3 Days in Bentonville: Mountain Biking the Best Trails

If three days is all you have to mountain bike in Bentonville, Arkansas, these are the trails you don't want to miss.
Photo: Jeff Barber.

Bentonville, Arkansas has firmly established itself as a top mountain bike destination, and visitors making the trek from all points will want to make the most out of their trip. Based on our own experiences, and speaking with locals and visitors alike, we’ve come up with a solid 3-day MTB itinerary, though honestly three days isn’t enough time. If you have a more flexible schedule and can spend a whole week in Bentonville, our advice is to do it!

A big part of what makes Bentonville unique among mountain bike destinations is that the trails offer something for everyone. With the exception of Handcut Hollow, all of the trail systems recommended below have a good mix of beginner, intermediate, and advanced trails. So whether you’re traveling with young kids or a group of expert riders — or a mix of both — you’re sure to have a blast. In general you don’t need to stress about route planning either; most of the trail systems are compact, well signed, easily accessible, and generally blanketed with good cell phone coverage.

Day 1: Slaughter Pen and Coler Preserve

Highlights: The All American Trail, coffee and snacks at Coler, take in the action at Oz Castle.

On the first day, “ride your brains out at Slaughter Pen and Coler Preserve on day one, just go immerse yourself,” says Hogan Koesis. As the Senior Director of Soft Surface Trails for Trailblazers, a Bentonville non-profit developing recreation and transportation infrastructure in the region, Koesis has an insider’s view of the mountain bike trails in the area and how everything fits together.

The Masterpiece. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Slaughter Pen

The Slaughter Pen trails are the most iconic and well known Bentonville mountain bike trails, and for good reason. Riders can start at the town square and drop into the Slaughter Pen trails right away, making them accessible and easy to explore without even needing to get in a car.

Within Slaughter Pen, the All American Trail is easily the most well-known, and its green, beginner-friendly rating makes it a great trail for all riders. If you’re an experienced rider, don’t skip out on All American; it’s a blast to ride straight through, and biking all the optional skinnies, bridges, and rollers along the way is a fun challenge.

Continuing on the All American Trail brings riders past Masterpiece, a rideable piece of art made from rock and steel. The short segment is steep but rollable with plenty of grip and optional kickers for those who like to get their bikes in the air.

Slaughter Pen freeride and skills area. Photo: Mike Cartier.

All American also gives riders access to the Slaughter Pen Freeride Park, but don’t let the aggressive name fool you. Yes, there are large jumps and tabletops here, but there are just as many progressive lines designed for kids and riders who are new to jumping. Most features are rollable, and excellent signage ensures no one gets in over their head.

Ride your brains out at Slaughter Pen and Coler Preserve on day one, just go immerse yourself.

Hogan Koesis, Trailblazers

Oz Castle. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Oz Castle is located just up the hill and connected to the freeride zone, and even if you don’t plan to ride the bike park style trails there, it’s worth a look. Riders tend to congregate atop the turret-looking hub before deciding which line to drop.

With so many trails to choose from within Slaughter Pen, some of the trail intersections can get confusing, but don’t worry about getting lost. Since the trail system is fairly compact you’re never far from a road or a bike path that leads back into town. Discovery is part of the fun, and you really can’t go wrong with any of the trails in Slaughter Pen.

The President Bush Push. Photo: Daniel Palma.

While Slaughter Pen trails are generally fast and flowy, there are a few rocky, technical trails like Techgnar and Apple Turnover to be found in the trail system as well. And if you fancy yourself a strong climber, make an attempt at riding all the way to the top of the President Bush Push. A sign at the bottom of the trail notes, “On the morning of November 22, 2010, President George W. Bush challenged the riders present to ascend the climb directly behind this marker. He then promptly rode his bike up the double track without stopping.”

Coler Preserve

Coler Preserve is located west of Slaughter Pen, just across Walton Blvd, and offers more advanced trails, including a couple double black diamonds like Here’s Johnny and Rock Solid. Of course there are also green and blue trails to choose from, and a flat, concrete multi-use path cuts through the middle of the park making it popular with walkers and bikers alike.

One of the things that makes Coler unique is the Airship coffee shop that’s located toward the middle of the park. It’s a great place to start your morning, and trails literally lead right to the back patio.

Riders tend to congregate at the main trail hub, which is located at the top of the ridge. From here mountain bikers can choose from among mostly blue and black diamond descents, and it’s a quick pedal back up to the top via the appropriately named Pedal Assist trail.

Good Vibrations is a fast and fun green trail that runs along the concrete greenway with dozens of bumps riders can choose to roll or jump along the way. Like Slaughter Pen, Coler offers an array of quality trails so you really can’t go wrong, and it’s nearly impossible to get lost.

Photo: Daniel Palma.

Eat and drink

In addition to coffee, the Airship cafe located in Coler also serves baked goods and snacks plus tacos and nachos, making it a convenient stop on day one. Another great choice, with convenient access to the start of the Slaughter Pen trails, is YeYo’s food truck located across from the Rapha store in downtown Bentonville.

