February 1, 2016
Covered 26 miles of this system on 1/30/2016 as part of the Upper Buffalo Headwaters challenge ride. The ride is an annual event sponsored by the local IMBA chapter (OORC - Ozark Off-Road Cyclists). Riders covered between 26 and 42 miles based on riding the "Whole" or "Half" challenge.
First off - the trails were in great shape. For those that have never been to the UBH located outside of Redstar, Arkansas, they are a mix of just about everything a rider wants. From the rocky and fast Buffalo Creek downhill, to crawling up and down through trails like Zeester, Azalea Falls, Sidewinder and Skyline. You'll see a mix of tough climbs, water crossings, light tech sections and plenty of beautiful Arkansas backcountry complete with waterfalls, bluffs, and an amazing array of trees and wildlife. There are some gravel connectors but they're short and purposeful - not drawn out excuses to make the overall trail length greater. Highlight trails like the excellent Fire Tower Loop show just how much the UBH has improved in recent years. Much of this is due to the OORC crews leveraging pro trail builders like Progressive Trail Designs to bring some great sections of fast, flowy trail complete with the kind of berms and drops that everyone loves without detracting from the backcountry feel. Add in some seriously avid trail maintainers from the OORC chapters around the state and you get a really great IMBA epic experience. The trails also have maps and markers at most intersections and it makes it very easy to orient yourself as you explore.
Now - some caveats: When you ride this trail, you are in the middle of nowhere. There are no local services (gas, food, water) in easy reach. There is no cell signal. 911 works, but if you break yourself off on this trail, expect a minimum of 2-3 hours before you see a rescue crew. While there are some "easy" trails in UBH, they're usually nested inside of miles of rough, hilly, intermediate trails that will tear up new riders, or riders who aren't fit. When in doubt, do some homework as to the kind of distances and the amount of climbing you want to do and then plan your ride accordingly. Maybe pick a trail that supports shuttling (like the Fire Tower Loop) and spend the day having fun without getting caught up inside of a 18-20 mile epic with 3000 feet of climbing. On the flip side of that - if deep woods backcountry adventure is your thing - UBH has it in spades.
Overall - this is an amazing trail system that is well maintained and full of sheer 2-wheeled joy to experience. It's also a true backcountry trail and not one that your kids or new-rider spouse are going to love you for when they're huffing and puffing up Skyline or that last agonizing crawl up Red Star trail in mid-July. But if you are reasonably fit, have good backcountry riding skills, and know how to maintain yourself when the going gets steep, hot, and technical - you will find a lot to love about the Upper Buffalo Headwaters trail system.