If you’re wondering why Bentonville, a mid-sized city in northwestern Arkansas, has been getting a lot of attention lately, it might have something to do with its trademark as “the Mountain Biking Capital of the World.”
A bold claim for sure, and there’s more to Bentonville to back that up. Like a food and drink scene that’s sweetened with local pride, potent arts and cultural centers that literally give you access to the current state of the arts, and family-friendly things to do around town. But what attracts the masses is its vast network of professionally built mountain bike trails with a little something for everyone.
Bentonville boasts two trails systems: Slaughter Pen and Coler Mountain Bike Preserve, and two more accessible by the Razorback Regional Greenway: The Back 40, and Little Sugar, located in Bella Vista.
They all have your best interests in mind, whether you like flowy hardpack, jumps, drops, sessioning at the bike park, going long, or taking a spin with the family. Many trails allow e-MTB’s as well. Each system has its own standout features, and then there’s Bentonville itself, which only boosts the buzz – here’s why…
Bentonville is home to Walmart and many of its vendors, which brought people to the area. The Bentonville trails were originally built for the community to improve the quality of life for residents who relocated to Bentonville for work, but often left a few years later because there wasn’t much to do outside of office hours.
Mountain biking has evolved over the years, turning Bentonville into a cycling destination thanks to community leaders and a strong partnership with Steuart and Tom Walton, both mountain bike enthusiasts as well as the grandsons of Walmart founder, Sam Walton. As investors in the region, trail development started when the Waltons built trails on family land, which was later gifted to the city and became Phase 1 of the Slaughter Pen trail system.
Slaughter Pen Mountain Bike Trails
Slaughter Pen extends north and slightly west of downtown and can be reached in under two minutes from Bentonville’s City Square. Just point your wheels north on Northeast A St., hang a right on Northeast 3rd St., turn left into the public parking area, and enter the All American trail.
This easy trail flows north from the southern tip of Slaughter Pen through the entire length of the trail system to finish at the northernmost point, and meets up with several intermediate and expert trails along the way. The selection is abundant so take your pick from Slaughter Pen’s mashup of trails in Phases 1, 2, or 3.
Phases 1 and 2 double your trail options for challenging trails but what’s more, many of them, like Tatamagouche and Armadillo’s Last Stand, unfurl huge lengths of narrow singletrack studded with enough berms, jumps, wooden bridges, and whoop-de-doos to plaster you with a fly-trapping grin for the rest of your stay in Bentonville.
Stay and play around in Slaughter Pen or head two miles west to Coler Mountain Bike Preserve.
Coler Mountain Bike Preserve
What’s so oddly amazing about Bentonville is that – out of all the outdoor sports to choose from – mountain biking was singled out by private citizens wanting to develop their land into something useful for the community. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve is managed by The Peel Compton Foundation, whose mission is to connect the community through nature, education, recreation, and preservation.
The trails at Coler have been expertly sculpted out of privately-owned land and installed with custom features that only another mountain biker could have dreamed of.
If it’s more skills you’re after, many trails offer you jump lines and “because we can” features like fly-overs, rock berms, and sections to test your balance. Or, if you’re looking to gradually build your mtb skills, Coler’s trail progression goes from paved bike path to flowy singletrack, to slopestyle and downhill with A and B lines.
Once inside Coler, head straight for The Hub, an elaborate wood and metal structure that’s the launch point for Rock Solid, Rock Soft, Cease and Desist, and local favorite, Fire Line. Tabletops and gap jumps seem to be Coler specialties and, given the focus on flow, most skill levels will be satisfied with the trail features. For less gnar, head south on the paved Applegate path to reach milder Esther’s and Family Flow.
Camping is coming to Coler in early fall of 2020 and will have some amenities that will make it an easy choice for mountain bikers not to go anywhere else. We’ll get into the details later, along with other lodging options, but first there’s more riding to do.
