Trail Appeal

The ultimate guide to Natural State trails for training & racing

By Lisa Mullis   Photos By Rett Peek

Runners discover the joys of training on the Two Rivers Park Trail in Little Rock.

Runners discover the joys of training on the Two Rivers Park Trail in Little Rock.

 

Ask a group of trail-running enthusiasts why they prefer ruts to roads and you’ll get a barrage of reasons: Some trail runners find trails to be easier on the joints, while others simply prefer the quiet scenery and peaceful surroundings offered by running in remote areas. Each trail is different, with some trail runners preferring soft, flat groomed trails and others enjoying the rocks and roots of the more technical variety. Regardless of terrain preferences or reasons for getting off the blacktop and onto the topsoil, Arkansas has ample opportunity for trail runners to race and train. 

For most trail runners, favorite trails fall into two categories: Favorites to train on and favorites to race on. For many, urban proximity wins for training, while favorite races are often remote and rugged. We’ve compiled our top picks for the best trails in the state for both categories, so no matter your preference, there’s a trail here for you.

TRAILS FOR TRAINING

Runners compete in the Hoof it for Heifer (left) and Ouachita Trail 50 (right).

Runners compete in the Hoof it for Heifer (left) and Ouachita Trail 50 (right).

Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Little Rock
Its close proximity to the city of Little Rock and variety of trails makes Pinnacle Mountain State Park a very popular destination for race training. From the moderate terrain of the 1.4-mile base trail to the more strenuous trails that lead to the summit, Pinnacle gives runners options to suit their needs. For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com.

Burns Park, North Little Rock
Burns Park boasts a well-marked singletrack trail with multiple trailheads and access to the Arkansas River Trail System. The trails here are of low-to-moderate difficulty, but their multi-use status requires caution and awareness from runners. For more information, visit nlrpr.org.

Two Rivers Park Trail, Little Rock
This 3.3-mile loop is not only convenient to runners from the Little Rock area, it's also perfect for beginning runners or runners who are recovering from injuries. The lush foliage and river views keep things interesting, while the flat grade and smooth surfaces make low-impact training simple and fun. For more information, visit arkansasrivertrail.com.

Gulpha Gorge, Hot Springs
Coming in at just shy of one mile, the appeal of the Gulpha Gorge trail is its proximity to Hot Springs and easy-to-moderate difficulty. But donít let that fool you: There are plenty of hills to climbóand some incredible views at the top. For more information, visit nps.gov/hosp.

LOViT, Mt. Ida
The Lake Ouachita Vista Trail is not only home to the LOViT 100 Miler, LOViT 100K and LOViT marathon, it's also one of the finest training trails in the state. The trail is almost entirely singletrack, winding through scenic old-growth forest and across multiple streams and creeks. For more information, visit lakeouachitavistatrail.com.

Trails To Race

The Hoof it for Heifer 20K, Morrilton
This 12.4-mile race in Petit Jean State Park is one of the most scenic trail runs in Arkansas, with caves, natural bridges, rock formations and waterfalls, providing a wonderland for nature lovers. The terrain is of moderate difficulty, but the sights make it a treat for experienced runners. For more information, visit heifertrailrun.com.

Sylamore 25/50K, Mountain View
Mountain View is large enough to offer food and lodging amenities, but still far enough away from urban areas to require most participants to travel. This February race on demanding terrain is a favorite that draws runners from all over Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, selling out the limited entries every year—sometimes within hours. For more information, visit sylamore50k.com.

Cossatot Half Marathon, Wickes
Cossatot State Park-Natural Area in southwest Arkansas near Wickes is a remote location that draws runners to the beauty of the River Corridor Trail for the annual Cossatot Half Marathon. The trail follows the curves of the river, making this race taxing for runners, but the scenery is worth the effort. Many runners rent one of the houses or cabins available in the area for the autumn race weekend when campfires and s’mores are perfect post-race activities. For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com/cossatotriver.

Mount Magazine Fun Run, Paris; Mount Nebo Fun Run, Dardanelle
This spring time ultra-running event soars to the highest point in the state, giving runners a chance to gain some bragging rights. In late summer, the Mount Nebo Fun Run in Dardanelle is another no-fee, all-volunteer race event with a course that covers the entire mountain on a mixture of road and trail. As an added bonus, participants often finish this race with a dip in the park pool. For more information, visit runarkansas.com/MtMagazine.htm.

Ouachita Trail 50K/50 Miler, Little Rock
The well-oiled Ouachita Trail 50K/50 Miler in Little Rock, now in its 26th year, has long been a favorite of trail runners in the state. Runners begin at Maumelle Park, and within the first two miles are in scenic Pinnacle Mountain State Park. Over the mountain and through the woods, the OT50 takes runners up and over the East Summit of Pinnacle Mountain before heading out on to the miles of rocks, roots and rolling hills of the Ouachita Trail. For more information, visit runarkansas.com/OT50.htm.

War Eagle Tail Twister 10/25/50K, Rogers
This race also tends to sell out quickly. Trail runs limit entries both for the safety of runners on singletrack where single file is the rule and to limit impact on trails. The trail system at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area where the War Eagle event takes place is well maintained, and the race director is following the park’s mission of conservation and education by limiting the number of runners on the trail at one time. For more information, visit wareagletrailraces.com.