with loads of alt-lines and a waterfall that you ride behind. This trail is a stunner.

Orville - Another directional trail with jumps, drops, and rock gardens. Another masterpiece. This trail takes riders above the waterfall that Sparky rides underneath.

Devil's Racetrack - A lengthier adventure taking riders along bluff lines, over rock gardens, and past several waterfalls.



Local Flavours Monument Trails
Tim Scott is among the core members of Arkansas' original mountain bike community, and he's only adding to his legacy at Devil's Den.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
The CCC cabins here are incredible.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
The Civilian Conservation Corps had its hand in far more than just some (perfect) cabins in the woods.
Local Flavours Monument Trails
Today's stewards of these forests: Rock Solid Trails.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Rock Solid marketing guru Eli Glesman enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
TLC wrote a song about this.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Taking it in.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Mister Arkansas: Garrett Hubbard, doing for the kids.
Local Flavours Monument Trails
Rocks abound at Devil's Den.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails





Hobbs State Park Conservation Area

The first of the Monument Trail systems gifted to the state, Hobbs is Arkansas State Park's largest park totaling 12,000 acres. It opened June 2019. This is an 18 mile backcountry destination system of 3 loops, all an intermediate difficulty level, not due to features but its length and moderate exposure. Locals I spoke with really seem to enjoy the system for it's length as well as the contrast it provides to the more dynamic and popular purpose built trails in nearby Rogers and Bentonville. The park is quite beautiful and officials have done a fantastic job managing the park's many trails as well as opening this system with its art + architecture installation at the trailhead and campsites. When the weather takes a turn for the worse, Hobbs seems to be the place to go as the trails handle water extremely well, which as it turns out was quite a useful characteristic during my visit.

Key Trails:
Karst Trail - Karst is an incredibly scenic ride over undulating terrain, sandwiching riders between karst bluffs and the White River for several miles. It's rated green but does have some exposure and a few sections with technical features, but is generally appropriate for most skillsets and is really a must ride when visiting the trails here.

Timberjack - One of two directional downhill trails at Hobbs, Timberjack has some incredible corners and a few opportunities to make shapes from top to bottom.



Local Flavours Monument Trails
A serene setting post-rain at Hobbs State Park.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Amber Brown rides between an art installation at Hobbs. These are abundant here and really add a unique character to the place.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
If the trails can handle the wet, riding in the rain is a pretty amazing experience.





Pinnacle Mountain State Park

Phase I opened in fall of 2020, and is currently home to 12 miles of XC trail and about 4 miles of directional downhill between 6 different trails. Arkansas State Parks and Monument Trails employed two different trail building businesses, Rogue Trails and Jagged Axe, for this system offering the Little Rock region a surprisingly diverse experience close to town. Previously the home to Orbea and originally the site of Competitive Cyclist, the capital city of Arkansas has a budding mountain bike scene and Pinnacle has added some much-needed clout to it, providing riders with the opportunity to build plenty of fitness and technical skills, while also allowing people to develop their flow and jump acumen.

Key Trails:
Glade Runner - Glade was Pinnacle's first black-rated trail, and features a relentlessly technical start for riders before finishing with a handful of moderately sized jumps and freeride features.

Jackfork - Jackfork runs for nearly 5 miles along the eastern perimeter of the trail network. It's a fairly fast and flowy trail, with numerous side hits and optional features, and a handful of overlooks above the Arkansas River.

Coachwhip - Designed initially as a NICA loop, this trail is ideal for beginners looking to build confidence with a few optional features for those who are looking to enhance their ride.



Local Flavours Monument Trails
The valley below Pinnacle Mountain State Park is a sight.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
The trails here are often of the swift and swervy nature.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Discarded cars, household appliances, and more from the previous century add some cool visuals to the trails.

Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails





Accommodations and Food:

Two of the four Arkansas State Parks with Monument Trails networks offer cabins on site: Mount Nebo and Devil's Den. The cabins at both were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a legendary work relief program that gave millions of young men employment on environmental projects during the Great Depression. In its day, the CCC planted more than three billion trees and constructed trails and shelters in more than 800 parks nationwide during its nine years of existence. The cabins at Devil's Den and Mount Nebo all have interiors that are updated with kitchens, televisions and bathrooms, but the exteriors are preserved to showcase the nuanced stonework of the CCC. They definitely don't build them like they used to. If you're planning a trip to either of these parks, I would highly recommend these for your lodging. While Hobbs doesn't have CCC cabins, it does offer camping throughout the much of the park and its proximity to Rogers means that there are plenty of places to stay nearby. You can also find "ride-to" camping on the Karst trail. Pinnacle doesn't offer any camping on site, but it's very close to Little Rock and its suburbs, so finding a place near the trails is very easy. I stayed nearby at the Burgundy Hotel, a bike-friendly hotel 15 minutes from the trails.

As far as food goes, if you intend to stay the night at either Nebo or Devil's, you're likely going to want to stop and grab groceries on the way. The fully equipped kitchens make it easy to prepare any sort of meal you are in the mood for, and many cabins also offer outdoor grilling. Neither park is especially close to any population center, so if you are looking for a night out on the town, you should expect a bit of a drive. Both Hobbs and Pinnacle are close to several places to eat.

Trail of Tears

There are no federally recognized Indian tribes in Arkansas today. In 1830, the United States Government passed the Federal Indian Removal Act of 1830, and in the years to follow enacted the brutal removal of the Cherokee Nation from much of their southeastern territory to what is now Oklahoma. Other tribes fell victim to similar treatment including Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminole Indians. Arkansas is the only state in which all five tribes traveled through during their forced removal. While the state is not currently home to Indian Tribes in an official capacity, the State Park System has five parks that have been certified as National Park Service Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Sites: Lake Dardanelle, Mount Nebo, Petit Jean, Pinnacle Mountain, and Village Creek state parks. You can learn more about this often overlooked and dark period of American History here.

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Local Flavours Monument Trails

Local Flavours Monument Trails
Full gallery of images can be found here.


Monument Trails at Mount Nebo State Park mountain biking trails

Monument Trails at Devils Den State Park mountain biking trails

Monument Trails at Hobbs State Park Conservation Area mountain biking trails

Monument Trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park mountain biking trails





