Video: Mark Matthews Finds Gold in Arkansas

Aug 11, 2023
by Mark Matthews  

Words: Mark Matthews

The trip began right in Bentonville, the self-proclaimed "Mountain Biking Capital of The World!" Despite being unfamiliar with the trails, I was intrigued by the buzz generated by the Bentonville Bike Fest and all the positive reviews circulating. I couldn't help but wonder if Arkansas would truly deliver an experience that would rival other world-class areas.

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Lake Leatherwood had the biggest lines.
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An amazing variety of trails in Coler Mountain Bike Reserve.
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Impressive wood work in the Boneyard!
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Well built flow trails intertwined throughout town.

Upon arrival, it didn't take long to realize that Arkansas had a lot more to offer than I even imagined. The level of dedication and investment put into developing the trail networks in the state is awe-inspiring. While the hills might not be as big as those in many other riding destinations around the world, the trail designers have masterfully harnessed the available elevation to create a riding paradise. In Bentonville it isn't just about using the natural landscape to link up fun lines, but creating perfectly shaped trails that seamlessly integrate into the urban landscape. Making them accessible to riders from all walks of life. Bentonville was just the beginning – this entire corner of the state is teeming with mountain biking adventure.

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"The Masterpiece" is the perfect example of how to tastefully integrate mountain bike trails into urban landscapes.

Among the many captivating locations in Northwest Arkansas, one stood out above the rest – the Lake Leatherwood shuttle zone. Nestled amidst picturesque surroundings, this area boasted the best gnarly riding I found in Arkansas. It was evident that countless hours of labor and passion had been poured into the trail construction, as the natural rock formations were utilized to craft some of the coolest features ever!

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DH1, in particular, featured a big step-up jump that demanded absolute commitment and skill, leaving little room for error.
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Followed by this rock lily pad.

With its super technical and rough features, Lake Leatherwood was undoubtedly an advanced rider's paradise. The place keeps you on your toes all day long.

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Later in the week, I discovered two more zones that left me very stoked – Mount Nebo State Park and Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Each location has its own unique charm, adding to the diverse tapestry of riding experiences in the state.

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Mount Nebo State Park, situated in the Ouachita Mountains, provided a pristine natural setting and a solid amount of elevation. It's steep and exposed off the top so the sunsets and sunrises are both epic! The trails meandered through lush forests and scenic overlooks.

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Meanwhile, Pinnacle Mountain State Park offered a different flavor of excitement. It's just outside of Little Rock and this zone was a pretty unique experience. The spot had some big trees, a vibrant forest floor, and colourful dirt. It’s a nice balance of well-thought out flow trails and natural, raw riding. There wasn't one place in the state that didn't surprise me! The diversity poured into Arkansas' trail systems is seriously impressive.

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Early summer conditions brought on vibrant colours and pleasant weather, but the temperatures are favourable for riding all year. The diverse terrains, welcoming community, and unparalleled trail development makes Arkansas an ultimate year-round mountain biking destination, and an amazing escape for those of us with cool winters. Whether you're a novice rider looking to improve your skills, an intermediate seeking a well-rounded experience, or an advanced rider in search of challenging lines, this place has something for everyone.

The state's trails, infused with the passion and creativity of dedicated builders and riders, has become an ultimate playground for mountain bikers.

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Add Arkansas to your bucket list, it will be a rad experience etched in your memory forever!

Cinematography & Post Production: Scott Bell
Camera Assistant: Max Mcculloch
Drone Operators: Josh Beckemeyer & James Bobo
Photography: Jarrett Lindal

