Local Flavours: Northwest Arkansas

May 27, 2022 at 6:35
by Korey Hopkins  

Local Flavours

Words & photos by Korey Hopkins

Bentonville, as in Walmart Bentonville?

I've spent my entire life driving by Walmart's in every locale across the United States. I have seen their trucks moving product from distribution hubs to stores on every major (and some minor) road that I have touched. So when I first saw Bentonville linked to mountain biking, I was surprised.

Admittedly, Arkansas is not the first place that I think of when it comes to mountain biking. For one, there aren't mountains in the traditional sense. Having grown up and cutting my riding chops on the East Coast of the United States, I know that there aren't the towering peaks in that area that some destinations have. I quickly threw that thought away.

While the "mountain bike capital of the world" tag rubs some people the wrong way, there are a number of reasons why Bentonville, and the greater northwest Arkansas region in general, is establishing itself as a proper destination for people that are into mountain biking, and cycling in general.


A Bit About the area

Arkansas was the 25th state to become a part of what is now the United States on June 15, 1836. Being the middle state in both creation as well as geographic location, it lands in an area that hasn't traditionally got attention from outdoor enthusiasts. It is a shame since it picked up the moniker of "The Natural State" for good reasons. Arkansas has 52 state parks, three national forests, five national parks, and the nation's first national river. The green space inventory allows for ample options for recreation - from the weekend warrior to the seasoned veteran.

Having spent a lot of time in Washington, DC and New York City, I know city life. Arkansas cities are not like those behemoths. For one, the never-ending concrete jungles just aren't on the same scale. Non-car infrastructure in the aforementioned cities leaves a bit to be desired, but in places like Fayetteville, urban designers have found a way to mix city life with outdoor recreation. Government policies currently dictate that there must be an accessible access point to the Greenway cycle path within half a mile of every housing development. That is a pretty huge commitment at a government level.

Outside the cities, you can tell that green space is important to people in the region. Beyond bikes, there is plenty of infrastructure and space to hike, swim, canoe, camp, and whatever else in the outdoors moves your soul. The state parks in Arkansas are set up to accommodate most experiences. Whether you trailer in your 24-foot home behind your truck, pull up to a rental cabin, or want to camp under the stars, the infrastructure is there to allow you to enjoy the outdoors.

A wunderlust lifestyle of enjoying all the fun things in life is great, but employment of some kind is important to keep the lights on and replace the occasional smashed rear derailleur. Luckily, Arkansas has a wide array of industries. Walmart itself has a large workforce with its central office just down the street from bike trails and suppliers to the business have also established permanent footprints in the region to better serve their client. Beyond office jobs, the entire gambit of occupations is alive and well. Trail crews are always working on maintaining and building trails, general construction is doing a lot of work for residential and commercial properties, and the service industry is booming with great need for talent. For the more entrepreneurial types, there is space to bring that spirit. Outfits like Benton Drones prove that. In short, work is plentiful so that you can afford to keep your bike from making hateful sounds.

Getting down to the nitty gritty of the mountain biking in the region also uncovers some cool metrics on paper. The region boast over 400 miles of trails, ranging from single track, flow trails, to bike park experiences.

Cruising to Little Sugar in Bella Vista





Getting to Northwest Arkansas

Air: XNA. That is the airport code that you want. XNA is a regional airport just outside of Bentonville that has flights from a number of the larger carriers in the US. Being a smaller airport, you won’t need your running shoes to make it to your gate from security. Never flown with a bike before? Packing a bike isn't that bad. I made a video showing that it's pretty easy if you have some basic tools.

Drive: Interstate 49 runs through the region. Once you are on this road, you will be able to navigate to the area easily.

Bike: Once in the region, the Razorback Regional Greenway will connect you from Fayetteville to Bella Vista.

The Best Trails to Ride in NWA

Whew. This is always a loaded question.

If you prefer to churn out miles, you’ll have no shortage of options in Bella Vista. Back 40 is the go to for long epic days on the bike. You can very quickly start accumulating miles while riding some fun single track in the northern-most corner of the state. Only calling out the XC side of Bella Vista wouldn't be fair to the area, however. Places like Huntley Gravity Zone also offer a chance to get airtime and stretch their bikes legs a bit on some of the faster, more gravity oriented trails.

For the rider that prefers some space between their tires and terra firma, I am convinced Bentonville requires a minimum amount of kickers and jumps on the trails that they construct. Shortly into my first ride in town, I had to stop and evaluate what was going on. Everywhere you go, there is some sort of feature to get you airborne. With a ton of trail options, there is no shortage of things to play on from a new rider exploring the feeling of beating gravity for a few milliseconds to the seasoned sender unlocking new gaps and combos. For a hub that branches out to a number of fun downhill lines, head to Coler. Fire Line is a perennial crowd favorite. It recently got some lovin' and is running really well. For those that like to go bigger, Cease and Desist is hard to beat. If you are looking for flow-tech, Rock Solid is REALLY fun. Dirt kickers and high speed rock gardens - sign me up!

Fayetteville felt like a nice combination of the two. You will need to earn your turns at a place like Mt Kessler. However, you will be rewarded with fun descents. Crazy Mary speaks to my sensibilities as a rider. A steep enough grade going down and fun things to pop off to keep you entertained the entire time. The trail will keep you honest however, with quick punches up to make sure you are awake. Chinkapin Oak is also a fun scenic blitz through the woods. Everyone in the area told me that I had to hit Spellbound and sadly, time was not on my side. I'll save it for next time.

