NOTE: As you head out on the trail, remember to follow the guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local governments. For resources on how to #SharetheTrail and #RecreateResponsibly, go to railstotrails.org/COVID-19.
Arkansas may seem to have gone all-in on singletrack—Bentonville bills itself as the “mountain bike capital of the world”—but there’s a growing number of rail-trails! It makes sense, as Arkansas is a former railroad hotbed, with multiple lines crisscrossing the state. In the coming years, communities in northern Arkansas will spend up to $55 million on new and expanded greenways, including the 60-mile Southwest Trail linking Little Rock to Hot Springs National Park.
Here are 10 of Arkansas’ best.
The self-proclaimed “Capitol City of Cycling,” Little Rock has a thriving bicycle community, and its hub is unquestionably the Arkansas River Trail. Its paved 21 miles connects to more than 70 miles of additional trails as well as 23 parks and local attractions, including the Clinton Presidential Library and the Big Dam Bridge, one of the largest pedestrian bridges in the world. An annual century ride over the bridge utilizes much of the trail and surrounding rural roads. About a million walkers and cyclists use the trail each year, with multiple businesses and residential developments springing up around it.
What the 3-mile Big Spring Nature Trail lacks in length, it makes up for in scenery and ambiance. Located in Cotter, also known as "Trout Capital, USA," the trail is frequently used by local anglers to get to their favorite fishing hole along the gorgeous White River. The trail begins in popular Big Spring Park, passing by local amenities like the Anglin-Tinnon Railroad Workers' Memorial and the R.M. Ruthven Rainbow Arch Bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, before reaching the nearby community of Denton Ferry.
Counties: Benton, Washington
A collection of nearly two dozen individual trails, the Razorback Regional Greenway winds its way through multiple lakes, parks and attractions from Fayetteville to Bentonville. Among the more notable locations along its 40 miles are the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville and Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Area communities keep adding to the trail; a 3-mile extension connecting Metfield Park in Bella Vista to Blowing Springs Park, the trail’s northern terminus, opened this July.
Formerly known as the Rice Carden Walking Trail, the 6-mile Greg Smith Walking Trail serves as the primary artery for Fort Smith’s growing greenway network. Currently, the trail connects to several miles of trail in Harry E. Kelley, Chaffee Crossing and Ben Geren regional parks, with work beginning next year on a connecting 3-mile path called the Old Railroad Trail that will run through the Fort Smith downtown. In addition to the parks, the Greg Smith Trail travels through a serene wooded area, and passes by both the popular Riverfront Skate and Bike Park and the U.S. Marshal's Museum that’s expected to officially open next summer.
Counties: Desha, Phillips
The Delta Heritage Trail State Park currently consists of two separate sections—25.6 miles from Arkansas City to Watson and 20.5 miles from Elaine to Lexa—but will eventually expand to a fully connected 84-mile route. The proposed middle section will even wind through one of the area’s last remaining wetland forests. You’ll find various services available throughout both the existing sections, but a visitor center in Barton offers clean restrooms, a picnic area, five primitive campsites and rental bikes. Visitors will pass by several historical sites along the route, including the Rohwer Heritage Site where more than 8,000 Japanese Americans were shamefully interned during World War II.
Following an abandoned Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad spur, the nearly 7-mile Lawrence County Rail-Trail runs through the towns of Hoxie and College City. Hoxie has an interesting railroad history; when the leaders of a nearby town couldn’t agree where to build a Kansas City, Springfield, and Memphis Railroad line, a nearby landowner offered to give the needed right-of-way to the railroad, free of charge. (She and her family would, of course, build a hotel near the town’s depot.) The new town would later be named Hoxie in honor of one of the railroad executives who made the decision. The trail was recently completely paved, and an extension to the Williams Baptist University campus was built. A connecting 9-mile trail that would run from Hoxie to Minturn was announced in May and is currently in the planning stages.
Counties: Crittenden, Shelby
Although the Big River Crossing is officially only a mile, it connects to bike and pedestrian paths on both sides of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Tennessee. On the Arkansas side, the trail leads to the Delta Regional River Park and its paved 7-mile greenway, but, perhaps more importantly, also to the Big River Trail, a 70-mile crushed-limestone trail that travels down the Mississippi River levee to Marianna, Arkansas. When completed, that trail will span more than 1,600 miles and multiple states, eventually reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
Following an old Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific rail line, the Hazen Trail serves an entryway into the Railroad Prairie Natural Area, a protected tallgrass prairie habitat, where botany buffs can spy rare narrow-leaved sunflowers, long-bracted wild indigo and compass plants. The short, 2-mile paved trail is a true multiuse path; not only do walkers and riders frequently use the trail, but it also serves as the area’s primary helipad.
The Dogwood Springs Walking Trail winds nearly 7 miles through the sleepy town of Siloam Springs, near the Oklahoma border. The city has an ambitious plan for the trail—which, despite its name, is open to cyclists as well—to link every park and green space with its schools, downtown and many neighborhoods. The middle section of the trail running through Bob Henry Park is the most scenic, with views of Sager Creek, and the ducks, herons and turtles that call it home. The eight-foot-wide trail alternates several times with standard sidewalk, but signage helps visitors navigate the route.
The Historic Railroad Bikeway and Pedestrian Walkway may have a name nearly as long as its 1-mile length, but the trail is filled with plenty of history. The abandoned rail line once belonged to the Memphis & Little Rock Railroad and, later, the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad. The town of Lonoke—which is also along the Southwest Trail, sits on the pathway of the Trail of Tears.
Local officials hope to extend the trail from the east side of town to the west in the coming years, giving residents a safe way to travel by foot or bike.
When complete, the Southwest Trail will span an estimated 65 miles, from the Arkansas River Trail in Little Rock to Hot Springs, boosting tourism and generating millions of dollars in direct economic impact per year along a route connecting three counties. Learn more about this developing trail network.