Base Camp: Devil's Den
Find a perfect headquarters for your next bike adventure
By Tim Scott and Michael Roberts
So you’ve decided to take a trip to the Ozarks for some mountain biking—and given the region’s emerging status as one of the hottest spots for the sport in the country, who could blame you? Northwest Arkansas has an amazing combination of well-maintained legacy trails along with new trails and bike parks opening every year. If you’ve never been, you’re in for a treat; if you haven’t been in a few years, you’ll find the area’s amenities are better than ever.
Of course, you’re probably hauling a good bit of equipment and could use a great place to stay that will allow you to spread out—a place that knows all about the needs of mountain bikers and won’t break the bank. You need a base camp, and there’s simply no better option around than Devil’s Den State Park, commonly known as “the birthplace of Arkansas mountain biking.” At Devil’s Den, you’ll find campsites available to suit everyone: from the most primitive, roughing-it types all the way up to hookups for RVs. And if camping’s not your thing, there are a number of cabins available that will allow you to discover the joys of the park with all the comforts of home.
Once you’ve settled in, you’ll want to check out the park’s Fossil Flats Trail—this is the trail where mountain biking first took root in the state in the late 80s and early 90s. Back then, the new sport was controversial, but then-park-superintendent Wally Scherrey and assistant superintendent Tim Scott decided to be proactive and embrace this new breed of trail user.
In 1988, Wally and Tim attended the 13th Annual Fat Tire Festival in Crested Butte, Colorado, in order to bring back whatever ideas they could use for a mountain biking event at the park. “Away we went in the park housekeeper’s van,” says Tim. “It was an eye-opener. It was the first time I had seen a slow-race, log-pull, or observed trials. There were also guided rides for the participant. It all looked like a perfect fit for Devil’s Den.” The following April, the park hosted the first-ever Ozark Mountain Bike Festival.
Today, Arkansas is home to trail-building and design companies, frame building companies and bicycle company headquarters. The state also boasts five mountain biking trails rated “Epic” by the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA). The sport has grown up all around Devil’s Den, but the park remains a center for mountain biking. Join the growing number of cyclists who use the park’s facilities as a base camp, then use our handy guide to plan a series of fun, exciting bike-related day trips to take you out from camp and into the Ozark landscape. By the time you return to camp at night, you’ll be happy for the comfortable park surroundings and quiet mountain air.
Day 1 From Base Camp:
DRINK IN THE RAZORBACK REGIONAL GREENWAY.
Now that you’ve experienced the joy and thrill of riding the trails and staying your first night at Devil’s Den, it’s time to branch out and experience some of the region’s other rides. Find your fun and then head back to the park for another relaxing night.
Perhaps one of the best places to start is the Razorback Regional Greenway—a 36.7-mile length of trail that takes cyclists through a compelling tour of Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers and Bentonville. The paved trail provides a marvelous car-free way to see the sights—which include everything from lake recreation at Lake Fayetteville, Lake Springdale and Lake Bella Vista to stellar dining, shopping and museum opportunities.
Of course, all that cycling amounts to a good bit of thirsty work—and you better believe the folks along the Razorback Regional Greenway know all about how to solve the problem. So next time you work up a powerful thirst out there on the trail, take a load off at one of these Greenway-adjacent stops where the beer is delicious—and always local:
APPLE BLOSSOM BREWING CO.
It’s hard to know where to start with Apple Blossom, a brewpub that boasts an eclectic menu of high-quality bar eats as well as one of the most creative and tasty beer menus around.
Looking for a coffee or something stronger? Stop in to experience this long-time local favorite.
BIKE RACK BREWERY
Being the very first brewery in Benton County gives Bike Rack some permanent bragging rights, but it’s the brewer’s imminent move to the up-and-coming 8th Street area that we find extra fresh.
BLACK APPLE CROSSING
Searching for something different that still satisfies your tastebuds? Then perhaps a pint of Springdale’s homegrown Black Apple Crossing cider’s just the thing.
COLUMBUS HOUSE BREWERY
The Columbus House Brewery taproom isn’t fancy, but this part college-town hangout, part working man’s pub gets the job done right.
BENTONVILLE, FAYETTEVILLE, ROGERS and SPRINGDALE
Ever-expanding Core Brewing boasts multiple tap room locations along the Razorback Regional Greenway corridor.
It may still be the new kid on Dickson Street, but when it comes to brews and eats, JJ’s hits top marks like a seasoned pro.
OZARK BEER CO.
Talk to the locals and you’ll hear lots of love for OBC’s repertoire of quality brews—and a lot of respect for the love the brewery has for its home city.
PURITAN BREWING CO.
Combining the best of beer and coffee, Puritan Brew is another don’t-miss destination for top-notch drinks.
Grab a passport for the Fayetteville Ale Trail and get stamped!
Day 2 From Base Camp
After a day of soaking in the suds and sights along the Razorback Regional Greenway, you will be ready for something with a bit of daring and challenge to it. The destination you need is a brand new bike park designed by Bentonville’s Progressive Trail Design (PTD). If Devil’s Den serves as the birthplace of mountain biking in the state, companies like PTD have brought the sport into its prime, starting with the opening of PTD’s Slaughter Pen Flow Trail in Bentonville.
In today’s “what have you done for me lately” world, resting on one’s laurels is out of the question, though, something PTD founder Nathan “Woody” Woodruff is well-aware of. That’s why he’s got just one word on his lips right now when it comes to future of northwest Arkansas’ mountain biking scene: Coler.
