Western Arkansas is Epic Attraction for Mountain Bikers

Riders eagerly pushing their pedals in area’s scenic vistas

Fort Smith, AR

Scenic and majestic, the western edge of Arkansas is one of Mother Nature’s masterpieces. This is where the connected counties of Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, Sebastian and Scott — nestled near the Oklahoma border — provide a vast natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts.

Rock climbing, camping, horseback riding, backpacking, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, boating, biking and off-roading are proof there is much to do. For those who enjoy birdwatching or a quiet hike to the adventuresome who embrace rappelling off steep cliffs or running whitewater rapids, activities are abound for everyone.

 A 2017 report commissioned by the Outdoor Industry Association indicated outdoor recreation generated $9.7 billion in consumer spending, 96,000 direct jobs, $2.5 billion in wages and salaries and $698 million in state and local tax revenue in Arkansas.

Pedal Power

A strong contributor to these dollars is the growing interest in mountain biking. Arkansas has been rolling onto the national stage in the sport as it is home to five epic trails — the most demanding single-track adventures in a natural setting — as designated by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Three of these challenging rides — the Ouachita National Recreation Trail, Womble and Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (Lovit) — are in the region or close by. 

Beloved area trails include Earthquake Ridge near Mena, Ben Geren near Fort Smith and Huckleberry Mountain Trail in Mount Magazine State Park.

 “Accessibility is important. Riders come here, find accommodations and within a short time you are out biking,” says Meg Matthews, public information coordinator for Arkansas State Parks. “You don’t have to travel an hour from your hotel to the trail.”  

Other key factors are community and private-sector support required to make trails happen.

The city of Alma in Crawford County saw this principle in action when planning a trail for hiking and mountain bike riding on 100 acres of city-owned property near Lake Alma.

“During a 24-hour period, the $10,000 needed to develop the master plan for the trail was raised by private donors,” says Buddy Gray, Alma's planning director. “We will start construction in the fall of 2018 and already I am getting calls from out of state.”

National Forests and State Parks

Two national forests are in the region. The 1.8 million-acre Ouachita National Forest, the oldest in the southern U.S., is home to the 54-mile Talimena Scenic Byway and much of the Ouachita Mountains, which distinctively run east to west. The more northern 1.2 million-acre Ozark-St. Francis National Forest is in the rugged Ozark Mountains, sprinkled with charming rural communities and the 218-mile Ozark Highlands Trail, one of the longest in the country.

Add to the mix these four state parks with diverse offerings:

  • Cossatot River and Natural Area (Polk): A National Wild and Scenic River provides a premier float and whitewater experience with class I-V rapids.

  • Lake Forth Smith (Crawford): A favorite destination for campers, kayakers and boaters with large marina on 1,400-acre lake. Swimming is available in a 2,600-square-foot pool with a wading area.

  • Mount Magazine (Logan County): Located on the highest point in the state (2,753 feet), the park is a dramatic location for technical rock climbing and rappelling.

  • Queen Wilhelmina (Polk County): The park is located atop Rich Mountain, Arkansas’ second-highest peak. The lodge has panoramic views of Ouachita National Forest and the popular Lover’s Leap hiking trail.

Outdoors in Style

Anglers like wetting a line in Lake Dardanelle near Fort Smith, a major pro bass tournament site; the rambling Arkansas River, known for catfish and crappie; and Lee Creek in Crawford County, excellent for fly fishing. 

Individuals wanting to experience the outdoors in more comfort can climb aboard a train at the historic Arkansas and Missouri Excursion Railroad, boarding at the Old Frisco Depot in Van Buren.

“It is an absolutely stunning ride any time of year,” says Maryl Purvis, director of Van Buren advertising and promotion. “It goes through areas where there are no roads. You see a lot of the Boston Mountain’s pristine beauty.”

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Fort Smith, AR 72901
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