After the completion of Phase I of the Mt Nebo State Park (MNSP) trail system in 2019, the 7-mile Chickalah Loop has attracted riders from across Arkansas, with the highlight of everyone’s ride being its 2.3-mile, downhill-only descent. The rock kickers and gap jumps that Rock Solid Trail Contractor (RSTC ) constructed along this 19% grade are guaranteed to peg the fun meter for even hardcore adrenaline junkies. And with well-signed ride-arounds for the features, other riders can enjoy the fast flow ride around monster earthen berms and across fun rock slab features.
With the June 2020 grand opening of Phase II, the MNSP trails have been super-sized with an additional 18-miles of exciting trails. RSTC designed more thrilling downhill experiences on the opposite side of the mountain with the two-plus-mile descent on Hayes Creek Run. The run includes a picturesque bridge, itself a work of art that will have riders pausing for photo ops with a pristine waterfall backdrop.
But as all mountain bikers are all too aware, what goes down must go up. The climb back up the mountain is on the steep 2-mile Ox Pull Trail. The name is a reminder of when the park’s early visitors had to switch out the horses with oxen to pull their wagons up the steep mountain road entrance to the park.
However, this may be changing soon, as the park is open for an enterprising entrepreneur to approach them with a plan for operating a paid shuttle service back up the mountain. Having ridden up Ox Pull, I believe a person could name their price for a shuttle up the mountain.
Once you reach the summit, riders jump onto Miller’s Goat Trail. This is a fun six-mile green-rated trail that meanders its way around the entire mountain, offering spectacular views of the lush river valley below from a wide variety of perspectives. It includes stretches of rock gardens for beginners to hone their bike handling skills.
After taking in the expansive sunrise view from the east side of the mountain, riders can drop onto the one-and-a-half-mile blue rated Sunrise Loop that includes short steep descents, jumps, rock slabfests, and more spectacular views.
Connecting Sunrise Point with Sunset Point is the Three-C Trail. This beginner, and strider friendly, two-mile trail stretches across the entire length of the mountain top. Along the way, it introduces visitors to many rustic cabins, pavilions, and campground structures crafted by the 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), for which the trail is named.
For the more skilled mountain bikers, the cherry atop MNSP trail system is sure to be Lizard Tail, the only true black-rated trail in the system. This two-mile stretch of trail earns its high rating with the narrow tread of raw, techy rock that routes cyclists along the exposed bluff rim of the mountain.
With a total of over twenty-five-miles of prime, professionally constructed mountain bike trails at the park, as Grady Spann, Director of Arkansas State Parks, describes it, “We have created a mountain bike destination.”
And when the site also includes rental cabins, a campground, swimming pool, and hiking trails, all located on a mountain plateau offering a 360-degree view of the surrounding lush river valley below, it is a destination the entire family will enjoy.
The Monument Trails
MNSP trail system was the second trail in the Monument Trail project that began in 2019. The project is the largest trail construction project in the Arkansas state parks’ history since the CCC built the first park trails in the 1930s and ’40s.
The project is the work of the Arkansas Parks & Recreation Foundation (APRF), with Little Rock attorney John Gill as founding board chairman. The foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with a mission to support, protect, and add value to places that provide exceptional recreation experience across the state.
“Until now, there hasn’t been an effective way to channel private resources into our parks for worthy projects,” said Gill.
Other states have similar organizations, but until the foundation formed, Arkansas did not possess a philanthropy conduit through which the private sector could funnel support for park trail construction. To jumpstart the new organization, the Walton Family Foundation provided a three-year, $310,000 grant, earmarked for new infrastructure projects, upgrades to existing facilities, and maintaining outdoor offerings.
The trails will be designed with an emphasis on cycling, but they will differ from many other mountain bike trails found throughout the state.
Suzanne Grobmyer, APRF Executive Director, explained, “We do want to encourage visitors to not just ride the trail, but to take in everything natural the area offers.”
A Monument Trail was also created at Hobbs State Park in 2019. The 18-mile flow trail, constructed by Arkansas’s own Phil Penny of Rogue Trails, has proven to be a favorite for cyclists. It routes riders through dense pine forest, over gently rolling paths suitable for entry-level riders, yet it’s fast enough to quench the need for speed of the more advanced riders.
The most scenic path in this trail network is the Karst Loop, flowing alongside the lakeshore and past beautiful rock bluffs for which it is named.
With momentum from the economic impact already witnessed by the two initial Monument Trail systems, APRF is aggressively moving forward on other projects.
Trail construction has already begun at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, with a scheduled completion of late 2020.
Devils Den State Park (where mountain biking first originated in the State) is also experiencing new development with revision of existing trails and the creation of new ones.
Plus, the discussion has ready begun for bringing the original “old school” trails at Hobbs State Park up to today’s standards of sustainable trail design.
Yes indeed, this is a great time to be a mountain biker living in the Natural State.