Over the past two decades, trail building in Northwest Arkansas has evolved from rogue volunteer enthusiasts bushwhacking through the Ozarks into a world-class operation with a professional infrastructure building the finest trails on the planet.
What has resulted is hundreds of miles of new trail that suits every taste imaginable—from hard surface, well-lit commuter paths that now connect every major city and town in the region, to double black diamond trails worthy of events like the 2022 Cyclocross World Championships, to colorful strider courses for toddlers. When it comes to the cycling scene in Oz, there is something for everyone.
Oz Trails has helped bring the region into technicolor, illuminating the inherent magic of the Ozark Mountains and building joy and community in the process.
From Fayetteville in the south to Bella Vista along the Missouri border, residents have embraced and uplifted cycling as a preeminent defining characteristic of the region. There are now more per capita cyclists living in Northwest Arkansas than in larger coastal cities like San Francisco—with bike shops and breweries, festivals and competitions all geared toward celebrating life on two wheels.
In many local schools, kids are now just as likely to join the mountain biking team as they are to participate in other team sports, and local pump tracks and “bike playgrounds” offer free lessons and cycling gear to the next generation.
Far from a “boys club,” women and girls are taking to the sport in exciting numbers, and groups like Women of Oz are introducing high-impact, highly accessible fun to new audiences.
Beyond the trails themselves, there exists a secondary infrastructure that makes wanting to hop on a bike as seamless as possible. From bike wash and water stations to brand new campsites and restrooms to well-lit parking lots, the trails in Oz give little excuse not to have a good time with friends and family.
This investment in a year-round cycling culture—both monetary and emotional—has reaped serious dividends, and a 2017 study estimates that cycling brought in $137 million in economic benefits to the area.
To visit Northwest Arkansas on a cycling trip is to get to know its people. Their kindness and enthusiasm for the sport and this place is palpable, and they are ever-eager to share their thoughts.
Ask a local what they recommend, and you might have to whip out the notepad—whether it’s their favorite craft beer and how to pedal there, a jaw-dropping new outdoor exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art or the secret “air-conditioned” ancient cave that is the perfect stopover on a hot ride.
It’s a volunteer spirit that continues to permeate the trails today, despite the resources now available. Don’t be surprised if you are out on a ride and see a volunteer crew repairing trail and ensuring it’s ready for the next visitor. After all, this is the Heartland.
Whether you are looking for the courage to hit some rocky air at Slaughter Pen, the heart to maneuver Mount Kessler’s technical trails or the brains to map out a downhill monster at Eureka Springs, you will find a place to belong on the trails of Oz.