One of Fayetteville's premier trail networks welcomes you








Weather

Southern heat and humidity are no joke. It gets hard to ride mid-day in the summer, so be prepared to ride early or later in the day. Stay hydrated and you'll still be able to have an enjoyable time in the area.

Spring and Fall are prime seasons. In the spring, you'll have clear line of sight down trails before things green up. In the fall, leave surfing season can be a ton of fun if you manage expectations and traction appropriately.

Bike Advice

I personally haven't ridden anything in the region that requires a long travel EWS race rig. A poppy short to mid-travel trail bike is honestly perfect for most riders in the area. With that said, I like to be extra. I have become a big fan of riding big bikes for as much stuff as I can. My Transition Sentinel has accompanied me on my past couple trips to the area. My riding style is one where I try my best to conserve brake pads and charge through rocks and roots and collect frequent flyer mile points. During my first trip to the region, I did a big 50+ mile XC pedal day throughout the Back 40 and Coler on a heavy enduro bike with enduro casing tires and inserts, so take my advice here with a grain of salt. Sometimes I don't make the best decisions.

Outside of full on downhill bikes, ride what you are most comfortable with in the area. It'll be fine. If you bring your own bike, just make sure you have some good tires mounted. Being lazy and taking a well used tire will have you skipping down to the local bike shop section of this article so that you can find a shop with some rubber. Not that I speak from experience...

If traveling with your bike makes you uncomfortable, there are plenty of shops in the area with a plethora of rental options. Keep on reading to get some area shop suggestions.

If you are a glutton for punishment or just looking to do some outlandish stuff on two wheels, drop bar bikes are also a thing.

Local Scene

I could talk about bikes and trails all day long, but it is the people that make this area special.

During my first visit to the region in 2019, I found across the board that people were genuinely nice. Socioeconomic status, rider skill level, none of it mattered. Just being in the area to ride bikes was enough to get people hyped on your presence. With several trips to the area now, I realize that it isn't just about bikes, people are just nice. Whether you need to ask for directions or get recommendations for food, people are very open.

Bentonville has a very laid back air about it. I have stopped at a number of the areas restaurant mid- and post-ride when I was at my ripest and locals would still be welcoming and warm to me. I do feel for their noses, though. With a wide variety of restaurant options, there is a cuisine for all. When your legs are blown out mid-trip from all the riding, Crystal Bridges and The Momentary are well worth a visit for some culture.

Fayetteville has seemingly every option you need before and after a ride -- including a wealth of good food, craft coffee, and local brews. A 50-mile paved trail network connects Fayetteville’s mountain bike trailheads to most of its amenities -- including lodging, food, and other recreation such as indoor skating.

Bella Vista is much more laid back. Most housing options that I saw had some amazing seating just outside that put you right in nature. For the couple or family that want to spend more time together compared to going out, this is the spot. That's not to say you are regulated to staying in, though. Places like the Gear Garden are excellent for getting a local IPA...gear.

In the cycling community, there are a number of local organizations doing cool stuff for the greater good of cycling and society at large.

Ozark Off-Road Cyclists Advocates for building, maintaining, and preserving sustainable multi-use trails in the Ozarks.

Bike POC is dedicated to creating intentional spaces for BIPOC and other marginalized peoples to explore cycling in Northwest Arkansas.

Women of Oz aims to get more women involved with the support by providing clinics and rides for all abilities.

Friends of Arkansas Singletrack (FAST) is a dedicated group of volunteers working together to develop the sport of mountain biking via group rides, education, events, trail advocacy, and more.

Groups like Women of OZ helping to get more folks on bikes. Never will that ever be a bad thing.


Send off jam session on a popular jump off of All American.


Accommodations and Food

Post-ride food and drinks

Oven and Tap - So much good food here. The woodfire pizzas are tasty.

Yeyo's - Tacos and margaritas. Enough said.

Airship - Drinks and food in the middle of Coler Preserve. It is an excellent spot to meet up with a group or to re-up fluids and food mid-ride.

The Meteor - Breakfast tacos and a cappuccino are always a great way to get your day started.

Gear Garden - Are you only interested in liquid refreshments? This outdoor space is large enough for group rides to meet up before or after a ride.

Superfine Sweets - For when you can't ignore your sweet tooth.

Prelude Breakfast Bar - I love breakfast, so a breakfast spot is always going to end up on my radar.

For places to stay:

The Bike Inn - A bike-centric hotel in Bentonville.

Managed houses and yurts - Bella Vista makes renting a place really easy. Pick your experience and click book.

Airbnb and VRBO rental markets are solid options for everything in the area.

Local Bike Shops

A wealth of bike trails requires a wealth of bike shops to keep bikes together for the trails.

Phat Tire in Bentonville

Mojo in Bentonville

The Highroller Cyclery in Fayetteville

About to drop into some trails at Handcut Hollow in Bentonville




The mighty impressive hub at Coler in Bentonville





Local trails


Back 40 mountain biking trails

Blowing Springs mountain biking trails

HandCut Hollow mountain biking trails

Coler Mountain Bike Preserve mountain biking trails

Slaughter Pen Trails mountain biking trails

Mt Kessler mountain biking trails

Centennial Park at Millsap Mountain biking trails


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