Checking Out An Arkansas Highlands Mountain Bike Route

July 21, 2016

Photo by Chuck Campbell
Forest Rd. 106 in Ouachita National Forest, Arkansas, near the Little Missouri River.

Banff, Alberta. On the eve of the 2015 Tour Divide race, Adventure Cycling member Chuck Campbell was carb loading by way of pizza and brewskis with good friend Mike Dicken. The conversation was naturally focused on long distance mountain bike routes and having exhausted talk about the adventure ahead of them, their thoughts drifted back home. They lamented the damn shame that Adventure Cycling hadn’t mapped a single route in the entire state of Arkansas.

As they rode the first days of the Tour Divide, their imaginations wandered, and they passed hours in the saddle brainstorming a potential route. “What if we linked up the Ozark and Ouachita mountains, the Arkansas River Valley, and FOUR IMBA EPIC TRAILS? Yessir — that would be awesome."

Chuck returned home and started riding, researching, and piecing together GPS files. The idea for the Arkansas Highlands Mountain Bike Route was born. Now all he had to do was sell Adventure Cycling on the idea.

Photo by Chuck Campbell
Chuck’s bike atop Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas (2,753’) and a short hike from this spot.

You really can’t blame a bunch of Montana cartographers for our initial skepticism of placing the words “mountain bike” and “Arkansas” in the same sentence. Years of riding high-alpine singletrack in the West has honed our bias of what quality mountain biking entails. Boy, were we wrong, and I was lucky enough to find out firsthand.

Photo by Chuck Campbell
Autumn beauty of the Mulberry River Valley as viewed from Spy Rock.

Serendipitously, shortly after Chuck sent us his route idea I was heading out of the Adventure Cycling office on a bit of a sabbatical to complete some Air National Guard training in Biloxi, Mississippi. Chuck’s enthusiasm for the potential route convinced me to stuff my mountain bike in my already jam-packed 4Runner and see what this Highlands riding was all about. I was to meet with him en route to training and report back on the viability of his ideas.

Chuck welcomed me into his bucolic home with a heaping plate of venison spaghetti and an impressive PowerPoint presentation of the proposed route. Chuck’s teaching background served him well in impressing me with his knowledge of the history, geology and geography of Arkansas.

Photo by Chuck Campbell
A pedestal rock formation in the Little Piney drainage known as the Arkansas Sphinx located about a half mile off the potential Arkansas Highlands Mountain Bike Route.

We scrolled through photos of the four IMBA (International Mountain Bike Association) Epic Routes and the Bentonville IMBA Ride Center — all linked by the route and including enticing swimming holes, museums, rock faces framed with climbing routes, quirky geological formations, breweries, mountaintop lodges, small town cafes, festivals, and yes, AA baseball stadiums. This route has it all — year-round accessibility and culturally diverse mountain bike riding — something for everyone. I was sold and couldn’t wait to get wheels on dirt.

Photo by Chuck Campbell
View from the top of Pilot Rock.

Though we had hoped to do an overnight on the route section near his Russellville home, torrential rain had slowed me down a day in my travel itinerary. I needed to be in Hattiesburg, Mississippi by nightfall the following day, so we settled on a dawn-patrol start. A light rain greeted our headlamps as we pedaled away from Chuck’s front door.

We were on singletrack in minutes. Techy root and rock sections twisted through the trees along the Arkansas River, and as I struggled to keep up, Chuck rambled off regional knowledge like a professional adventure guide. Twenty-four miles later, I had a muddy grin plastered on my face. Next time I’m in the area, you know I’ll be riding as much of the whole route as time allows.

Photo by Chuck Campbell
The Little Missouri River as seen from the bridge within the Albert Pike Campground.

While riding in Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi during breaks in my training, I was blown away by the passionate, core group of riders who took to the woods every chance they got. I realized mountain biking in America doesn’t start west of Colorado. I’d personally love to see the Arkansas Highland Mountain Bike Route come to fully mapped fruition.

