MTB Travels: Bentonville
When I told pals I was going to Bentonville, Arkansas (the birthplace of Walmart) for a trip, I waited patiently as they worked through the five stages of grief. First stage? Incredulous; next—impervious, then on to dubious, nervous, and finally—curious. ‘Who in the hell wants to go to Arkansas?’ they were wondering. Well, me, and exactly because it is the home of Walmart. Turns out that Walmart founders, the Waltons, have sired three generations of bike fanatics and The Walton Family Foundation recently invested $74 million bucks turning Bentonville into the first planned-from-scratch flow mountain biking mecca.
‘The fact that this place was a 'bed to shred' experience doubled my excitement.’
For me, mountain biking is a blessed union of the psyche and the cycle, of the super and natural. Flowing through the forest is always a joy but most singletrack is built on the inherited leftovers of old logging roads and ancient trails and there are compromises. When I first learned that grandsons Tom and Steuart Walton, avid mountain bikers and entrepreneurs, had sunk a fortune into the infrastructure of this town (pop. 50,000) to create one of the most comprehensive biking vacation destinations ever, I was very intrigued. I'm not a fan of Walmart, per se, but I was excited that some of their massive wealth was flowing into the environmental recreation movement. This is so very rare, and I wanted to see for myself what an intentionally planned park with purpose-built trails would actually look like.
(Photo below right: Right away I noticed I was in for something special here—there are separate sidewalk AND singletrack paved lanes on the greenway- big bucks!)
I adore destinations I call ‘bed to shred’ where I can ride directly from my lodging to the trailhead with little distance or effort, just like a ski in/ski out house. We’ve found this magic in Knoxville, TN and Brevard, NC, as well. The fact that the huge OZ trails network (Slaughter Pen, Coler, Back 40, Bella Vista) is right out the door is primo. We stayed at the 21c Museum Hotel a sleek, hip, playful place that doubles as an art gallery (and LOVES it when people bring their bikes inside!)
‘It's kinda like Disney for mountain bikers.’
The elevation here is a mere 1500' so they make up for it with gorgeous, jaw-dropping technical features (bridges, jumps, drops, downhill, pump track) over 78 miles of flow singletrack and 35 miles of greenway. (Check Trailforks for detailed trail information.) You can even ride your bike to lunch in cool college-town Fayetteville 38 miles south for a road cycling day trip. I was absolutely gobsmacked by the range of risk-options and diversity in such a concentrated space, there is something here for every level of rider. It's kinda like Disney for mountain bikers.
Bentonville ain’t no hick chick; she’s more of a purple mohawk punker wearing her grandmother’s wool coat rockin’ a sparkly Christmas pin. The day we checked out of 21c Deekpak Chopra, Leon Bridges, Jennifer Garner, Common, and Tim Ferriss were in the house for a Walton Foundation event. With a world-class art museum, miles of greenway, multiple farm-to-table restaurants, and one of the best coffee bars I've ever been to (The Onyx Coffee Lab), it's a compact, cool town with a sophisticated vacation vibe.
Jeff and I flew into XNA Bentonville AK airport. We shipped our bikes, but only because we were also in DC and Austin on this junket; we prefer them to be on board with us. It would be easy enough to rent a bike at Phat Tire Bike Shop, but Bentonville is now host to so many huge bike-centric events that you'd better do some advanced scouting.
After a great day of shredding it was a fine thing to visit The Crystal Bridges Museum of Art and their world-class American art collections. There are miles of trails to enjoy walking around the museum grounds, a beautiful coffee bar lounge, restaurant, and even a Frank Lloyd Wright home tour on the premises. I found Buckmister Fuller’s “The Fly’s Eye Dome” to be a moving and timely sculpture to happen upon in tiny Bentonville:
“We are not going to be able to operate our Spaceship Earth successfully nor for much longer unless we see it as a whole spaceship and our fate as common. It has to be everybody or nobody.” -R. Buckminister Fuller
After our tour of the greenway artscape we wandered up to one of the great farm-to-table restaurants in this bike-centric town. Our favorite was The Preacher's Son, a Walton project created in a former church. Even their windows have silhouettes of bikes imbedded in them. It is one of the most beautiful restaurants I have ever been to— and it’s vegan friendly!
So, YES! Put Bentonville on your riding wish-list. It's a superb friends and family destination for a Northerner’s spring break as these folks ride pretty much all year around. Visit Arkansas.com/bicycling for trail resources; this link has some great riding shots .
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me! (Trip 2018).