Little Rock, Arkansas’ newest trails make the destination an easy choice for a mountain bike trip and are family-friendly.
In less than two years, the state’s capital city has progressed from not even being a blip on mountain bikers’ radar to a bright beacon that calls out: “Come play with me.”
John Eckart, Director of Little Rock Parks and Recreation (LRPR), explained: “Three years ago, the city realized the lack of mountain bike opportunities in the city and decided to do something about it.”
They reached out to the Walton Family Foundation (WFF) for advice and guidance to create a master plan to improve the city’s mountain bike experience. Gary Vernon, Walton Personal Philanthropy Group senior program officer, invited Eckart and staff members to visit Northwest Arkansas’ vast trail system for ideas on the type of trails they should construct. Arkansas Parks & Recreation Foundation (APRF), who have been involved with numerous other trail projects the WFF helped sponsor, also joined the team.
Upon their return to Little Rock, they researched terrain within their park system to determine potential locations for constructing the purpose-built trails mountain bikers enjoy. The steep hillside at the city’s River Mountain Park immediately drew their attention.
The area adjoining River Mountain Park is one of the city’s most popular parks, attracting hikers, runners, road bicyclists, paddlers, and many others. LRPR realized the trails would attract new people to the sport of mountain biking and wanted to build a trail system to provide a gateway for these riders while still offering something for advanced cyclists. They planned to use the steep elevation change of River Mountain to create a series of downhill trails that offer a thrilling gravity ride for all levels of mountain bikers.
In January of 2021, they brought in one of the country’s premier mountain bike trail builders, Rock Solid Trail Contracting, to create trail magic.
On June 17, LRPR opened the gates on the River Mountain Park Trails. The project also included a new bike skill park for kids at the adjoining Two Rivers Park, with the near-mile-long undulating hard surface Fox Tail trail, plus Pup Track scoot-bike loops.
Combine these trails with nearby Pinnacle Mountain State Park’s Monument Trail system constructed in 2020, and the area offers something for all riders, from striders to experts.
All three parks were supported by $2.6 million in grants from Walton Family Foundation to the Arkansas Parks & Recreation Foundation.
Michael Irmen, President of the area’s local IMBA chapter, Central Arkansas Trail Alliance (CATA), invited me to join their group for a final checkoff ride before opening day.
The network of trails is etched into the north face of River Mountain, offering panoramic views of the Little Maumelle River at its base, plus the scenic Arkansas River in the distance.
With over three hundred feet of elevation change, Rock Solid did a great job of breaking up the climb with the green Main Current Trail. Riders have the option of peeling off onto one of the more technical blue trails or continuing the four-mile loop for a fast, flowy, non-techy descent on the Main Current Trail.
One of my favorite intersecting blue trails is Headwaters. This is a one-and-a-half-mile flow trail with over three hundred feet of elevation drop. With a heavy mix of optional rock lines to spice up this super-fast descent, along with plenty of mandatory chunky stuff, it is guaranteed to keep you focused.
Rock Solid Trail Contracting is renowned for its rock work. True to their reputation, they incorporated huge slab rocks into rollers and kickers that result in a diverse mix of flavors that make each blue trail a unique experience.
And then there is Gravity Falls, a blue trail with black diamond features. This is a fast and furious half-mile descent that includes a twelve-foot drop and towering earthen berms that swallow up a rider, then spit them out with even more speed and wide gap jumps.
Our group clustered at the rocky drop entrance to Gravity as Irmen provided intel on handling the coming features. For the drop, just roll off the ledge in a leap of faith, and everything will be alright. But on the big gap jump, riders need to make a decision: Am I going to jump or roll?
“Go into it with gangster speed,” advised another rider.
One member of our group must not have made his decision. The all too familiar result was a front tire into the second mound, a superman over the bars, a face full of dirt, and a long-sustained slide. Luckily, the only thing broken, bike or body, was the pinky on his right hand.
The ten miles of trails offer an exciting downhill experience for all skill levels, with the higher-rated trails spiked with challenging add-ins to warrant their rating.
And there is more
Trails at River Mountain Park are wide, well-groomed, smooth, and freaky fast singletrack, with the only bumps being the added features.
For anyone looking for some old-school hand-cut trails, peel off the Main Current Trail onto River Mountain Trail toward Connor Park.
This is a narrow, rough trail that will bring a tear to your eye when it conjures up fond memories of the “good ole days” when mountain bike trails were no more than hiking trails that allowed bikes. Or, it’ll have you turning around the first time your back tire spins out on a steep rutty climb, eager to return to the fast, smooth ride of professionally-built trails.
Although River Mountain Park only offers ten miles of singletrack, by mixing up your routes, it is easy to pad your total mileage. If that doesn’t work for you, the fourteen miles at Pinnacle Mountain State Park are only about seven miles away. You have the option of riding to the park on separated bike lanes or hauling your bike.
The trail system at Pinnacle Mountain was constructed by Rogue Trails (who’ve designed Hobbs State Park Monument Trail and many other awesome trails) and Jagged Axe (who’ve designed Passion Play in Eureka Springs and many others). This system includes a diverse mix of trails, with plenty of screaming downhill to satisfy your need for speed. There is even a sweet NICA loop for the young riders in your family.
With Little Rock as your home base, on days two and three of your visit, you can make the hour-plus drive to ride either twenty five miles of primo singletrack on Mt Nebo’s Monument Trail in Dardanelle (Rock Solid constructed) or ride the twenty six miles of professionally constructed trails at Northwoods Trail (IMBA Trail Solutions) in Hot Springs. If I appear to be name-dropping MTB trail crews, I am. Just to add cred to these deserving trails.
When you have finished your ride for the day at River Mountain Park, the entertainment district of the largest city in the state is just a short drive away. Not many mountain bike destinations offer this option.
Stay at one of the many downtown hotels, carb load at a fine restaurant, and take the art walk on the riverfront. This is a unique mountain bike adventure the entire family will enjoy.
“We built these trails as an investment in our community,” said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr. “Little Rock is the capital of the Natural State, so it’s a given that we should be focusing on these assets.”
This content was originally published here.