Words: Tandie Bailey | Photos: Oz Trails + Sam Matthews
Northwest Arkansas-- I grew up here, learned to ride here & train for races here. NWA is my home & I’m so thankful. We’ve been riding mountain bikes in NWA since the 80’s when Tim Scott & his buddy Wally Scherrey (then the Superintendent of Devil’s Den State Park) brought MTB back to Arkansas after riding in Crested Butte, CO. It wasn’t until 2008 though, that we went from 0 to 100; & we’re still building trails & bike parks wherever we can find a spot to drop them.
Now, with an abundance of trail, we now can spend time arguing with each other about which ones are the best. (One of my favorite trails is Ben Mays’ least favorite, but he’d argue with a wall so I let it slide.) When riding, progression is important, I call them my baby steps. That said, if you were to take just three steps through the NWA MTB scene with me-- a beginner step, an intermediate step, and an advanced step-- I’d take you to these three spots:
Step 1, Beginner Trail: Slaughter Pen
It’s easily accessible from downtown Bentonville & the first few minutes of your ride (if you start at Compton Gardens, where we usually do) is a cruisey downhill with rollers, berms & wood features to get you comfortable on your bike (called All American Trail, it parallels Crystal Bridges Museum). Then comes 10 miles of singletrack to play around on-- all without ever losing sight of the concrete bike path, just in case you wear yourself out & want to take the chill ride home.
Step 2, Intermediate Trail: The Back 40
This is a trail that's both more elevated & more remote than Slaughter Pen, but still within an after-work-ride distance from Bentonville. Characteristic of the Bella Vista trail networks, there’s a lot of exposed rock & it’s rad. My favorite lap starts at the Lake Ann Trailhead & loops you around the lake in a clockwise direction. This route offers most of the good stuff (sans The Ledges, but since we’re baby stepping to the big stuff it’s probably best we skip The Ledges, notorious for bustin' tires). My favorite break spot along the way is the wooden bridge that’s built right into the side of a rock face.
Step 3, Advanced Trail: The Buffalo Headwaters
It’s a journey to get to the Buffalo Headwaters, so we almost always make it a multi-day trip. The Headwaters is reserved for setting up camp before the ride so you can make that final climb out & cruise right over to the iced down cold beers & a cooler full of snacks. The Headwaters is far from any creature comforts & there’s not much cell reception out there. The route we usually hit is 25 miles of raw, hand-cut, loose & rocky singletrack to play with on the route we do & it’s a whole deal, every single time. I don’t know that we’ve ever made it out of there without somebody bleeding, but we love it & we keep going back. I feel like a better rider every time we pack it up to head home.
Bonus Step Up: Coler Preserve
Coler is both close to downtown & offers session jumps, drops or rocks all day with a quick seven-ish minute climb back to the top of the Hub to try out a different line.
**Something Else to Note:
I live in Bentonville, AR. If I was in Fayetteville this list might be altered a splash to include Mt. Kessler, Mt. Sequoyah, or Lake Lincoln. They’re beautiful, accessible & some of the only raw singletrack you can get to without going to the Headwaters.
It’s kinda like Bentonville = flow & Fayetteville = gnar. They’re the moon to each other’s tide; they’re cool on their own, but with both of them, NWA MTB becomes pretty magical.
Tandie Bailey can be found day in and day out shredding the mountains of the Ozarks + building the ever-growing NWA MTB scene. You can also find her on Instagram @tandielion.
For more on the vast array of trails in NWA, check out Oz Trails' Trail Locations Guide.