eMTB Destination: Arkansas Offers Hundreds of Miles of Accessible Singletrack

Arkansas offers more high-quality, electric mountain bike accessible singletrack trails than anywhere else in the USA.
Photo: Mike Cartier.

In the state of Arkansas, the question isn’t where can you ride your e-bike; it’s where can’t you. Electric mountain bike trail access is oftentimes hit or miss around the U.S., and it’s particularly limited on the federally managed lands surrounding well-known destinations like Moab, Pisgah National Forest, and Crested Butte. But if you have a Class 1 e-bike and are looking to travel to ride miles of diverse and high quality trails on your eMTB today, look no further than Arkansas. It might just be the best electric mountain bike destination in the USA right now.

Bentonville leads the way

As a relatively new mountain bike destination, trail builders in Northwest Arkansas are designing trails with e-bikes in mind. First wave mountain bike trails were almost exclusively legacy hiking and horse trails, while the second wave of trail building in the early 2000s brought some of the first purpose-built bike trails. Now, in Northwest Arkansas and Bentonville specifically, mountain bikers can experience the coming third wave of trail design, where accessibility for all types of bikes — from electric to adaptive and beyond — is a major consideration.

Photo: Mike Cartier.

“If you look at the entire trail system, it’s very much primed for future biking,” said Hogan Koesis, Senior Director of Soft Surface Trails for Trailblazers, a Bentonville non-profit developing recreation and transportation infrastructure. “If someone asks the question, ‘why are there so many trails in Bentonville?’ You can easily say, well, because we want to be an iconic destination and have a lot of offerings.”

Since riders on electric mountain bikes can cover more ground in less time, many communities are rightfully concerned about overuse and overcrowding. In Bentonville, that challenge is embraced as an opportunity.

“Do we have enough trail? Well, you could say, ‘yeah, we have enough trail.’ But is it enough for 2040, 2050, and beyond with technology that hasn’t been invented yet, with batteries that last five hours and go twice as fast? Yeah, no, we don’t have enough trail yet,” he said. “So that’s the lens that we’re now using to look through is, how do we get more trail to facilitate a future user group that hasn’t been invented yet?”

With a spider web of trails radiating from the town of Bentonville, there is little reason to drive to ride, especially if you’re on an e-bike. This is similar to what’s happening in Europe where many riders use e-bikes to access trails that would normally require a car trip to the trailhead.

How do we get more trail to facilitate a future user group that hasn’t been invented yet?

Hogan Koesis, Trailblazers

Photo: Mike Cartier.

Mountain bike trails designed for e-bikes

In practice, designing trails with e-bike users in mind focuses on climbing trails. On descents and even flat trails to some extent, electric mountain bikes go about the same speed as traditional bikes. But on the climbs, eMTB riders have both a power and speed advantage. This is where the Trailblazers are working to make trails more e-friendly, or at least give e-bike riders new options.

Traditional mountain bike trail design involves incorporating switchbacks to reduce grades and make it easier for riders to gain elevation gradually. On an e-bike, riders can ride up much steeper grades, and switchbacks aren’t as necessary. With that in mind, trail builders in Northwest Arkansas are incorporating shortcut lines to separate riders and improve trail flow. The lines are built with additional armoring to provide plenty of grip while also reducing the need for future maintenance.

Experienced eMTB riders in particular will want to experience the uphill flow baked into many of the popular Bentonville-area trails. The Zone 4 trail in Handcut Hollow is a particularly challenging, expert-rated technical climbing trail that is difficult to clean, even on an e-bike.

Photo: Mike Cartier.

In Bentonville riders rarely if ever get a sideways look for riding an e-bike on a trail, and it’s easy to feel welcome no matter what kind of bike you’re riding. If you’ve been thinking about giving e-bikes a try, Bentonville is also a good place to do it. Most shops in town rent electric mountain bikes, and there are even a few eMTB-only rental outfits like Rise and Ride and Oz E-Bikes.