The Back 40 Mountain Bike Trails
The farther outside of Bentonville you go, the more likely you are to have some trail all to yourself. To find this kind of quiet, head north about seven miles on the Razorback Greenway bike path to reach The Back 40. This trail system is located in Bella Vista, Bentonville’s neighbor to the north, and is easy to get to via the Razorback Greenway.
The Back 40 gets its name from the Homestead Acts of the 1860’s, which granted farmers a 160-acre piece of remote, undeveloped land. The land was subdivided into quarter sections of 40 acres apiece, which were commonly referred to as “the two front forty and two back forty.” You’ll find throughout the area that trails names try to stay faithful to their origins.
Here you’ll find miles of buttery, uninterrupted trails to keep you busy for the better part of a day. Settle into the 21-mile intermediate Back 40 Loop that encircles the entire trail system or go at it like chutes and ladders and play around on the trails that cut across the loop.
If you set up base here instead of in Bentonville, you can camp or hook up your RV right next to the trails at the Blowing Spring Park and be pretty much self-contained if you want.
The popular Flo Ride trail is self-explanatory and worth riding. Once you reach the end, connect up with Pinyon Creek to get to The Ledges trailhead, or just jump on the Back 40 Loop and make your way to the Metfield Skills Park for a session. There’s also the Blowing Springs Pump Track close to the RV park if you need a break when all that luscious trail gets overwhelming.
If not, make your way west, away from The Back 40 and head into…
The newest of the area’s trail systems, Little Sugar (also in Bella Vista), adds up 50 miles of trails that are a little wider, a little steeper, and a little more rural than anything else you’ll find in the area.
It’s so new, in fact, that there are still some finishing touches to put in place, like signage (there’s some) and the last of eight tunnels, which help with trail transitions. Little Sugar begs for exploration for a couple reasons: the system needs riders to help build crowd-sourced trail databases; and because more berms, more sustained climbs and descents, and a whole lot of jump options are just sitting there, waiting for you to shred them.
Little Sugar’s 24-mile Tunnel Vision trail loops around most of the trail system and will soon have more trails of varying degrees of difficulty lacing the interior. Easily one of Little Sugar’s best sections, Down Under, sends you into a flow state with a series of berms, washes, and tech sections to keep things lively.
If you’re not up to an intermediate trail just yet, a spin on Tweety Bird is a nice little appetizer before tucking into Little Sugar’s more challenging trails.
Ask the locals what it’s like to ride in the muggy depths of summer and they’ll tell you, “Easy, just hop off your bike and jump in the nearest creek.” Little Sugar is the name of the creek that flanks the trail system’s eastern half and is one of many swimming spots to be found around the greater Bentonville area.
All that riding will make you hungry, and Bentonville doesn’t disappoint in the food department. But first, a quick safety check…
Bentonville and COVID-19
To deter the spread of COVID-19, all local businesses must comply with the guidelines set forth by the Arkansas Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. Bentonville has gone even further and created a “BE SAFE. BE SMART” campaign in collaboration with other municipal agencies. In addition, the Bentonville City Council put in place a mask/face covering ordinance nearly a week before the state government issued an executive order with the same mandate.
Many businesses have taken additional precautionary measures, which we’ll list respectively. And things change, so check those links before hitting the road to make sure you’re up to speed.
Bentonville Bike Shops
You’d be right to assume that bike shops, including rentals and service, are essential to Bentonville. There’s a varied selection of shops with room for everyone because, as we mentioned earlier, Bentonville has a little something for everyone.
- Phat Tire Bike Shop – Centrally located, full-service bike shop that rents full-suspension, hardtail, and e-mtb’s. Call for availability, and if you know all your deets, even better because Phat Tire offers contactless pickup.
- Meteor Bike Shop & Café – Recently opened bike shop and café serving the best of both. Bike shop is open 8-6, M-Sun. and is also available by special appointment.
- The Hub Bike Lounge – Emphasis on “lounge,” this is where to go for a post-ride wind-down on the patio. Rentals and service are done by appointment booked through the website.
