It’s hard to pick up an outdoor magazine these days without reading about Northwest Arkansas and its growing portfolio of world-class trails and nature-themed venues. The beautiful and captivating region spreads across four counties and 10 destination cities, including current mountain biking hot spot Bentonville, and is blessed with timbered hills, sparkling lakes and rivers, and seemingly countless ways to play and have adventures outside.
But long before NWA, as in-the-know enthusiasts call it, hit the map as a self-aware outdoor hub, Fayetteville was already serving as a center of leisure, entertainment, and culture. The state’s third largest city has just over 70,000 residents and is home to the University of Arkansas, founded in 1871. Its historic downtown square and Dickson Street are must-sees, famed for their culinary and artistic offerings. George’s Majestic Lounge, the oldest and longest-running live music venue in Arkansas, continues to showcase local and nationally recognized acts here.
The Fayetteville Ale Trail features 15 stops, with a corresponding Ale Trail Passport, and an eclectic mix of shopping blends everything from kitschy flea markets and neighborhood boutiques to national favorites. Fayetteville even has its own homegrown outdoor brand and store, Fayettechill, which has been making “goods for the woods” since 2009, using local artists and recycled polyester, hemp, and organic cotton. The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, open year-round, likewise is committed to fresh produce and crafts for a healthier, greener community.
We dropped in recently to explore the outdoor recreation opportunities that have become the backbone of tourism in the region. Fayetteville boasts more than 50 parks and natural spaces open to the public, including Devil’s Den State Park and Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, both of which lie within a short drive from town. Here are a few of our favorite experiences.
The best way to explore Fayetteville, in our opinion, is from the saddle of a bicycle while pedaling along the Razorback Regional Greenway, a 37-mile trail that starts in the south part of town and extends all the way to the Bella Vista Trail in north Bentonville. The paved route links to a number of other shared-use trails as it meanders past creeks, parks, restaurants, historic sites, and shops. We used it as a central connector while viewing some of the nine murals unveiled as part of the Sprayetteville Street Art Festival last summer, then turned onto Dickson Street for gooey-good gourmet sandwiches at Hammontree’s Grilled Cheese.
Park and Ride
Located in the middle of Fayetteville north of the university, heavily wooded Gregory Park has been renovated by mountain-biking advocacy group Ozark Off-Road Cyclists and now includes a concrete pump track, elevated skills course, and beginner and intermediate trails that are perfect for family-friendly outings. Pack a lunch and relax at the picnic area with pavilion after your ride. The 0.6-mile, natural-surface, perimeter walking trail makes a great alternative for those who don’t bike. Nearby Fossil Cove Brewing Company offers a tasting room with 13 rotating taps and pies from Wicked Wood Fired Pizza.
Head for the Mountain
Fayetteville is one of only 37 certified International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) Ride Centers in the world, with the nine miles of single-track at Kessler Mountain Regional Park representing some of the toughest and most scenic around. My daughter and I sampled the Last Call, Serpentine, and Trent trails, and the wow factor was high. Picture steep terrain, rocky karst outcroppings, and majestic views courtesy of the Boston Mountains — challenging riding but still fun for a 16-year-old and her old man. A few years ago, the park added 387 acres courtesy of the Walton Family Foundation, with open meadows, picturesque bluffs, intermittent streams, and a mature forest that are now preserved and protected for outdoor recreation.
On the Water
Covering 458 acres of land and 194 acres of water, Lake Fayetteville on the northern edge of the city is a visitor’s dream, offering a variety of recreational activities: the North Shore Park and disc golf course, Veterans Memorial Park, a boat dock and marina, boat and bike rentals, and the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks. A 5.5-mile nature trail encircles the lake, as well as 4.3 miles of hard-surface, multi-use trail for walking, running, biking, in-line skating, or wildlife watching. The lake is a focal point of the Razorback Regional Greenway, connecting it to loads of dining and entertainment options.
Last summer, Fayetteville was named 10th overall in the PeopleForBikes’ annual rating of the best cities for bicycling in the US. But the best could be yet to come. New mountain bike trails at Centennial Park on Millsaps Mountain have already attracted international attention, having been selected to host the Cyclocross World Championships in 2022. In addition, according to Experience Fayetteville, the city’s convention and visitors’ bureau, the city’s master plan has the goal of growing its paved trail network to 100 miles in the next decade and to make sure every Fayetteville resident is within a half-mile of a trail. With more than 47 miles of paved trail presently constructed, this is an ambitious goal, but one that could keep the city a top place to ride a bicycle in the country for years and years to come.
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.