But I’m just one optimistic cartographer — what do y’all think? Could this be your next dirt route adventure? Send us your feedback on this possible new route in the Natural State!

This post was written by Adventure Cycling cartographer Travis Switzer. His keenness for an Arkansas mountain bike route is unmistakable; let us know your response in the comments.

All photos by Chuck Campbell.

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GEOPOINTS BULLETIN is written by Jennifer ‘Jenn’ Hamelman, Routes & Mapping Assistant Director, and appears once a month, highlighting curious facts, figures, and persons from the Adventure Cycling Route Network with tips and hints for personal route creation thrown in for good measure. She also wants to remind you that map corrections and comments are always welcome via the online Map Correction Form.

 

Comments

Charles Martin August 22, 2017, 1:47 PM

There are so many good places to ride in Arkansas, the hard part will be figuring out where not to go. I'm super excited this is happening.

pmac February 12, 2017, 4:48 PM

any idea of when the deciding phase, either go or no go, will be completed?

Jennifer H Milyko February 13, 2017, 1:54 PM

We are moving forward on this route idea. However, an actual timeline for production and publication is not yet set.

Charles Alison August 9, 2017, 4:56 PM

Hi Jennifer, I do mostly road touring but know the state pretty well, especially the Ozark portion and don't mind helping if you need field checks, etc. Glad ACA is moving forward with a route in Arkansas. And when you get to a road route through Arkansas, I can be of even more help.

Jennifer H Milyko September 6, 2017, 11:56 AM

Thanks, Charles! If you could send this offer and your contact info to cartographyATadventurecyclingDOTorg we can put you on file for future reference.

Jennifer

Jim Britt August 10, 2017, 12:45 PM

We have our fall self-contained road tour in NE Ark. coming up in October. Check our website.

Jim Britt August 10, 2017, 12:46 PM

arkansasbicycleclub.org

Jennifer H Milyko September 6, 2017, 11:59 AM

Looks like a fun ride! Wish I lived close so I could give it a spin.

Jennifer

Jay Williams October 17, 2016, 6:50 PM

O when, O when will you have even some "draft" routes you can share for trial runs and comment ....... CANNOT WAIT!!!!!!

Jennifer H Milyko October 18, 2016, 7:07 AM

Timeline for a project like this is unknown at the moment since we are still in the deciding phase. Once we commit to a project, we can talk timeline.

Jim Britt September 23, 2016, 7:27 PM

We have some 6 day tour rides in Arkansas on mostly paved roads but we have wider tires on the touring bikes and could make this a great tour with some campgrounds.

Chris Kneifl August 16, 2016, 8:54 AM

Yes please! I live in Oklahoma and love visiting Arkansas to ride. A route that strung together some singletrack and gravel would be hugely popular and ridden by people from across the region (if not the country). Do it!

Madelyn Ginsberg August 7, 2016, 4:09 PM

How can we help on this? This is fantastic!

Kathy Wilson August 7, 2016, 2:11 PM

This route would be a terrific ride!!

Let's make it happen!

Colt Fetters August 1, 2016, 3:07 PM

Would really love to ride something like this!

Jdawg July 29, 2016, 9:19 AM

It will not hurt the cycling and bike-packing industry by having more destinations to participate. Also, by spreading out these destination spots beyond the "go-to" location only makes these activities more accessible to more people. Do it!

Kenny Williams July 29, 2016, 8:29 AM

This is a must!! As an avid bikepacker and outdoors staff at UA, I would both ride this and program trips on it! What a great way to plug university students into ACA and bikepacking passion!

Phillip July 23, 2016, 8:38 PM

Oh this is great! Someone who knows the roads to put together a good route on the hundreds of miles of Ozark forest lanes. Thanks Chuck Campbell and Phyllis Campbell! Looking forward to exploring.

Patrick July 23, 2016, 1:00 PM

Do it and I will!

