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For many years, Bentonville has been known internationally as the home to Walmart, where Sam Walton first launched his global chain of stores. Recently, Bentonville has been shifting that focus to new areas. When Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in 2011, it put Bentonville on the international map for renowned art and for the museum’s unique design. In recent years, Bentonville is seeing an explosion of interest in mountain biking, which prompted the city to declare itself the “Mountain Biking Capital of the World.”
The landscape in Northwest Arkansas naturally lends itself to mountain biking. With the steep hills that make up the Ozark mountain landscape, even a quick jaunt on a paved bike path can leave you breathless. For a long time, the area had very few trails for mountain bikers, but that started to change when Tom and Steuart Walton took an interest in developing MTB trails in Bentonville. The brothers are the grandsons of Sam Walton, and both are mountain biking enthusiasts who helped lead the challenge to build trails through grants from the Walton Family Foundation.
Slaughter Pen Trail was developed first. Bentonville took advantage of its natural landscape to create a 40-mile series of trails that quickly grew into a national attraction for mountain bikers. The trails took on the original name for the area when a slaughterhouse operated in the valley. Slaughter Pen was created by a small community of mountain biking enthusiasts, including the NWA Trailblazers, led by Erin Rushing, a landscape architect who has used his love of mountain biking to help develop trails in Northwest Arkansas for years. Rushing’s organization is a non-profit dedicated to building quality trails quickly.
Slaughter Pen turned out to be the perfect location for the trail. It’s only minutes away from downtown Bentonville and in Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s backyard. The connection between the trails and downtown Bentonville has helped showcase the city’s unique downtown square and history. The Walton Family Foundation didn’t stop with Slaughter Pen Trail. Instead, the foundation carried a bigger vision; a master plan to connect all the Northwest Arkansas communities with a greenway and to develop more mountain biking trails as well. Together with the Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission and the help of individual communities, the NWA Razorback Greenway was completed in 2015. The 37-mile multi-use trail connects South Fayetteville to northern Bentonville and Bella Vista, with more trails in the works. Though these aren’t specifically mountain biking trails, the system increased the visibility of the area to the biking community at large.
Photo: @jpmcghee via Visit Bentonville
In 2016, OZ Trails was created, an organization that helps showcase area MTB trails to locals and visitors and encourages a love of mountain biking. At the same time, other trails were created in Bentonville and the surrounding area. The Back 40 in Bella Vista connects to the Greenway, and the city also features Blowing Springs trail, which has 6 miles of trail and Blowing Springs Cave. Nearby is the Little Sugar trail system, which offers challenging hillwork through the Ozark landscape and 40 miles of trail.
In 2018, Bentonville added to its trail system with Coler Mountain Bike Preserve. Only 1 mile from downtown Bentonville, the 300-acre park offers a variety of trails with rocky features, jump gaps, and easy trails for beginners and families as well. Coler Mountain Bike Preserve also has campgrounds, an open-air barn and an outdoor coffee shop.
Photo: @crystaljanthony via Visit Bentonville
That balance between nature and proximity to the city and its amenities is what Bentonville has worked hard to achieve. The trails are world-class, but in the last 10 years, the city, the Walton Family Foundation, and local mountain biking enthusiasts have managed to build a culture that welcomes mountain bikers. Both bike shops and bike-friendly businesses have popped up in the area to cater to mountain bikers. Places like Bike Rack Brewing Co., Pedaler’s Pub, and The HUB Bike Lounge encourage riders to pedal up and stay awhile. Even Crystal Bridges has bike racks and encourages riders to stop in and stroll through the free museum.
The mountain biking trails and town atmosphere are enough to draw locals and visitors alike, but Bentonville has also made an effort to host mountain biking events throughout the year for both recreational and serious riders. In 2022 alone, the city has held the All-Cross Series Finale, the Walmart UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, Gravel Fest for MS, Pedaler’s Bash, the Noon2Moon Endurance Mountain Biking Race and many more. In addition, bicycle clothing brand Rapha and mountain bike maker Hellion Bikes now call Bentonville their brand headquarters.
Photo: @robynrobledo via Visit Bentonville
The rest of Northwest Arkansas isn’t sitting back while Bentonville creates its mountain biking image. Opportunities to ride on excellent trails in the area abound, from Fitzgerald Springs in Springdale, Mount Kessler in Fayetteville, and Lake Atalanta in Rogers all offer great trails. If you circle out a little, you’ll also find trails in Eureka Springs and along the upper Buffalo National River.
With an ever-developing trail system, over 250 miles of mountain biking trails, events and a growing culture of support and enthusiasm for mountain biking, Bentonville can definitely stake its claim as the mountain biking capital of the world. To find out more about mountain biking in the area, start with visitbentonville.com. Oz Trails offers an excellent website over the area’s trails, planning a visit, and a calendar of events. Whether you’re an avid mountain biker or a beginner, you can find the opportunity to ride in Bentonville.
Photo: @jax_sends via Visit Bentonville
All photos courtesy of Visit Bentonville and used with permission.
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