36 Comments

  • 9 0
 mmarkey21....The trails in the State Parks are elite. They are as good as anything else in the state, and the settings are very serene. We have so much trail in the state now, with so much variety, that people come to ride all of the big features in Bentonville that they've seen online in videos and pictures, but then learn that that's just a small segment of all of the riding in the state. I haven't added up all of the available miles in Arkansas now, but it's 2 week's vacation and then some even if you're doing 25 miles a day. It's crazy, and the vast majority of the trails are an absolute blast to ride, and range from "no cell service" backwoods adventure riding, to riding a block from the downtown square in Bentonville right onto amazing singletrack. You just have to experience it for yourself!!
  • 5 0
 Agreed. Recently moved to NWA from Denver. Really enjoying the scene, close 'out of my garage' access to so many trails and I have only just scratched the surface.
  • 4 0
 After 2 years of vanlife riding trails all over the country, I actually decided to move to Bentonville this spring. The trail quality, quantity and accessibility put it at the top of my list, and it wasn't close! They build trails faster than you can ride 'em. Now if I could just stop breaking myself so I could ride every day!
  • 9 1
 Nebo delivers! If you're thinking of making the trip...quit thinking and just GO! You will not be disappointed. Make sure and swing by Jackalope Cycling to say hey to Johnny, Jen, Doug and the whole crew. They are doing great things for the cycling community and always have the best interest of the riders in mind. We are lucky to have the trails, the interest and above all - the people that make Arkansas worth the trip.
  • 1 1
 Yeah, too bad us doesn’t let anyone enter from Europe for tourism. I had a trip to Arizona planned for October, got my two shots done and test and esta….bu it ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.
  • 3 0
 One of the things I noticed during my trip to NWA was the people and how great they were. Some locals invited us to join their group at Colar like it was second nature. People on the trails were friendly and everyone was stoked on riding. Such a great riding scene.
  • 1 0
 @alexmarengo: That is a bummer. Living in Vegas I took two trips to Arizona this summer. One to Sedona and the other to Phoenix. Still desert riding, but was a real nice change of pace from my local trails. In Phoenix I spent all my time in the South Mountain area, and that was some really fun, and more technical then I'm use to, riding. Sedona is just something else. It is so beautiful, and the trails I rode had a good mix of flow, climbing, and short tech sections. Good times.
  • 7 0
 I took a MTB trip to Arkansas back in September 2019 and had a blast! Arkansas lives up to it's name as the "natural state". It was refreshing coming from Colorado actually ride in an area where mountain bikes are welcomed and we're not at the bottom of the totem pole. Actual features build into trails and downhill only bike only trails everywhere. The only Monument trails system we hit was at Hobbs and I remember the Timberjack and Sawtooth trails being so much fun! Looks like I have a few more spots to hit on the next trip.
  • 6 0
 Can't say enough good things about the Monument Trails. I've been lots of places and other states' State Parks and municipalities stay away from purpose built trail like this because of the inherent risk of mountain biking and fun features. Thank you Arkansas State Parks for being bold and saying yes to amazing trails that get more people away from their screens, outside, and renewed.
  • 6 0
 The Monument Trails are the real deal, each one with its own personality. Hobbs = Sweet Flow, Devil's Den = Rediculous Rock Riding, Mount Nebo = Huge Downs, Pinnacle = Mixing Downhill with XC. Make them all a trip.
  • 7 0
 Nebo for the elevation, devils den for some of the coolest terrain ive ridden in, pinnacle for the downhill fix
  • 4 0
 The Monument Trails have definitely spoiled me on well made, well planned MTB trails. After having ridden almost every Monument Trail out there, they are hard to beat. Going back & riding my pre-Monument Trails faves just doesn't compare. While the politics of the state leave much to be desired, we are very fortunate to have a MTB trail explosion here in the state. My favorite is Nebo - there's so much variety there with something for everyone of all ages & skill levels. Devil's Den has some of the most unique features/scenery to be found anywhere. The Karst Loop is a beautiful ride and makes you feel like you are in your own little wilderness area. And Pinnacle Mtn is the highlight of the capital city and living only 20 min away makes it my home trail.
  • 2 0
 Would love to tie in an Arkansas trip next time I head back to visit family in MO. Those in the know, between these trails and the NWA trails, is there much difference in terrain type, scenery, etc?
  • 6 0
 The ones closer to central Arkansas (Nebo, Pinnacle) have bigger elevations than the ones in NWA. NWA has more trail per square mile and is all tremendous, the others are great in a different way. Worth the drive.
  • 2 0
 @ArkansasJoe: Good info, thanks!
  • 4 0
 @ArkansasJoe: with the exception of the BOC in Ponca which does have the biggest downhill in state. Which is closer to the Eureka Springs stuff which I think is better than Bentonville.
  • 5 1
 I've never had a reason to go to Arkansas until now. great write-up and photos
  • 14 19
flag Mntneer (Aug 25, 2021 at 11:57) (Below Threshold)
 fun easy riding, confederate flags, and lots of meth. enjoy!
  • 14 3
 @Mntneer: Could be a good new motto for the state: "I came for the riding but I stayed for the meth."
  • 6 1
 Good riding in Arkansas
  • 4 1
 @IndustryNineOfficial: NC giving everyone a run for Meth capital these days lol
  • 2 0
 @davidccoleman: It does seem to be an issue...
  • 5 6
 @IndustryNineOfficial: the price of exporting jobs, and importing foriegn nationals. our leaders are imposters
  • 1 0
 @Mntneer: Talking about meth and living in Arizona. Ha!!!!!
  • 1 3
 @bman33: we also have meth in Arizona. What’s the problem?!
  • 4 0
 Soon as I see a Brice Shirbach post I know there's going to be great pics.
  • 4 0
 wow, thank you!
  • 3 0
 Agreed these local flavours are amongst the best on Pinkbike. Great pics, great stoke. Always makes me want to travel and ride. Keep it up.
  • 2 0
 Pretty amazing trails, excellent work, I'd totally ride those if I still lived in the South.
  • 2 0
 Can anyone recommend a reputable dealer?
  • 1 0
 happy 420
  • 1 0
 Flavo(u)rs
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