Lewie July 22, 2016, 3:21 PM

I hope you bring in the Upper Buffalo Trails system, Cave Mountain Road, Boxley and Ponca area! Feel free to reach out to the OORC if you want us to give insight and help scout or have our local membership out that way give you good guidance on gravel out that way as well!!

Chuck Campbell July 23, 2016, 7:55 AM

Lewie-Lewie:. Yes, we are hitting cave my, the crag, hockey, erbie-compton road. If the BRT opens to mountain bikes we will use it. I am going to contact you about help between Bella vista and eureka.

Chuck Campbell July 23, 2016, 7:59 AM

"Cave mountain, the Crag, Boxley, and the Compton- Ernie road"

Payton MacDonald July 22, 2016, 2:08 PM

Awesome, awesome, awesome! Please make this an ACA route. We really need more dirt routes and more that are centrally located. This looks absolutely fabulous in every way. Yes, yes, yes!

Chuck Campbell July 22, 2016, 1:48 PM

We will ride the LOViT with a gravel alternative.

Jeff Hollansworth July 22, 2016, 10:17 AM

Arkansas is the best kept secret for mt. biking. The Vista Trail on the banks of Lake Ouchita, Iron Mountain, and Cedar Glades are 3 of the most fun, flowy and scenic rides you can find anywhere. Sure, we like Colorado but many of their rides are either straight up or straight down. I would love to see a connection trail between central AR up to N.W. Arkansas. That corridor is some sweet riding for sure!

chuck campbell July 22, 2016, 9:31 AM

After Travis ate my wife's cooking, I could have sold him on ocean-front property in Arkansas! This route will be as much gravel as we can find with singletrack options. Some pavement will be required.

1000+ miles!

Russell Hutchens July 22, 2016, 11:58 AM

I hope you include the Syllamo on the route. I live at Norfork and am well acquainted with this area. I have hiked across on OHT and extensively in the Sylamore. Sign me up to help if I can.

Chuck Campbell July 22, 2016, 1:45 PM

Coming right to Blanchard and syllamo.

Tomas Rofkahr July 22, 2016, 9:22 AM

Arkansas has one of the most active and unique cycling communities I've ever happened across. It's small (but growing) and relentlessly enthusiastic about improving and expanding the already amazing trails they have. I got to chase Chuck through about 120 hilly miles of the route in late 2015 and it's amazing!

Alton Branum July 22, 2016, 9:07 AM

The state of Arkansas has many great trail systems and is adding new trail everyday. This event would only help our mountain bike trail community and I am sure everyone that is part of this event will enjoy the beautiful views riding in Arkansas.

Amelia July 22, 2016, 8:47 AM

YES!!

Michael Roys July 22, 2016, 8:19 AM

Let's do this!

Phyllis Campbell July 22, 2016, 5:24 AM

When Chuck and I drove the first 100 miles of the trail this week, I was reminded yet again of the beauty of our state. I think this trail will be a state treasure!

Andy N July 22, 2016, 4:51 AM

A huge YES to this idea. I live in western Arkansas and have ridden many of its trails and gravel roads. The scenery and solitude is terrific. I've been cycling for three years and in that short time I've seen the sport grow significantly in this area. The Ouachita Mountains, River Valley and Boston Mountains have what you need!

BenC July 21, 2016, 10:18 PM

The hill regions of Arkansas offer scenery and culture that anyone from any part of the world could benefit from. As a native of the Ozarks, I am thrilled at every opportunity to show people from all over the world what we have hidden in these hills and hollers. A route like this could make so much more of our treasure available for discovery.

LukeM July 21, 2016, 7:57 PM

I was fortunate that Chuck was one of the first people I met when I moved to Arkansas, and he was quick to invite me on his adventures. I'll always be grateful of those times.