- Mojo Cycling – Located almost equidistant between Slaughter Pen and Coler, Mojo rents full suspension and hardtail mountain bikes.
- Gearhead Experience Center – Just opened in August, this Specialized concept rental facility rents full suspension mtb’s and e-MTB’s, e-bikes for road, gravel, and city, and kids’ bikes.
Best things to do off the bike in Bentonville
One of the best things about Bentonville is that there’s more to do once you’ve parked your wheels for the day. Instead of retreating to your campsite or hotel room to pass the time until your next ride, there’s history, art, science, and culture to explore.
- Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art – You’ll likely recognize some of the works in the museum’s permanent collection by name: Durand, Rockwell, Warhol, and O’Keeffe. Temporary exhibits are no less impressive, and five centuries of American masterworks should give you something to contemplate on your next ride. Timed-entry tickets are in effect to limit capacity; visit What to expect when visiting Crystal Bridges for more information.
- Climb Bentonville – The only Arkansas location of the Climb Gyms franchise, Climb Bentonville gives you 16k+ square feet of boulder, lead, top rope and kids’ climbing areas with more than 25 auto belays. There’s also yoga (by reservation). Day passes start at $17 and include unlimited climbing, fitness and yoga classes. Quick access to their COVID-19 policies.
- Lake Bentonville – You can still stay active while you rest your quads with some water sports at Lake Bentonville. Hang out by the lake or go canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding, or even fishing. COVID-19 shut down activities for a bit, which gave the city a chance to make some improvements, but now it’s ready to reopen this fall.
- The Momentary – The latest addition to Bentonville’s culture scene, this former cheese plant was repurposed into a contemporary art space with both indoor and outdoor venues for visual and performing arts. Five locations serve up food and drink that are each different expressions on the themes. Check The Momentary website for specific information related to COVID-19.
- Scott Family Amazeum – 50,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and activities for sparking curiosity, but it’s your kids who might get the most out of the hands-on experiences dialed in to enable discovery and learning through play. Guests over the age of 10 are required to wear a face covering. Visit the Amazeum.
- Thaden Field – Even if you’re not into aviation, you might be interested in learning about Louise Thaden, Amelia Earhart’s chief rival, at the newly opened Thaden Fieldhouse. There you’ll be able to visit the exhibition hangar, book a scenic flight, play lawn games, or fuel up at the full service cafe LOUISE.
Camping in Bentonville
COVID-aware restaurants and lodging get a special shout out for prioritizing your safety, but then there are individual choices to protect yourself and others, like choosing to eat outside and camping. Here are your best options for where to stay and eat in Bentonville.
- Camping at Coler Mountain Bike Preserve – Scheduled to open mid to late September 2020, Coler will offer eight small and eight large tent platforms; one large ADA campsite with adjacent parking; and five camper van parking spots. Tent platforms are 20-50’ apart, while the van spots are +20’ apart. Camp restrooms will be accessible by security code, will be sanitized regularly throughout the day; and will follow a strict maintenance schedule. Prices range from $15-$30 per night for up to 14 days. Online reservations for camping at Coler will be available online when they’re open.
- Blowing Springs Park – Located just off of The Back 40 Loop in Bella Vista, this camp and RV park has 11 tent sites and 64 RV sites. The tent sites are 25’-100’ apart – the RV sites are adjacent to each other. Reservations are accepted by phone and require a one-night deposit. Prices range from $16-$39 per night. Onsite check-in is done via walk-up window. Find out more about camping at Blowing Springs Park.
Hotels in Bentonville
- 21c Museum Hotel – In the center of Bentonville close to restaurants, bike shops, museums, and shopping. The hotel has bike storage lockers, as well as additional storage inside hotel for guests’ bikes. Rooms start at $!99 per night. (COVID-19 info).
