To be a destination, a place must be worthy of travel or an extended visit, and that’s just what Bella Vista and Northwest Arkansas have become for mountain bikers. The growing system of world class mountain bike trails is a huge part of the equation, yet so is the weather. The mild climate of Arkansas’ south central location lends itself to year round recreation.
“We truly are blessed with four seasons,” says Brannon Pack, executive director of the Ozark Off Road Cyclists (OORC). “It’s a pretty mild climate conducive to hiking, biking, trail running, and walking your dog, year round.
While summer can be quite hot and winter can be freezing, for the most part Arkansas gets mild weather patterns for each season. January, for example, can have some 60 degree days.
“For the most part, there’s not a month out of the last 12 that this community is not riding the trails.”
“Fall riding is amazing with the leaf change,” Pack adds. “Our foliage is some of the prettiest in the country. October through November can be visually inspiring during that time and the weather is typically fantastic.” He adds that October to December is some of the best riding.
When well known mountain biking areas like Colorado and other higher elevations switch to board sports for snow, Arkansas is still a destination for mountain biking. “We have people buying second homes in Northwest Arkansas and Bella Vista because they want to cycle year round,” Pack says.
“For the most part, there’s not a month out of the last 12 that this community is not riding the trails,” Pack explains.
Steve Schneider, quality assurance/trail resource lead for Rogue Trails agrees. Rogue designs and builds bike parks, soft surface trails, and recreational areas for economic development.
“I would say, overall, there are only a handful of days in Arkansas that you can’t find a trail to ride and that includes Bella Vista,” says Schneider. However, he also advises riders check trail conditions, particularly during rainy months. “Don’t ride the trails muddy, it will damage them,” he explains.
Social media is a good resource for trail condition information. Schneider says most every trail system has a social media page people can click on to find up-to-date information. For example, you can check the OORC, Friends of Arkansas Singletrack (FAST), or Bella Vista Back 40 and Blowing Springs Trail Conditions pages on Facebook. Trail stewards post information about the ridability of the trails after inclement weather.
“So, there’s tons of opportunity to do a little bit of research,” Schneider says. “It’s really cool actually. People coming down from St. Louis or from Dallas can utilize the information before they drive here.”
Schneider says Bella Vista trails typically drain well. The city’s well-known trails include Blowing Springs and the Back 40 with excitement building over the 11 Under, which is currently under construction.
Heading up the almost 50-mile project are Rogue and Rock Solid trail companies with expectations to be finished by the end of 2019. It will be a unique system with 11 tunnels built underneath existing roadways so trail users won’t interfere with vehicle traffic.
“The trail will be spectacular and will be a great addition to the Back 40 with more cool rock features, bridges and places to explore with great views and scenery along Sugar Creek,” Schneider says. It will also contain some camping elements.
“The cool thing about trail building is the design work,” he adds. “If you do the design work correctly the trail is going to be awesome.” He says Rogue practices sustainable trail building that is eco and conservation friendly. The company utilizes natural features and has three environment scientists on its team.
“You have to look at what we’re creating here in Northwest Arkansas,” adds Pack. “What are those memorable features that visitors to Oz Trails can walk away with? Let’s create those places.“ Oz Trails refers to the all the trail systems in the Ozark Mountains, which Bella Vista is a part of. Pack says trail developers have an idea of what’s offered throughout the region and provide unique designs to each area.
“We have people buying second homes in Northwest Arkansas and Bella Vista because they want to cycle year round.”
“Blowing Springs is some of the initial trails established with rocky bluff lines,” he says. “It’s absolutely beautiful and speaks to what Ozark mountain biking can be with lots of rock and lots of elevation change. It’s intermediate riding not really for beginner. From a tourism draw, when people are coming here to ride a bike, if they are seeking out a destination to ride they are usually above that beginner level.”
Blowing Spring offers camping and an RV park, so travelers can literally stage their entire mountain bike trip from there as their hub for the whole week.
Pack says the Back 40 is more accessible to the city center and is built “outside everybody’s back door.” It has diversified trail offerings for beginner to expert or families to rowdy rides. “It can be ridden countless different ways,” he explains. “I think the ledge stands out. It’s very rocky and when you’re on that there’s a margin of error that gets a little slimmer, but by design.”
Blowing Springs and Back 40 are built on the east side of Arkansas Highway 71 while the new 11 Under will be built on the west side in what is considered the central section of Bella Vista.