Bentonville, Arkansas, is fast becoming a national hub for epic mountain biking. We took a look at some of the best biking trails in the region.
It wasn’t that long ago that Bentonville was a relatively unknown town of 20,000 people in Northwest Arkansas. Today, however, it seems every mountain biker and their mom knows exactly where it is and what it is: a world-class biking destination.
As with many, I hadn’t heard about it until a few years ago. But with 60,000 current residents, the city boasts a feverishly growing trail system in both Bentonville-proper and the surrounding area. How did it happen?
Credit nearly 80 million dollars of trail-building donations from the Walton Family Foundation. Walmart can certainly get a bad rap at times. When I visited the Bentonville area a few years ago, I was caught a little off guard when I heard so many people praising the founding family. Little did I know that the Foundation has put a lot of the corporate giant’s money to good use, and not just in trail building.
With the ever-growing popularity of biking in the region, the city now benefits from multiple highly-rated trail-building companies. What started with just a few miles of singletrack back in 2007 has been built into hundreds of miles of flowing, feature-rich rides for all ability levels. If you haven’t visited Bentonville yet, the time is now—and these are the trail systems to keep in mind.
Best for Technical Bikers
- Skill Level: Beginner to Expert
- Directions: Slaughter Pen – NE 3rd Street
Just a stone’s throw from the Third Street District in downtown Bentonville, Slaughter Pen offers over 20 miles of singletrack full of drops, berms, and rock gardens. The trails vary in difficulty, from the easy-rolling Seed Tick Shuffle to the challenging Medusa. Multiple trailheads allow you to enter from any direction and if you just got to town, it’s a great first ride that you can easily get to on two wheels from your Airbnb or hotel.
Best for Nature Lovers
Blowing Springs Park
- Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
- Directions: Blowing Springs Park
Located just north, in the town of Bella Vista, Blowing Springs Park is an easy ride from Slaughter Pen, and the trails here wind through a lush forest with interesting caves and waterfalls to check out along the way. Be careful not to get distracted by the scenery though, as the trails have all sorts of technical, fun features and alternate lines that experienced riders can test their metal on while more novice riders can skirt around them. When you’ve had your fill of riding, swing by the Gear Garden beer garden for a frosty reward!
Best for Scenic Explorers
- Skill Level: All Levels
- Directions: Metfield Trailhead & Skills Park
Just on the north side of Blowing Springs, the Back 40 is a broader trail system offering an old-school feel and a ton of features to hit. Ride the “Back 40 Loop” for the full 22-mile tour and take it clockwise to maximize your descents. Or, mix up the trails as you please! If flow riding and air time are your thing, be sure to hit the Taylor Homestead trail on the Northeast side.
Best for Thrill Seekers
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
- Skill Level: All Levels
- Directions: Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve is a wholly unique riding experience that feels miles away from anything but, in reality, is just a few minutes west of downtown. At the top of it all is a 20-foot-tall steel and wood structure known as the “Hub,” from which you can drop into your choice of three slick downhill lines. Cease and Desist serves up finely crafted berms and tabletop jumps while Rock Solid offers up large drops and extended rock gardens to navigate. For riders looking for the biggest thrill, Drop the Hammer is aptly named for the huge drop right off the bat, which leads into a step-up and more drops below. This one isn’t for the faint of heart! If jumps and drops aren’t your thing, fear not. You can still have a blast on the flowy blue and green trails while building your skills in the process.
Best for Downhill Lovers
Hand Cut Hollow
- Skill Level: Intermediate to Expert
- Directions: Hand Cut Hollow – J Street & Price Coffee Road
Hand Cut Hollow is a collection of trails that certainly live up to the name. These routes were meticulously hand-built to offer unique features and challenges to overcome as you continue to build your skills in the saddle. In this trail system, you’ll find seven unique downhill routes that center around the intermediate-advanced skill level.
Ironically, even with so much emphasis on the downhill routes here, you’ll find one of the most challenging climbing trails in the area. Zone 4 is a trail that was erected to defeat bikers as they climb to the top. A seemingly endless amount of bedrock and logs were put in place to challenge the best riders in the game.
