Arkansas is an increasingly prominent destination for mountain bikers. Although well known to a more local scene for years, even western folks like me pine for epic singletracks out in the Ouachitas. The Womble Trail and Vista Trails are not to be missed.
All my friends from New England and out West thought I was joking when I said that I'm most excited about seeing Arkansas on my great Southern road trip. I suppose that most of the world is unaware that Arkansas/Oklahoma/Missouri have the Ouachita and Ozark Mountains which are a perfect adventure destination. There's everything here, mountain biking, hiking and river rafting. I could have spent a month here but I only had a few days to check everything out. Therefore I hit the Womble and Vista Trails on fat tires, per the recommendations of Parkside Cycle
Interestingly enough, the greater Hot Springs area has been a tourist destination for the better part of a century. In the past, wealthy travelers came to the area for the cathartic and resort nature of the springs. Buildings and monuments have an odd Greek and Roman design to them. These days the area is heavily touristic but there's enough outdoor adventure to keep folks like me occupied and away from the city's hustle.
|Bathhouse Row is a relic from the gilded age|
Mt Ida is about 40 minutes from Bathhouse row and Hot Springs and serves as a centerpoint for all things mountain biking. The nearby Vista Trail
is a relative newcomer to the area and is a tough trail for mountain biking. It stays near the perimeter of Lake (reservoir) Ouachita and ranks somewhere between a blue square and black diamond in difficulty. Some sections roll and travel quite nicely while others are twisted and loose. There are options for rides as short as a few miles and rides that could take all day. I didn't want to miss out on the more famous Womble Trail but I believe this one will suit a more technical rider than the Womble.
|Thankfully, there are plenty of benches overlooking Lake Ouachita for amble rest periods.|
The Womble Trail
is the why-go-to-Egypt-and-not-see-the-pyramids trail of Arkansas. It is a 39 mile singletrack that's mid-level difficulty and well managed. There are several points of entry too which allow the biker to decide if they want to do the whole trail or just a section. Trail conditions are pretty good; most of it is well packed with some sections of scree and tough crossings. It wasn't as difficult as the Vista Trail but I actually liked having a more cross country ride. A few spurs offer sights of the Ouachita River too. Some spurs are just nice dirt roads-
|Spur Trail off the Womble|
|Most of the womble was a relaxing ride|
I really just scratched the surface of the booming mountain biking trails in Arkansas. Other riders had traveled as far away as central Texas and Tennessee for these rides. IMBA gives the Womble an "Epic Ride" status which is the highest honor a trail can receive. Perhaps as a Chicago resident I will have to travel down here on a semi-regular basis.
For now, I would leave the mountain bike trails behind and take a trip up the Talimena Scenic Byway
for some great sights.
Read. Plan. Get Out There!