Along with my brother and other riders, I have guided many visiting mountain bikers. No charge. We enjoyed promoting the area trails and had fun meeting folks.
I no longer live there, but I still like to help those who go there to ride. Here is a guide I slapped together for fellow Dallas metro area resident. I will improve it as I get time.
If you are riding in northwest Arkansas, here are a few suggestions.
First, you will need tough tires if you don’t already run tires with protection, and something with aggressive tread. My brother and I once guided a group from Oklahoma whose day was cut significantly short because of the seven flats and slashed tires they experienced in just 2.7 miles of the Back 40. Yes, The Ledges is known to be the hardest on tires, but the sharp rocks can bite anywhere. Also, The Ledges is a don’t-miss trail.
The Back 40
The main Back 40 Loop is mostly smooth and features some long climbs with steep, switchback finishes. Those are rewarded amply by long descents. Some of these have steep spots right at the start, so pay attention. As long as you stay on the trail, there’s nothing on the Back 40 Loop trail that will swallow an unsuspecting newbie.
The alternate trails that spur off the Back 40 Loop offer more for those seeking technical fun. Only What the Chuck and The Ledges are truly challenging technically. The lower part of FloRide is marked one-way for a reason—it is an absolute blast. The upper part is no slouch, either, but requires more pedaling.
Besides those few marked one-way, you must choose a direction when riding anywhere in northwest Arkansas. The question of “which direction” comes up a lot. So, here’s my opinion, as someone who started out as a mountain biker there and rode at least three times a week on trails.
If you do the whole thing, the Back 40 Loop is the most fun either direction. Lovers of the climb and lusters after the descent might disagree on any given section, but the truth is out there. You must find it.
That said, if you aren’t doing the whole loop, I have some good suggestions to maximize the fun.
Park at the parking area on Castleford. To find that, use this map: http://www.bellavistaar.gov/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/The-Back-40-map-w-parking.pdf
If you follow along on the map while reading this it will make much more sense.
Ride out of there on Pinyon Creek Trail. Hit alternate line What the Chuck and see if it’s your cup of tea. It’s scenic even if you end up walking your bike. Continue on Pinyon until you get to the Back 40 Loop and keep right to head up the hill (not down into the gulley). Ride this sometimes flowy, gradual climbing trail to the top, where you will see the sign for The Ledges. Ride it and have fun. It starts and ends with jumps, and there are narrow ledges with exposure, as well as a couple of challenging technical spots when you ride up into one of the hollows.
Anyone not up to The Ledges can turn around and have a fun descent back down what you just climbed, and meet up with those who did ride The Ledges.
At the bottom of The Ledges, turn right to get back on the Back 40 Loop. Anyone who turned around instead of riding The Ledges will follow the Back 40 Loop signs (don’t take Pinyon) and end up at the same spot. Shortly after this you will cross the road (Grosvenor) and continue on the Back 40 Loop.
Here is a video clip from our ride on March 4 when we parked at Castleford, but skipped The Ledges and the climb up to it:
Follow the Back 40 Loop (not Taylor Homestead trail) for some flow and another gradual climb. At the top, turn right to follow the trail alongside the road and then cross the road (Lancashire). Then have a blast on the next section—a personal favorite for its blend of narrow climbing sections and fast descents.
Depending how many miles you want to do, back at the bottom again you can choose to stay on Back 40 Loop or take SBAT. Either will get you back to your parking spot on Castleford. Look at the map and the mileages to decide. My choice would be to continue on Back 40 Loop and then turn down FloRide for a crazy fun section that spits you back right across Castleford from where you parked. Either way, you have legs for riding something else. If you do want to push ahead for more miles, don’t turn down FloRIde. Continue on and treat yourself to even more of the best the Back 40 Loop offers. Seriously fun sections lead you down to the Lake Ann Spillway.
After you ride across the base of the dam, you will take the scenic Lookout Trail (an alternate line) and then the iconic bridge cut into the cliff. Keep following Back 40 Loop signs, past the Indian bluffs, until you get to Summit School. Take a left on it and make the climb that is short but finishes very steep. Cross the backroad and get ready for some fun on another fast descent. This will then wind you back down to a sign for Pinyon Creek Trail. Turn left onto Pinyon Creek Trail to get back to your parking spot.
If you pass Summit School instead of taking it, you can get on Rago and follow all the way to Commonwealth. Cross Commonwealth and follow the trail beside the road until you come to the Back 40 Loop again. Turn left and cross Commonwealth, and you will go back down the climb you used to get to the top of The Ledges. Then turn left onto Pinyon Creek Trail at the bottom and ride back to your parking area.
If instead of getting onto Rago you stay on the Back 40 Loop, then you still have more fun to come. Just keep following the Back 40 Loop signs until you finally get back to the left turn onto Pinyon Creek Trail, and finally your vehicle. There are some very fun sections in that stretch of trail—one of which was my out-and-back lunch hour ride when I lived in Bella Vista.