Best for Cross-Country Enthusiasts
- Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
- Directions: Little Sugar Trailhead
Located in Bella Vista, just a short drive or ride from Bentonville and near the Back 40 system, the Little Sugar system offers about 40 miles of interconnected trails. While a lot of the trails in the area are purpose-built to focus on descents, you’ll find a little more cross-country style riding here. However, there are still a ton of fun features scattered throughout. The Tunnel Vision Loop is the best bang for your buck here and you can find berms, drops, and jumps on every downhill section. A nice bonus to this system is that it sheds water well and you won’t find as many slick roots and slippery limestone slabs as you will on other trails in the area so it can be ridden at virtually any time.
Best for Wilderness Explorers
Hobbs State Park
- Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
- Directions: Hobbs State Park
One of the best parts of Bentonville is how close everything is to town but if you’re looking to get away from the hustle and bustle, Hobbs State Park is a great option. This conservation area is about 40 minutes southeast of town and offers 40 miles of rugged, rocky trails that wind through the scenic landscape. For the descent-lovers, there are two-mile-long, downhill-specific lines (Timberjack and Sawtooth) which can be easily lapped via the one-way Return trail. For a more relaxed ride, check out Karst Loop. This scenic ride follows the shore of Beaver Lake and is a directional trail (counter-clockwise) which means you’ll encounter far fewer people along the way.
Best for Gravity Gurus
- Skill Level: Intermediate to Expert
- Directions: Lake Leatherwood Gravity Project
If downhill trails are your go-to, Lake Leatherwood is where you want to be. Located just outside Eureka Springs (1 hour northeast of Bentonville), Lake Leatherwood Gravity Project is a DH park that has trails for all types of riders. Better yet, for $40 you can get a full-day shuttle pass that enables you to crank out laps all day long. There are seven trails here that range from smooth, flowing lines (READ: SUPER FRIGGIN FLOWY) to chunky rock gardens, gaps, and the “Lily Pad” step-up–down on “Downhill One.” Start on Downhill Six to warm the legs up for the bigger features.
Other Good Mountain Biking Options
Already ridden all the trails above? Have no fear! There’s almost no end to riding options in the area. Devil’s Den State Park, about 45 minutes south of Bentonville, offers unique riding that winds through forested trails full of waterfalls, caves, and interesting rock formations.
For another option that caters to all abilities, the Passion Play network is located near the aforementioned Leatherwood Gravity Project and serves up rides that range from beginner-friendly loops to massive jump lines. Furthermore, the Genesis trail offers a unique viewing opportunity as you pass right by the Christ of the Ozarks. Religious or not, you’ll surely be beckoned to stop for a photo.
Best Times for Mountain Biking in Bentonville
The most favorable riding conditions will often be found on balmy spring and fall days, when the riding is prime from sunup to sundown. The beauty of Bentonville, however, is that it’s truly a year-round riding destination. Heat and humidity are the biggest factors during the summer, with the midday heat index pushing 100 degrees during the hottest months of July and August, but early birds will benefit from cooler temperatures on morning rides.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, winters in Benton County are pretty mild and offer great riding for those who don’t mind it being a bit on the cooler side. Boasting an average snowfall just shy of 10 inches and highs in the upper 40s and low 50s, you can expect crisp riding and less-crowded trailheads. If trail conditions get a little dicey after it rains, some places like Coler Preserve will be closed for a short period but others, such as Slaughter Pen and Back 40, will remain open.
Trail Conditions and Preparation
Thanks to the vibrant bike scene here, current trail conditions are easy to come by on social media. Facebook groups—like this one for Slaughter Pen and this one for Coler Preserve—provide regular updates from riders in the community. A quick search will yield results for whichever trail system you have your heart set on.
As with anywhere else, proper preparation is key to a successful ride. Make sure you overdo it with water during those hot summer months and never forget your trust pocket snacks. Throw an extra tube, pump, and/or CO2 in your pack, and don’t hesitate to add in some spare parts like a chain link or derailleur hanger for those rare (but not-so-rare) instances when your bike takes a thrashing. Good preparation is always key for a successful day on the trail!
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