Author Info:
mmatthews avatar

Member since Jan 15, 2000
33 articles

82 Comments
  • 51 2
 I'll leave the "Mtn bike capital" claim aside, and I have ridden all over the US and Canada so I have some point for comparison. What impresses me is how Bentonville somehow came to the conclusion they could create a world class mtn bike destination in a relatively short time, and how well the sport is integrated into the area's culture and infrastructure. So many other paces have taken far longer, or are perpetually riddled with infighting and debate about trail uses, etc. Even in other world class destinations. Bentonville 'seems*' like it was a consensus decision and then fully funded, embraced, implemented. No, the mountains aren't high and there are basically no views, lifts, etc, but they made something special.
  • 58 10
 Everything is a consensus decisions when you are not allowed to disagree with your corporate overlords.
  • 24 0
 It helped a bit that Sam Waltons' grandsons are mountain bikers.
  • 24 0
 Walmart money could do a lot more than just Bentonville trails.
  • 1 0
 @MOBrules: Like what?
  • 9 1
 @MOBrules: It does, you can see all of what they do at their website: www.waltonfamilyfoundation.org
  • 15 16
 The ONLY issue I had with the NWA trails (I lived in Bville for 2 years) was that they are littered with E-mtbs. It became seriously obnoxious; the rental shops shove them at every tourist that arrives and points them towards the trailheads. They can be avoided, if you know the spots/times. Other than that, I loved the variety of purpose built trails, all so close to town. I was able to ride 5-6 days a week, build skills and have tons of fun.
  • 14 10
 @Moonie2123: not gonna lie, for right in Bentonville, I wish I had my ebike. It would have added flow and speed to everything. The trail development is so amazing but since you're not working with much elevation, ebikes would definitely add to the fun!
  • 18 12
 @Law-MTB: The family’s net worth is around a quarter of a trillion dollars, so what couldn’t they do. I’m not a fan of the super rich that don’t pay enough corporate or personal wealth tax.
With a proper tax structure for the wealthy many problems in our society could be addressed, that they have the Walton Foundation and are doing good things there is sort of greenwashing.
  • 2 3
 @MOBrules: totally agree why would anyone downvote this???
  • 5 0
 Bentonville = "trail building capital of the world."
  • 12 0
 @MOBrules: Seems like lots of good things happening in NW Arkansas that will further demonstrate the value of trails to towns and humans. I hope some of your city leaders or advocates catch wind of what's going on here and get on board with funding new trails in your town.

FWIW, none of these trails are paid for with Walmart $. It's all city + Walton family philanthropy + lots of volunteers doing maintenance and additional building. Maybe the Walton's could do a lot more than Bentonville trails. The thing is that they are. There are 400 miles of purpose build singletrack in the NW Arkansas region (~500K population). The success here (economic, quality of life, better health outcomes--painful dirt samples notwithstanding) has been spreading out from NW Arkansas into the state and beyond over the past 5 years. They've partnered with IMBA over the past 5 years to host a workshop called IMBA Trail Labs to help city leaders, advocates, etc to learn from NW Arkansas's mistakes and success so they get more leaders at home on board with building trails in their towns.

The Waltons have also funded the The Monument Trails networks in 4 of our 50 state parks in the past 5 years. Two of which were featured here, Mt. Nebo (also site of 2023 BME) and Pinnacle Mountain, both close to the middle of the state.

The First Gentleman, Brian Sanders (Gov Sanders husband) loves the outdoors and mountain biking. Initiatives have been signed to put more effort into growing outdoor recreation around the state. The future is bright for Arkansas, and hopefully what is learned there truly does spread across the nation.
  • 7 0
 @garrettstories: This is the kind of response that is welcomed. Insightful, factual and provides perspective in a positive way.
  • 4 2
 @bmccrady: Because pouring cash on the problems in the US never seems to solve them. In the case of education it often makes things worse. The issue isn't cash, it's the lack of accountability in the administrative state which feeds on funding like a cancer.
  • 2 7
flag mm732 (Aug 14, 2023 at 17:08) (Below Threshold)
 @MOBrules: taxation is theft. feds have shown themselves to be terrible stewards of public funds.
  • 1 0
 @mmatthews: Lol, I see the BVille Chamber of Commerce was here to upvote your take. But seriously I don't understand the argument. It's not like BVille trails are flat, they are just shorter duration, instead of peddling up 2k then bombing down 2k, you go up 200 and down 200 ten times. I could argue this makes scooters LESS desirable. All-in-al it's really not as bad as people are making out, it is STILL fun mtb. I'm in Boulder now, not nearly as much purpose built trail, but I love seeing the NO-E signs! I want to print a few out go back and post em in NWA.
  • 3 1
 @Moonie2123: what’s the logic for hating on e-bikes though? They are a great tool for skill development. Why ride something only twice when you could hit it 6-7 times in the same amount of time?
  • 2 0
 @Law-MTB: Like pay their employees more and give them proper benefits.
  • 4 0
 @mmatthews: that's the easy and fair point but then who does 2-3X the maintenance on the trails to make up for that? Society can't all be about more, faster and easier. Resources of time, energy and space are limited.
  • 2 1
 @bmccrady: Because the taxes would go to the government, and the money would end up being squandered by those fools.
  • 2 0
 @mmatthews: Eh, no need for me to spread more E-hate here. I have a handful of practical reasons, then the more visceral ones... where I just hard core hate the entire concept of them. Like jet ski people vs kayak people, just different mindsets. The beauty of bikes is that they are human powered, like rock climbing, hiking, running ect. no motors involved. And btw I have a Honda moto, I just ride it where motorcycles should go, not on the MTB trails ✌
  • 2 1
 @Antwoord: totally disagree...Canada has a really strong middle class because of taxes. USA billionairs and trump dont support middle class and just try to break unions
  • 1 0
 @jlf1200: you are wrong. it works in Canada. most of these billionaires dont do any good except Gates.
  • 38 5
 Shouldn't this be marked as an advert?
  • 13 2
 Whatever, great video, great looking and inspiring trails. That's what I come here for. currently googling Arkansas... crap that's a long way from BC, Canada.
  • 8 9
 @trillot: Inspiring trails? I'm trying to think of a place in BC where those trails look inspiring compared to what we have access to. Inspiring effort, sure. It's called MOUNTAIN biking, right?
  • 22 8
 Any city - even Bellingham or Squamish, East Burke or Pisgah (Brevard) - claiming ''mtb capital'' is corny & cheesy - just marketing gentrified rubbish. Core riders know where to go w/o that Youtube guy in his fake Cali voice going ape about "the mtb-capital of world" 20 times in every video. That's what makes it obnoxious.