For dinner, consider pizza at Oven & Tap. As you might have guessed, in addition to pizza baked in the wood-fired oven, the restaurant also offers a wide range of local beers on tap.

Handcut Hollow trail hub. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Day 2: Handcut Hollow or Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area

Highlights: Experience natural trails in the area with great views (Hobbs) or challenging lines (Handcut Hollow) and finish the day with burgers and a beer.

Looking at a map of the trails in and around Bentonville, it’s helpful to know that the systems become more rugged and challenging as you move away from the center of town. That’s by design, giving riders something to work toward as they get comfortable and familiar with the trails closer in.

Both our our picks for day two feature more natural trails, giving riders a chance to experience the terrain around Northwest Arkansas in a new way. Handcut Hollow is located close to town, and offers both more challenging climbs and descents. Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area is about a 30-minute drive from Bentonville and offers some of the most scenic riding in the area. It might be tempting to try to ride both of these trail systems in a single day, but our advice is to pick one or the other.

Handcut Hollow

Uriah Nazario is the Director of Soft Surface Trails for the Trailblazers, and his day two recommendation is Handcut Hollow. “Handcut Hollow is definitely a different realm,” he said. “We wanted to really bring it into a tight singletrack traverse loop and then have some [flow trails as well].”

Nazario says his favorite is Interplanet Janet, a blue-rated flow jump trail with a few techy spots mixed in that drops from the main hub. Singletracks readers might recognize this particular 8-spoke, spider-like trail hub from our story about trail design last year.

To access the main hub, riders traverse miles of fairly raw, technical, and natural trails. The main blue trail, aptly named Traverse Loop, is about eight miles long, and traces the contours of Handcut Hollow. If you’re looking for a technical and aerobic challenge, take the Zone 4 trail to the hub.

“[Zone 4] is almost impossible to clear on a normal analog bike,” says Koesis. “It was designed to be the hardest climbing trail in Oz. It’s so steep and so technical that you have to be almost like an amazing trials riders to be able to bounce around and negotiate the obstacles.” He says on an eMTB, the trail is much more achievable while remaining equally engaging.

All together Koesis says riders can easily clock 23 miles sessioning the hub trails and riding all the singletrack in Handcut Hollow.

Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area Monument Trails

The Monument Trails are “a collection of world-class, mountain biking destinations within Arkansas State Parks” designed to “showcase natural iconic beauty through innovative and sustainable design and build.” There are currently four Monument Trails scattered within the state, with the closest one located in Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area east of Bentonville. There’s no entry fee to the park or to ride the trails at Hobbs.

Jay Schneider has been the Assistant Park Superintendent for 14 years, and says that while the park has had bike trails for many years, the addition of the 18-mile Monument system has noticeably increased visitation. Still, on recent a spring weekday our group didn’t see a single rider along the popular Karst Loop and only a few cars in the parking lot. Altogether Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area boasts 30 miles of trails.

The Karst Loop offers stunning views of Beaver lake, and the green-rated, 8-mile loop is suitable for most riders. The trail gets its name from the topography found throughout Northwest Arkansas.

“Karst is a derivative from the limestone we have,” Schneider says. “Karst allows water to permeate. That’s what makes all the caves in the Ozarks, and you’re going to see outcroppings and different rock formations as you pedal through.”

Aside from the unique and beautiful formations Karst is known for, it’s also an excellent trail surface. All of the Northwest Arkansas locals we spoke with mentioned how well area trails drain and recover from wet weather, and Hobbs stands out as being among the best in that regard, making it a good rainy day option.

“If you talk to anybody local, if it’s raining, they’ll tell you to come here. [Our trails] drain well, we have very little topsoil, a lot of rocks,” said Schneider. “It can be a downpour but wait two hours and other than a couple spots, [it’s] smooth sailing.”

Bike-in campsites at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area. Photo: Mike Cartier.

If you can’t get enough of Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, or want to spend extra time outdoors during your trip, consider reserving one of the bike-in campsites located along the Karst Loop. The flat, primitive sites each feature a fire pit with built-in bench, and there’s plenty of water to be filtered from the nearby lakeshore.

It’s about a four-mile ride in to the camp which makes it a good choice for a first bikepacking trip or shakedown ride. Just don’t sleep in too late: there are more trails to ride on day three!

Eat and drink

If you’re into good coffee, start the day at Onyx downtown. This third-wave shop also offers baked goods and breakfast sandwiches with sunny outdoor seating.

Depending on how long you ride, you might be looking at a late lunch and for that we suggest burgers and beers at Pedaler’s Pub, a bike-themed restaurant with excellent service and delicious entrees.

Back 40 Trails. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Day 3: Back 40 and/or Little Sugar

Highlights: Pedally trails that balance flow and natural terrain plus a hidden jump zone.

