As the world headquarters for Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas, has played host to business travelers for decades. While that corporate energy continues to be a thriving part of the town’s makeup, more recently Bentonville has become a draw for leisure travelers seeking adventures in food, art and the outdoors. In particular, it has earned a reputation as mid-America’s mountain biking mecca.
Bentonville contains some 60 miles of singletrack within its city limits, with about 20 of those miles belonging to the eclectic Slaughter Pen system. However, there are as much as 150 miles of trail within minutes of downtown.
The International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) ranks Bentonville as a Silver-level Ride Center. Along with nearby Fayetteville, a Bronze-level Ride Center, the two cities make up the first and only IMBA Regional Ride Center.
Located in the Ozark Mountains, Bentonville has rolling, hilly terrain. Expect to ride through thick forest and rock gardens with plenty of elevation changes and flow. The sandstone and limestone in Northwest Arkansas is perfect for building mountain biking features. You’ll find aggressive trails with manmade wood structures, big berm turns and unique rock jumps. Some trails are built for a multiple-user experience, with runs for novice and intermediate riders alongside lines for more experienced riders.
In other areas of the country, great singletrack is usually located miles away from city settings. In Bentonville, you’ll find the best urban mountain bike system in the country: Slaughter Pen. You can go from feeling lost in the woods to pedaling up to restaurants, craft breweries and hotels within minutes.
In fact, what makes Bentonville unique is that the best place to start on its main trail system is in the heart of downtown. From here, the fun starts with beginner features on the All-American Trail, with connectors taking riders between the various hubs. In addition to 20-plus miles of trail, Slaughter Pen also contains a “free ride” park with dirt jumps, wood elements and a slalom course. Sections of the system were rebuilt this past winter, demonstrating that the city is committed to not only building quality singletrack but also keeping it maintained.
Paved greenways connect to singletrack in adjacent areas. From Lake Bella Vista, which links to Slaughter Pen, mountain bikers can reach Blowing Springs Park, the most popular trailhead for the Back 40 trail system. Located about a mile west of downtown Bentonville, Coler Mountain Bike Preserve trails feature technical rock sections and flowy jump lines. If you like downhills and drops, this one’s for you.
No matter which trails you choose, downtown Bentonville is a great place to end up after a hard ride. Numerous restaurants, from casual to fine dining, fit a variety of budgets and tastes. You’ll also find great craft beer and cocktails.
The heart of the city is marked by a picturesque small-town square. A fountain and park-like setting in the middle is surrounded by thriving businesses full of retail, services, restaurants, attractions and trailheads.
Bike Rack Brewing Company is a common gathering spot for happy hour and has four year-round beers plus seasonals and small-batch brews. Pedaler’s Pub offers wood-fired pizzas as well as burgers, sandwiches, salads and apps. Looking for a nice, sit-down dinner spot? Try Preacher’s Son or Pressroom. Don’t miss Spark Cafe Soda Fountain for ice cream treats in a 1950s setting.
21C Museum Hotel, located on the northeast corner of Town Square, is a 104-room boutique hotel and contemporary art museum. It’s also home to The Hive restaurant, led by Chef Matt McClure, a five-time James Beard Award semifinalist nominee.
The next block north has access to Slaughter Pen via the paved Razorback Regional Greenway. In addition to going off road, from here you can follow paved paths dotted with public art to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which is built in a deep ravine over Crystal Spring and against an Ozark hillside.
Crystal Bridges contains a permanent art collection that spans five centuries of American masterworks from Colonial era to current day. Included within the collection are iconic images such as Asher B. Durand’s “Kindred Spirits,” Norman Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” and Andy Warhol’s “Coca-Cola.” Outside the entrance to the museum, you’ll find the Scott Family Amazeum, a 45,000-square foot interactive art and science center for children and families.
Tons of great signage throughout the city point the way to attractions and trails. Additionally, visitbentonville.com has a list of bike-friendly hotels that allow bikes in the room or have an indoor valet. Many on the list also provide trail maps, bike washing stations, and have a pump and tool kit on standby.
If you take the Razorback Regional Greenway south from Bentonville, the 36-mile paved trail connects to other cities that make up this metropolitan area, including Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville. Riders can access arts and entertainment districts, shopping, dining and even more mountain biking.
Cruise this mellow route to experience urban and pastoral settings. Striped for both directions of traffic, the trail has several spurs and plenty of scenery as it passes over creeks, across open green spaces, over bridges and through tunnels. You’ll find bike shops along the way, too.
Don’t miss stopping in Rogers to access mountain biking fun at The Railyard Bike Park (eight jump lines, progressive features) and Lake Atalanta (10 miles of multi-use trails). Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area also has great off-road routes, but you’ll have to drive about 15 minutes west to reach it.
Further down the greenway you can also hit Thunder Chicken in Springdale and Lake Fayetteville and Mount Kessler in Fayetteville (see sidebar). The greenway runs directly through the latter’s entertainment district and by the University of Arkansas.
In addition to mountain biking opportunities, Northwest Arkansas is popular with outdoor enthusiasts for lake fun, rock climbing, and hiking and camping at state parks and the national forest. You can find more information about these and other activities at northwestarkansas.org.
Side Trip: Fayetteville
Located less than 30 miles from Bentonville is the city of Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas. It offers more than 50 miles of riding on multiple trail systems, including Mount Kessler and Mount Sequoyah.
Mount Kessler is a celebrated gem that’s considered tough and scenic. It has about 10 miles of rocky singletrack looping around the urban mountain, which is also home to a regional sports park at its base. Views from mountaintop vantage points are spectacular in every season, especially on Rock City Trail, where you navigate a narrow path between large, moss-covered boulders. Trent Trail is a family-oriented route, while others like Crazy Mary are difficult, black-diamond experiences.
Mount Sequoyah Trail loops through heavily wooded, occasionally rugged terrain on the east side of Mount Sequoyah, an iconic peak in the heart of Fayetteville.
In the works are at least 10 more miles of natural trail surface at 228-acre Centennial Park, which Fayetteville recently purchased with help from the Walton Family Foundation. Additionally, a skills course will open this summer at Gregory Park, along with more singletrack.
Jill Rohrbach is a freelance writer and outdoor enthusiast who covers Northwest and North Central Arkansas.