Hobbs State Park Monument Trail. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Arkansas State Parks Monument Trails

Riding electric mountain bikes on trails in town is all well and good, but when mountain bikers travel to a destination to ride, we want to get out for longer rides and experience everything the area has to offer. Arkansas has that covered too, with four epic Monument Trail systems located in State Parks across the state: Devil’s Den, Hobbs, Mount Nebo, and Pinnacle Mountain. Each offers a dozen or more miles of eMTB-friendly singletrack that takes riders deep into nature, allowing them to connect with the natural beauty of Arkansas.

Speaking with the land managers and stewards at two of these state parks it’s clear that the parks both support and encourage e-bike riding. In speaking with Jay Schneider, Assistant Superintendent at Hobbs State Park about the trails, lakes, and unique geology in the area, he told me that an e-bike “is a vehicle that allows people to access and get out there to see the sites we’re talking about. So it’s a good thing in my opinion. It’s just an accessibility issue.”

Devil’s Den State Park Monument Trail. Photo: Daniel Palma.

Each Monument Trail system is designed to offer riders of varying abilities plenty of options for seeing the parks. At Mount Nebo, the beginner-rated Miller’s Goat and Three C’s trails ring the top of the mountain, offering incredible views and excellent flow. For those who enjoy going downhill (and using the e-bike motor for an assist back up to the top), there’s the blue-rated Chickalah Downhill Trail on one side of the mountain and the expert-rated Hayes Creek Run on the other. Sure, plenty of riders bike to the top of Mount Nebo under their own power, but by the end of the day they likely get far fewer descents than the e-bikers.

E-bikes are a good choice at the other Monument Trails as well, and riders will find even more green- and blue-rated trails at Devil’s Den, Pinnacle Mountain, and Hobbs State Parks. The trails at Devil’s Den and Hobbs are particularly spread out, and having an e-bike is a good choice for covering as much ground as possible and to see all the iconic sights.

Photo: Jeff Barber.

Northwoods trail system

Hot Springs, Arkansas was designated an IMBA Bronze Level Ride Center in 2015 thanks in part to having not one but three IMBA Epic trail systems located within a short driving distance of town. All three cross through lands managed by the National Forest Service, and as of this writing they are among the few trails in Arkansas that are not open to electric mountain bikes. Fortunately, the Northwoods Trail system, located just north of Hot Springs, offers Class 1 eMTB riders 30+ miles of singletrack to explore, ranging from natural and semi-rugged to flowy and jumpy.

The Waterworks Trailhead has limited parking but is the closest to town and puts riders near the middle of the trail system which generally runs east to west. The trails north and east of the Waterworks wind around three lakes — Bethel, Dillon, and Sanderson — and offer beautiful views and generally mellow trails. Riders will catch glimpses of Dillon Lake along the Yaupon Yop trail, and the views of Sanderson Lake from the dam are sublime. The trails in this zone are a great choice for mixed rider groups where perhaps younger or older riders are on e-bikes and more fit and experienced riders are riding non-electrics.

Photo: Jaimeelee Palma.

Heading southwest of the Waterworks Trailhead visitors will find several downhill-only trails like Blue Jay that feature jumps and tabletops. Multiple trail hubs in this zone make it easy to session, lap, and sample all of the best lines, and an eMTB is the perfect tool for the job.

Further afield, the Cedar Glades trailhead and park offers the best views, and riders can shortcut between Cedar Glades and the Waterworks side via the Bearcat Hollow doubletrack. The Northwoods trail system got its start at Cedar Glades Park so the trails on this side tend to be a bit more old school and raw.

When your battery finally reaches empty from riding the trails at Northwoods, we highly recommend recharging at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery and refueling with SQZBX Pizza or the cheeseburger at Deluca’s Pizza. Oh, and don’t forget to plug in your bike too.

An e-bike riders sessions Air Drop in the Huntley Gravity Zone. Photo: Mike Cartier.

Better bring an extra battery

As far as mountain bike destinations go, there really isn’t anywhere else in the U.S. that riders will find more high quality, eMTB-accessible singletrack than in Arkansas. Even with an e-bike, it’s impossible to cover all of the trails in a single trip.

For a glimpse at the future of mountain biking today, Arkansas is your eMTB destination.