Bellingham / Squamish / Burke / Pisgah and 50 other places are true "mountain" biking and feel wild. Bentonville is barely even hills and the town feels overdeveloped - no wilderness left. The trails are fun, but there's nothing that rowdy or gnarly for substantial distance and it feels overbuilt - its ultimately a theme park. Those can be fun - for a few days and sure that's some people's dream - that's fine.

The sickest riding isn't even in Bentonville - that's Mt Nebo, Devils, Leatherwood, Passion (and others) but there are not towns right nearby except Leatherwood Lake (east of B'ville)

Its easy to shrug B'ville off - there's some serioius cheese about it. Like anywhere - there are pros & cons. The pros - every possible type of trail (except actual mountains!) and nearby beers & food aren't enough to keep me interested and the cons are plenty to keep me beyond stoked where I live & ride and hitting other actual mountain towns or places that don't feel overrun by Walmart outside of trails - just my choice and opinion, but one shared by all my rider buds who prefer wilder places.
  • 7 0
 "The sickest riding isn't even in Bentonville - that's Mt Nebo, Devils, Leatherwood, Passion (and others) but there are not towns right nearby except Leatherwood Lake (east of B'ville)"

As a Central AR local I'm going to have to respectfully agree. Nebo is the very best IMO.
  • 8 2
 I agree. I also did not like the traffic going to the trailhead, going back to my hotel, having trouble finding a place to park in the morning. No breweries, music, or great restaurants. I'll take Pisgah any day of the week.
  • 11 0
 @zman123: I get not liking the amount of people at the trailheads and parking. But there’s multiple breweries and fantastic restaurants.
  • 4 0
 @GPP2117: I ride midday, only, and I almost never see people on the trail. I definitely see less than 10 people each 3 hour riding session
  • 4 0
 @az-shredder3: totally agree. I’m thinking someone from out of town might be here on the weekends in the summer, and are probably riding Slaughter Pen, and possibly at the Coler main lot. Aside from events, I’ve never had a hard time finding parking anywhere outside of those two spots.
  • 3 0
 @zman123: Shh Pisgah sucks and no one should ever come here it's full of man eating bears, rabbits, squirrels and snakes. Avoid Pisgah at all costs!! go To bentonville! Big Grin
  • 3 0
 I get the range of opinions, lots to like about the place and lots to not like. I have a house near Handcut Hollow but I'm not a full time resident.