James Webster July 21, 2016, 7:31 PM

I am older and the high altitude of the west remoteness, and the long distances of those routes make them impractical. I like the idea of an area where you can ride nine months of the year and is within a day by car from Houston TX.. Having a mapped area would make the riding less stressful.

Please research that area for gravel routes also

Jacob "The Man" White July 21, 2016, 7:09 PM

I dunno, looks like a pretty easy ride to me.

Angela Paterna July 21, 2016, 6:50 PM

On a road trip from North Carolina to Colorado, I stopped in Arkansas with a plan to do two mountain and one road ride. Because of rain, I only did one mountain ride on the Womble trail and a road ride climbing out of Mt. Ida. I was pleasantly surprised by both rides but even more surprised that I saw only one rider on the mountain ride - on a weekend. He even told me, it wasn't the best trail on offer - there were better!

Allen Harrison July 21, 2016, 5:57 PM

I'm excited about this! Let's git 'r dun before I'm too old.

SheilaTB July 21, 2016, 4:50 PM

Sounds awesome! Can not wait.

Charis Lykins July 21, 2016, 2:08 PM

I would love to ride this trail! Wonderful idea.

Maggie Brock July 21, 2016, 1:50 PM

I've taught with Chuck for six years and there is no one better to put this route together. I can only imagine the amazing trip he has put together.

Pat McAllister July 21, 2016, 11:43 AM

As a Mississippi resident, this would be great! How long before we can get the maps or at least the gps waypoints?

Sue Schlagel July 21, 2016, 11:42 AM

Great information

Aaron Shaw July 21, 2016, 11:28 AM

As a SW MO resident I love AR riding and very anxious to watch this seed grow??

Paul Lowrey July 21, 2016, 11:27 AM

This is a great idea. Make it happen, ACA! How can we help?

Marcus Broussard July 21, 2016, 11:03 AM

Arkansas has many miles of great single track. I'm happy to call it home. Also very happy to have Chuck in our group. I try to do everything I can to help make Arkansas bike super great. Way to go Chuck.

Kevin McGregor July 21, 2016, 10:40 AM

As an Arkansan by birth now living elsewhere, I can attest that my home is a hidden gem of riding and general outdoor fun. Can't wait to get back home to ride Chuck's route (maybe with him?!)-he's always been an inspiration and continues to be!

Jared July 21, 2016, 10:35 AM

Any ride with Cuck is an adventure. AR offers so much more than beautiful scenery!

Alan Stark July 21, 2016, 10:10 AM

This would be a great addition. Makes me miss the Ozarks.

Andrew Lea July 21, 2016, 9:30 AM

If you haven't ridden Arkansas, then you are sorely missing out. I've ridden trails in the east, Appalachia, across the Rockies, and throughout Europe, and the best riding and best singletrack in the world in my experience is in Arkansas.

Dan Blocker July 21, 2016, 9:30 AM

Yes Please!!!

Jazz Johnston July 21, 2016, 9:12 AM

Nice Blog

Greg Goodman July 21, 2016, 9:08 AM

Mountain bikers and roadies in my classes have told me about the great cycling Arkansas. No doubt from this article you have the makings of a great route! HUP!

Kurt Jones July 21, 2016, 8:58 AM

Sounds like a fantastic plan to me!

Marty Johnson July 21, 2016, 8:50 AM

Arkansas is a frequent destination for regional cycling, this would be a great addition

Liz Chrisman July 21, 2016, 8:24 AM

I'm game. Arkansas is doing all it can to promote that its the mountain biking mecca of the South. I think this would only add to the quiver of tools for that promotion!

Paul Tufis July 21, 2016, 8:24 AM

Great photo and narrative about biking. Reminds me of some lessons taught in Walden

Tom Anderson July 21, 2016, 7:41 AM

I've raced many of those trails and have thought the same about a bikepacking route. Build it and they will come....lots of passionate riders and bikepackers in the Midwest. Colorado is nice, but the high elevation actually turns many of us off from big riding trips in the mountains.

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