Formally known as the Coler Valley Mountain Bike Preserve, the construction-still-in-progress project represents “something brand new” for Natural State cyclists. When completed, Coler will boast numerous trails designed to possess varying degrees of difficulty—something that makes this bike park a true one-stop shop for cyclists.
“For this one, we looked at modeling the trail system on a ski resort model, something that trail designers first started doing in Whistler, [British Columbia],” says Woody, invoking the name of Canada’s world-renowned mountain biking paradise. “This is the first stab at something like that in northwest Arkansas. It’s just a very special piece of land—it’s really one of the last remaining green spaces in the area that hasn’t been developed.”
Phase I of the project (representing approximately five miles of trail) opened just this year, with work currently underway on a Phase II plan that will more than double the amount of trail available. “We put a lot of time into the design of this one,” Woody says with a laugh. “We always start with thinking about what works best with the land, then we define exactly the sort of experience we want to give riders. For Coler, it was all about creating the most diverse, progressive trail system possible.”
Something else PTD considers when designing trails? Filling underserved niches. “Gravity trails are something we don’t have enough of in northwest Arkansas,” Woody says. Coler will do a great deal to alleviate that problem with Fireline, an intermediate-difficulty trail, and the colorfully named Cease and Desist—which features sections rated at both black diamond and double black diamond levels. “We’ve got six-foot jumps and mandatory eight-foot drops out there.”
With the eastern section of the park now open, Woody can’t resist leaving us with a cliffhanger about the western trails. “We’re shooting for [having it open] this fall,” he says. “If you want a variety of really incredible cycling experiences, I promise you: this is the place to go.”
Day 3 (or more) From Base Camp
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
Have another day or three of riding to fill? Pressed for time and simply want a few trail suggestions to get you going after setting up camp at Devil’s Den? Trying to pare down a list of excellent rides available in the Ozark region is a daunting task—there is an almost-unfathomable (not to mention ever-expanding) number of high-octane miles available. Scratch the surface with these suggestions and we guarantee that by the time you’re done, you’ll have made friends for life—and gotten the Ozarks in your blood for keeps.
THE BACK 40 LOOP (22.2 miles)
A world-class ride? Northwest Arkansas cycling site Oz Trails doesn’t think that description goes nearly far enough, choosing instead to describe the Back 40 as “a testament to the craft and sport [of mountain biking].” The trail debuted at last fall’s 2016 IMBA World Summit in Bentonville, and according to event coordinator Aimee Ross, feedback from attendees tended to agree. Experienced riders who tackle this trail have a particularly well-designed (and difficult) section known as The Ledges to look forward to.
BLOWING SPRINGS (3.4 miles)
The glory of the Ozark Plateau is on display at Blowing Springs in the form of soaring bluff faces and a rugged terrain that courses with clear mountain streams. Riders of intermediate skill will fare well on this one, while riders seeking a more challenging ride will find themselves seeking out alternative paths that feature more technical elements.
CRYSTAL BRIDGES GREENWAY (15 miles)
Worth riding based on its own merit, the real appeal of the Crystal Bridges Greenway is that it connects to numerous other mountain biking trails in the Bentonville area. Of course, there’s also the matter of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art itself, which boasts one of the most extensive art collections in the country—along with bike-friendly access for art-lovers on two wheels.
SLAUGHTER PEN (18 miles)
While Arkansas mountain biking’s first sparks were first struck at Devil’s Den, it was Bentonville’s Slaughter Pen that fanned the sport into the blazing inferno it is today. Designed to provide a variety of experiences for riders possessed of differing levels of skill, Slaughter Pen has become something of a gateway drug for future cycling addicts.
MOUNT KESSLER (9.7 miles)
Built on land purchased by the city of Fayetteville with money from the Walton Family Foundation, this ride offers all the pleasure of being out in the country—but right near the excitement of Fayetteville.
MOUNT SEQUOYAH WOODS (10 miles)
This volunteer-built loop ride is a delightful journey through some of northwest Arkansas’ signature hardwood forests. It’s a rocky trail that features several creek crossings for riders to test their skills against.
HIDDEN DIVERSITY LOOP (4.3 miles)
Why “hidden diversity?” Because according to the Arkansas State Parks, this trail in Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, is the sum of “mountains, lakes, rivers, forests…[and] the myriad plants and animals above and below the ground.” The loop trail is open for multi-use and provides another state park biking experience in the area.
LAKE ATALANTA (10 miles)
This multiple-loop system is a relative new-comer to the regional biking scene, but it’s proving to be a popular destination. Not only does this system provide some of the best singletrack around, it also features The Railyard Bike Park, a fantastic experience for cyclists of all ages.
LAKE SPRINGDALE (0.79 miles)
Actually a collection of trails that encircle Lake Springdale, the area around Lake Springdale features well-maintained trails that connect to the Razorback Regional Greenway. Some of the trails around the lake are pedestrian only, so be sure to check before you ride.
THUNDER CHICKEN (2 miles)
This is one of the newest trails in the area and includes an advanced downhill flow section that is simply fun. Ride this one now, then come back again—additional mileage expected to be added, turning Thunder Chicken into 17 miles of multi-use trails.
For more information about mountain bicycling trails to explore during your stay at Devil’s Den, visit oztrailsnwa.com. For information about the park itself, visit arkansasstateparks.com/devils-den.