But my real reason for posting is to reveal my go to place for good, cheap food: Tortilleria La Popular at 400 S. 8th St. in Rogers. Barbacoa and Carnitas by the pound, comes with plenty of tortillas and salsa. Grab some pan dulces while you're there as well.
  • 14 3
 Bentonville is a blast. The trails are super fun, and the town is filled with great restaurants, breweries etc. is it the most technical riding place in the US? Not even close. Could you do an epic riding week with your kids, hardcore riding buddies and spouses? Yup. And isn’t that kinda what riding is all about?
  • 9 2
 B’ville and Arkansas in general has some good riding and they should be proud of what they have built. However find it comical everyone one of these paid for articles/videos mentions the weather is conducive to year round riding. The summer temps and humidity are brutal to the point of being oppressive. Also many stretches in the winter when weather inhibits riding for weeks and except for the diehards who thrive in abusive conditions.
  • 11 0
 We shot this in the summer and sunrise sessions before it got too hot were mint! Ride at sunrise and sunset and chill mid-day. It's so Lush right now and was more vibrant than I imagined based on previous content I had seen.
  • 2 0
 Agree on the summer weather but it never seems to take long for cold winter days to give way to decent riding weather. Over Xmas last year, it went from -9 degrees F to 74 degrees over a span of 4 or 5 days.
  • 9 2
 While it's funny to make fun of Arkansas mountain bike capital of the world self titled but I gotta say the trails look really fun.
  • 11 6
 they're mostly meh in real life. You have to pedal your ass off to keep up enough speed to do any of the jumps.
  • 2 0
 @brighterlights: make sense, pros always make it look easy
  • 7 6
 @brighterlights: What's the point of having a bike with pedals if you don't want to use them?
  • 6 1
 @brighterlights: I flew 8 hours (on a plane) to check it out last year. Pretty fun. The lack of elevation is a major, obvious problem. They are building massive starting platforms to buy another 10' of elevation. Otherwise, it's really something to see. Absolutely NOT mountain biking. More like Bicycle Rollercoastering? Or, How Much Money Can We Spend on a Flat Trail-ing?
  • 4 0
 @kungfupanda: Ok I'm curious, where in the US is an 8-hour flight from the middle of the country? Even Seattle-Boston which I do frequently is 6.
  • 7 0
 @CalamityJake: it's fine to use them on the uphills. I don't mountain bike to have to pedal on the downhills.
  • 7 0
 @kungfupanda: you flew 8 hours ... to ride in Arkansas.
Lol
  • 1 0
 @zanda23: Spokane to Phoenix to AR.
  • 2 0
 @kungfupanda: why in the ever loving hell would you do that? Bentonville is in no way worth the trip from Spokane. Phoenix is, in winter.
  • 3 1
 @kungfupanda: Bentonville: the Surron capital of the world!
  • 3 0
 @brighterlights: If have you pedal hard for anything in Bentonville, you probably need to learn to pump jumps and maintain speed in corners. I know for a fact that every jumpline can be done with 0 pedaling.
  • 9 0
 Loved the creativity of the trail builders! That rock step up!!!
  • 4 0
 Having ridden there its fun, like Disneyland, an interesting place to explore and visit but I'd never live there. We coined the term the "Bentonville pedal" because you have to pedal between most features since its a bit too flat
  • 6 1
 Arkansas is a beautiful place even without those sweet looking trails. The only downside is it's pretty full of ticks.
  • 39 31
 And Trumpers
  • 2 0
 I live in Bentonville. Never got a tick. Just don't stop while riding or go off the trail
  • 5 42
flag Who99 (Aug 13, 2023 at 10:51) (Below Threshold)
 @mkul7r4: yeah you’d best stay away if you were dumb enough to vote for biden. Let’s go Brandon!
  • 4 2
 @mkul7r4: Well they are ranked #43 in education
  • 4 1
 @mkul7r4: ahh yes politics… thanks for your addition.
  • 2 1
 @Who99: ahh yes politics.. thanks for addition to this mountain bike thread.
  • 4 6
 @MtbKC001: no problem my man. It's a legitimately shit part of living here. And anyone who still legitimately supports that dude is a neanderthal.
  • 1 0
 @az-shredder3: I agree. i live here and ride multilple times a week and haven't found a tick all year.
  • 5 0
 I've heard that Bentonville doesn't have enough vertical to make fast trails, but this guy puts that to bed!
  • 1 3
 what you don't see is that he is pedaling his ass off between features.
  • 2 0
 Although I won't be re-routing my annual Whistler trip to Arkansas anytime soon, the trails in the video sure look fun and it does demonstrate some intentionality with regards to building a cool, and what appears to be accessible trail network. Nicely done. Fun truly is where you find it.
  • 2 0
 Fantastic video! Loved the riding in Bentonville. Bike capital or not, go there first, you may be amazed or not but will have a great time regardless. Defn try the bbq joint in town after the ride.
  • 5 3
 Looks pretty boring to me but I’m sure it’s better than nothing. They really didn’t do themselves any favours with the “mtb capital of the universe” garbage.
  • 3 0
 So 90% of this is eureka springs and mtn Nebo is all the mtn vistas. Eureka deserves way more credit for the NWA thing.
  • 1 0
 this
  • 3 2
 Funny you see him bouncing off the side of that last jump in the masterpiece because in reality its fucking almost impossible to clear in real life.
  • 1 4
 I have a hard time clearing it too. Those computer generated lips don't ride well
  • 11 0
 Get better. 14 year olds can clear it.
www.instagram.com/reel/CkGO6uiPtiY/?igshid=MzRlODBiNWFlZA=
  • 3 1
 That last feature was so cool!
  • 1 0
 : pimp:
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