- Doubletree Suites Hotel – Three miles south of Bentonville, this is an all-suite property with separate living and sleeping areas. Bikes are allowed in the suites, and the hotel even recommended requesting a room on the first floor to avoid transporting it up/down in the elevator. Rooms start at $94 per night. (COVID-19 info)
- Courtyard by Marriott – Just off of I-49, three miles northeast of Bentonville, rooms start at $119. This Marriott hotel has deferred to the Arkansas COVID-19 information page.
- Four Points by Sheraton – Three miles directly south of downtown, the Four Points has rooms starting at $99. As a member of the Marriott family, this hotel has also deferred to the Arkansas COVID-19 information page.
- Hilton Garden Inn – At nearly four miles from Bentonville’s City Square, this is the farthest outpost but also the most economical with rooms starting at $82 per night. There is a bike garage for lockable bike storage, but you can also store them in your room. (COVID-19 info).
We’d have to ride a whole lot more if we wanted to try all the good eats in Bentonville. James Beard-nominated chefs, a culinary school, and food trucks shake up a diverse dining scene that goes oh so far beyond burritos, burgers, and beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with those…
Most places have online ordering for curbside pick-up, or there’s adequately distanced outdoor seating. We can hardly do the food justice, so until they invent bytes you can smell and taste, here’s where to go for fuel in Bentonville:
- 8th Street Market – A community-focused food hub at the intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship. There’s Yeyo’s locally-sourced Mexican food, The Holler comfort food, and The Bike Rack Brewing Co. Or if ride-by eating better fits your schedule, you’ll find food trucks parked outside where you can pause for a few or get something to go.
- Award-winning Tusk & Trotter is where you’ll discover American Fork Art – culinary works like the Truffle Shuffle, Teeree, Ozarkuban, or more familiar crispy pig ear nachos, Arkansas fritters, and peach and blackberry salad. The drink menu is no slouch either so better go post-ride, and walk there if you can.
- Mention Oven & Tap to locals and get ready for an enthusiastic endorsement of their wood-fired pizzas. Settle into a pizza on the deck to start your ride recovery.
- For the most important meal of the day, the Buttered Biscuit serves breakfast with a distinctly southern slant. But it’s not all shrimp and grits, chicken & waffles, and biscuits and gravy… there’s enough variety for everyone to get exactly what they want.
- Pedaler’s Pub – This one’s for you (it’s in the name): where to eat old-world style, wood-fired pizzas with a distinctly bike theme. Get a “Fixie” with pepperoni and portobello mushrooms. The namesake “Pedaler” spins up chicken, spinach, and green olives. Or go off-course and order from a range of creative pub favorites.
- First Seat Pub & Grill – Classic pub grub plus a few things to satisfy the hungry mind as well (for example, you’ll have to go there to find out what’s a “Woo Pig”). Odd for a pub, they’re also open for breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays.
- Burg der gustropub – High southern ingredients travel to Germany and get served up alongside suds from local Bentonville Brewing. Spätzle, currywurst, and potato pancakes share the menu with high south ham and Ozarkan fish…and they get along just fine.
Where to find coffee in Bentonville
- Onyx Coffee Lab – Next-level coffee expertise that dives into the science behind the perfect cup of coffee. Onyx has two locations: downtown and at The Momentary. Onyx is currently open for curbside and takeout only until further notice.
- Opening soon, Airship Coffee will reveal its open-air café inside Coler Mountain Bike Preserve. In addition to the perfect cup of coffee, you will also be able to sip a cold beer or a glass of wine in the beer garden after the ride. What’s more, it’s only accessible by paved trail!
The great thing about Bentonville is you can go to Bentonville for the mountain biking and not feel like there’s any tradeoff for getting amazing trails. Bentonville can more than hold its own when choosing a destination for say, a family reunion, a wedding, or a weekend away among friends, thanks to the volume of activities that have nothing to do with mountain biking. “The Mountain Biking Capital of the World” is a big claim…you’ll just have to head there yourself to see if it’s true.