Hopefully you saved your legs because day three is all about pedaling as much as you like. The Back 40 trail system features about 40 miles of singletrack trails, and Little Sugar boasts almost 50 miles of trails. These systems are technically located in and around the town of Bella Vista, though the Razorback Greenway connects Bentonville to the trails, some of which stretch as far north as the Missouri border.

“Back 40 is higher quality singletrack, it’s got better flow. Little Sugar’s a little bit more steeper, punchier, chunkier,” said Koesis. According to Trailblazers Trail Crew Manager, Ethan Edman, “Back 40 will give you a thousand feet of climbing every 10 miles, and then Little Sugar is 1,500 feet [for every 10 miles].”

Photo: Mike Cartier.

Back 40

Back 40 is perhaps the better known of the two trail systems, offering seemingly endless miles of XC-style riding weaving through a sprawling residential area pocked with forested ravines, creeks, and ponds. The terrain is generally rolling and flowy, and there are many trailheads to choose from. Most out-of-town riders choose to start at the Blowing Springs parking lot and ride park trails to the start of the intermediate-rated Back 40 loop. Aside from the loop itself, there are many trails to choose from ranging in difficulty from beginner to advanced.

Mountain bikers looking for a technical challenge should try riding The Ledges, a narrow benchcut trail with plenty of rocky, off-camber sections that are difficult to clean without putting a foot down here or there. Flo Ride and Go Ride are both fast, swoopy blue-rated trails that break up the ride and lead into the black-rated and more technical Summit School and Rago trails.

Assuming you parked at the Blowing Springs trailhead, and you’re feeling up for it, be sure to hit Boom Diggity on your way back for some rooty, rocky tech.

Back 40 is higher quality singletrack, it’s got better flow. Little Sugar’s a little bit more steeper, punchier, chunkier.

Hogan Koesis, Trailblazers

Little Sugar

There’s nothing little about the Little Sugar trails. The mostly blue-rated trail system is massive, and with countless connecting trails it’s possible to design a ride of pretty much any length. While the trails here are popular among XC and even gravel riders, there’s also a hidden gem located toward the middle of the network designed just for shredders.

Photo: Mike Cartier.

Chelsea Huntley Gravity Zone is a special little nugget. It’s got the most traffic per mile that we have in all of Oz regularly,” said Koesis.

There’s a small parking lot at the Huntley Gravity Zone for those who want to dive right in, though many will choose to incorporate these short trails into a longer Little Sugar route. “You can take every level rider out there,” according to Edman. “Rendezvous is actually a super fun green trail. Shock and Awe and Tango Whiskey are both blue trails. Shock and Awe is the jump blue and Tango Whiskey is just all berms.”

Koesis chimed in. “It’s a little taste of Whistler, man.”

Like Back 40 there are several trailheads to choose from, and the trails routinely intersect paved roads that crisscross the area. While the trails can feel very remote in places, riders are never more than a mile or two from the next crossing. And because riders tend to spread out quickly away from the trailheads, it’s not unusual to have the trails to yourself for miles at a time, especially in the middle of the day.

Eat and drink

Grab coffee and breakfast at Meteor, plus a few items to pack for a picnic lunch during your ride on day three. Meteor also has delicious pizza and sandwiches if you’re looking for a quiet spot for lunch or dinner.

The Flying Fish features East Texas style seafood with a down home vibe. If fried catfish and hush puppies aren’t your thing, head a few blocks over and grab some fresh Tex-Mex at Bentonville Taco & Tamale Co.

On Your Next Visit

Looking at a map of Northwest Arkansas it might be tempting to add places like Lake Leatherwood and Devil’s Den State Park to your 3-day itinerary. Our advice: Don’t overdo it.

Even trails that are located just an hour’s drive away burn daylight, and there are so many high quality trails to ride closer to town that you won’t possibly get to experience them all in three days.

Bringing an e-bike, or renting one while in Bentonville, can make it easier to cover more ground if you’re so inclined. Still, even on an eMTB you won’t be able to cover every inch of the trails mentioned in this itinerary.

If you do have more than three days, definitely consider riding the Monument Trails at Devil’s Den State Park or the enduro-style trails at Lake Leatherwood and The Great Passion Play. Alternatively you could stick around Bentonville and ride both Handcut Hollow and Hobbs, and Back 40 and Little Sugar. There are so many unique mountain bike experiences in Arkansas that keep riders coming back year after year.

Photo: Daniel Palma.

Things to know

  • Choose to stay close to downtown Bentonville or points north for easy trail access, ideally without the need to drive to a trailhead.
  • Even if the weather is wet, there is a good chance most trails will be in good shape. However always use your best judgement and do not ride if doing so causes damage to the trails.
  • Electric mountain bikes are welcome on all bike trails unless otherwise noted.
  • A 3-day trip will likely leave you wanting more so if you can swing it, plan for 4-5 days or a week that includes a couple rest or sight-seeing days.

Printable itinerary

We’ve created a sample itinerary based on our recommendations that you can modify to suit your schedule and preferences.