Trail Report: Fast times in Hot Springs, Arkansas

With three IMBA Epics, this area belongs on your mountain biking bucket list

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Spend sometime wandering the Ouachita’s and you will quickly realize why this place has become a true mountain bike destination.

Spend sometime wandering the Ouachita’s and you will quickly realize why this place has become a true mountain bike destination (click to enlarge).

Editor’s Note: Jordan Carr and co-author and photographer Leilani Bruntz are currently traveling the country spreading the gospel of mountain biking as the Subaru-IMBA Trail Care Crew. Along the way they get to explore some of the country’s best riding locales, and then share them with you in this reoccurring Mtbr Trail Report series. Follow Carr and Bruntz’s adventures on Facebook and Instagram, and let us know in the comments section below if you have additional beta about these great riding destinations. And be sure to check out their other write-ups on Salida, Colorado, Oakridge, Oregon, Phoenix, Arizona, Marquette, Michigan, Brown County, Indiana, and Cable, Wisconsin.

Elegant 19th century architecture accented by beautiful promenades and outdoor fountains, the bathhouse district in Hot Springs, Arkansas is truly a glimpse back in time. But beyond its historical significance, Hot Springs is quickly becoming a vacation hot spot for mountain bikers. Situated in the middle of the Ouachita Mountains (pronounced wah-shi-tawh), the small city of just over 35,000 boasts some of the state’s best mountain biking. Home to three IMBA epic trails, Hot Springs belongs on your bucket list.

Lining the main drag of downtown Hot Springs, a row of historic bathhouses are a truly unique step back in time. Managed by the National Park Service, these historic architectural gems give visitors a chance to relax and absorb not only the calming mineral waters, but the extensive local history.

Lining the main drag of downtown Hot Springs, a row of historic bathhouses are a truly unique step back in time. Managed by the National Park Service, these architectural gems provide a chance to relax and absorb the calming mineral waters and extensive local history (click to enlarge).

In partnership with IMBA, a recent grant from the Walton Family Foundation will help provide full-time professional maintenance of the state’s five designated IMBA Epic Trails, accounting for almost 200 miles of singletrack. This investment in mountain biking illustrates Arkansas’ support of mountain biking.

Narrow, benchcut meanders its way through the native hardwoods of the Ouachita Mountains on the Womble Trail. If you like fast, flowy singletrack, you will love the Womble.

Narrow, benchcut trail meanders through the native hardwoods of the Ouachita Mountains. (click to enlarge).

IMBA Epic Trails Breakdown

Womble Trail: This narrow benchcut trail is intricately carved into the mountainside, making the Womble a truly rustic experience. Spanning 36 miles, this trail features a great mix of undulating terrain with plenty of climbs complimented by exciting bar gripping descents. For longer bikepacking type options, the Womble intersects with the Ouachita Trail (outlined below), making it a great choice for a few days of exploring. After five hours in the saddle on the Womble, we were still grinning ear to ear.

Ouachita National Recreation Trail: Known for its expansive 223-mile length, the Ouachita National Recreation Trail is a prime example of the spectacular, untouched landscape this part of Arkansas has to offer. Currently, about 108 of those miles are open to mountain bikes, offering up an experience more reminiscent of the longer scenic trails found out west. If you bite this trail off as one huge trip, figure at least 2-3 days of riding. It can be done supported or unsupported. Or hit a shorter section as a day shuttle, or just ride as an out and back. The options are endless.

Expansive vistas give trail users plenty of snack break points on the aptly named Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (LOVIT).

Expansive vistas give trail users plenty of snack break points on the aptly named Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (as in LOVIT). (click to enlarge)

LOVIT (Lake Ouachita Vista Trail): The newest of the area epics, the LOVIT offers a truly scenic experience. Stop and enjoy sprawling Lake Ouachita at many amazing vistas while you meander your way along the southern border of a massive reservoir. This trail, which currently runs 38 miles, differs from the two previous due to its wider benchcut and lower grades, making it an excellent option for novice riders.

Beauty abounds in Ouachita country. Don’t forget your camera.

Beauty abounds in Ouachita country. Don’t forget your camera (click to enlarge).

Other Area Trails

Cedar Glades: A fun 10-mile network close to town, Cedar Glades is an interconnected loop system that’s great for intermediate level riders. Featuring almost 1000 feet of elevation change, Cedar Glades will keep your heart rate up and your lungs working. The descents are rocky and rugged with plenty of fun high-speed sections.

Little Blakley: The oldest singletrack in the area, Little Blakely is a true legacy trail. Tight and technical, it cuts its way through the rocky hillsides, rewarding riders with great views of Lake Ouachita — after some steep climbs. At just under 12 miles, but with 1900-feet of elevation change, this trail will give your technical skills and aerobic capacity a run for their money.

Echo Canyon Resort is an excellent base camp for mountain bikers looking for great trail access, beautiful lake views, and plenty of amenities. Need a shuttle for your epic traverse? They can do that to both on land and on the massive lake Ouachita.

Echo Canyon Resort and Marina is an excellent base camp for mountain bikers looking for great trail access, beautiful lake views, and plenty of amenities. Need a shuttle for your epic outing? They can do that via land or water (click to enlarge).

Food and Lodging

Hot Springs is a bustling place. There are many opportunities to enjoy food and drink in downtown, but escaping the city life for a quiet weekend on the lake is also a great option. During our stay we opted for the latter and booked a stay at Echo Canyon Resort and Marina.

Situated right off of the LOVIT, this inviting spot features an excellent mix of amenities for all types of visitors. You’ll love the cozy cabins, and they’ll run shuttles to all the local trails via road or water. And of course don’t forget to soak your achy muscles at one of the historic bathhouses, then finish the day with a beer at the Superior Bathhouse Brewery.

Photo Thumbnails (click to enlarge)

About the author: Jordan Carr

When not spreading his passion for singletrack as one half of the Subaru-IMBA Trail Care Crew along with his girlfriend Leilani Bruntz, Jordan Carr can be found pedaling, hiking, skiing, or posted up at a local brew pub enjoying a beverage. Having spent more than half his life riding all types of bikes at almost every type of cycling event, Carr loves the freedom two wheeled travel has brought to his life. Having spent many years behind the stand at a bike shop, he’s tested mountain bike products for a number of publications. Follow Carr and Bruntz's adventures as they travel the country promoting trails and mountain biking on Facebook and Instagram.


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  • Doug Long says:

    We have a group of riders from north Missouri that escape to this area of Arkansas every winter for our annual “ArkanThaw” week as we escape the cold of the north to the milder temps down south. We ride everything mentioned in this article but one trail that needs to be added to the list is “Iron Mountain”, just south of Hot Springs at Arkadelphia. Those trails absolutely rock and there are currently 25 miles of some of the sweetest single track in Arkansas. Iron Mountain has lots of flow and the grade reverses make the climbs much more tolerable. Camping and lodging a stones throw from the trails. Winter is a great time to ride down in the Hot Springs area as it is technically the “off season” and motel rates can be very reasonable. Hwy 27 Fishing Village is a great option as you can access the Womble right from the resort. Mt. Ida is close and that town may be the friendliest town in America. If your looking for a MTB vacation/destination, this should be on your bucket list. If your in Arkansas, might as well check out the riding in Eureka Springs, Bentonville, and don’t miss the Upper Buffalo trail system. Arkansas has got it going on when it comes to mountain biking. I had a big smile on my face all the time I was reading this article.

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