Another great place to park for the Back 40 is Blowing Springs. Or park there just for Blowing Springs. A great trail system in its own right, Blowing Springs offers a little bit of everything—technical, some drops (if you choose them), flowy descents, and no steep climbs if you ride it counter-clockwise. In fact, that is hands-down the best direction to ride every inch of Blowing Springs. You might miss the fun Cranberry Sauce alternate line, but not if you keep an eye out for wooden signs on trees on your left when you are on the north upper trail (Blowing Springs Loop). Do all the trails at Blowing Springs CCW and you will have a smile on your face. It’s still my favorite trail sytem in northwest Arkansas. The scenery alone on both north trails (and the lower south) are worth the ride. Zip on down to the trails above Lake Bella Vista if you can. They are not very long, but feature even bigger overhang cliffs than Blowing Springs.
For photos and a ridiculously long description, see my page on Blowing Springs.
Here is a good video my brother made to highlight Blowing Springs in April, 2017:
On this video, we ride part of the Back 40 Loop clockwise out of Blowing Springs. It’s one section that definitely is more fun that direction until you reach the Lake Ann Spillway.
There is a good entry on Slaughterpen in MTBProject. I think it’s called Slaughterpen and Blowing Springs Full Tour. The two used to connect via a paved greenway, but right now they do not due to construction.
This trail system gets overshadowed by its younger, larger sibling, The Back 40, and its more aggressive little brother, Coler Preserve. It’s fun to ride at Slaughterpen. If you do, make sure you ride the trails across the road from the Water Treatment plant. They offer some large manmade drops and handcut singletrack that will rattle your bones a bit. There isn’t much else I can say about Slaughterpen. I’ve never ridden the downhill course there, but I hear it is fun. There are other downhill sections like Choo Choo and Boo Boo that are fun. Armadillo’s Last Stand is a personal favorite, as is Master Plan. Medusa and Tatamagouche are solid XC trails with plenty of loose rock to keep you on your toes, and a couple rock garden areas you can hit if you choose.
This site is on MTBProject
These trails are fun. Miner’s Rock is a neat feature to see, and a fun trail. There is a true downhill race course. Take the danger signs seriously on that one. Beacham Trail is a favorite that goes around the lake, and clockwise usually turns out best on it. Get ready for some rocky fun there.
This trail system is on MTBProject.
There’s no great way to get to the top of Mt. Kessler. Park on the south side of the mountain and ride through the grassy, then woodsy area to get to the gravel road. I usually conserve my pedaling legs and walk the steepest part of that. Then there is a climb called Serpentine, which is rocky and saps your energy despite the switchbacks that cut down on the steepness. Once you’re at the top, take Egg Beater to Western Myth, and then turn onto Spellbound. It’s a great trail either direction, so if you miss the first turnoff because you’re flying down Western Myth (I did the first time I rode there), that’s okay. Just make sure you finish your ride there by going down Crazy Mary. It’s a blast.
Spelbound is fun and scenic:
Then again, so is Crazy Mary:
This one also is on MTBProject.
This one would make a good day combined with Mt. Kessler. It’s very technical and fun, with some great views of the lake and large, unique rock formations along the trail. I recommend riding it clockwise. To do that, park and then ride back down the road you came in on, and turn right on the highway. Very shortly you will see the entrance to the trail on your right.
Devil’s Den – Fossil Flats Loop
Devil’s Den is a beautiful place to camp, and happens to feature one of the state’s oldest mountain bike trails. Fossil Flats is a fun, XC-style trail that features maybe one steep climb that challenges many riders. Otherwise, it’s a good workout and leads riders near the edge a few times for some scenery. There is also tremendous hiking at Devil’s Den. Yellow Bluff is not to be missed.
Here, we rode it clockwise (I’m the guy with the red backpack in any of these videos):
This trail system is a whole different level of remote and of true mountain biking. Our video doesn’t do it much justice—especially the climbing one has to do to earn the descents. It’s not for the faint of heart out there. Be prepared to have no phone signal. I used a GPS-only app for my phone and imported it into Strava later.
Can’t miss trails at Buffalo Headwaters:
Fire Tower Trail – Fun descent
Zeester – Good for getting you up to Azalea Falls Trail. Would be a fun descent, but we never have happened to ride it that way.
Azalea Falls Trail (left to right as you look at the map is the best direction, by far) – Great fun on this trail, for sure. We did not ride it when we did this video, but we rode Fire Tower and Wildcat, among other sections.
Bear Point Trail – Fairly boring trail, but sometimes a necessary evil to get you from one place to another.
South Bench Loop – A good loop in the woods.
Southern Slide – A very fun descent.
Buffalo River Trail – Some nice scenery, and it is one of the ways out, back to Hwy 16.
Here is a playlist by Willbros, of videos made by my brother and me (okay, mostly him since I moved away in March 2017).