Monday, February 20, 2012

Trails of Bentonville

The Bentonville Square

Recently, Brian Hoover, the Head Tatur over in Tulsa, put the call out for info on regional running trails. I offered to pony up on the offerings we have here in the Bentonville area. I thought a regional trail guide was a cool idea. There are simply too many gems out there. Then it dawned on me that I could kill two birds with one stone. Knock out a blog entry and gather info for the Trail Zombie. I imagine there are some local folks that are not aware of all the great trails we have in our own backyard. We are fortunate to live in an area that has numerous spectacular places to run and here are a few of my favorites.

The Crystal Bridges Trails
So why begin a trail guide with a photo of the entrance to a museum? Because it is a great place to run. Located just a couple of blocks off the Bentonville Square the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is nestled on 120 acres of natural Ozark beauty and features about 3.5 miles of multi-use trails. Scamper through the woods and pass by works of art, cross bridges over springs, and admire the spectacular landscape on these groomed and manicured trails. Where else can you go for a trail run and then see world class art on par with the finest collections in New York, Chicago, London or Paris in a facility designed by world renowned architect Moshe Safdie? Be ready for an easy run on these mostly crushed stone trails that offer some rolling elevation change and great views of the professionally landscaped museum grounds. For more details on the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and the surrounding trails click here.

Rock Ledge Shelter
Shore Lunch by Dan Ostermiller

Cedar foot bridge
Stone bridge over Crystal Spring

To get there on foot from the Bentonville Square go North on NE A St. for two blocks passing the Lawrence Plaza Ice Rink & Splash Park. From there you can see the trail head for the Crystal Bridges trail at the parking lot for Compton Gardens. Follow the pavement down hill through the gardens. During the right times of year this could be a great day trip with a visit to the Farmers Market, a stroll through Compton Gardens, the Art Trail, the Museum, and of course some trail running down at nearby Slaughter Pen. Don't be surprised if you see a number of Rush Runners around as we often use the hill up Crystal Bridges to end our runs. In fact on any given Saturday or Sunday morning about 7:00 AM you will likely find a group gathering on the Square to start a run. And we love new faces some come join us. For more info on group runs and all things running in NWA check out Rush Running.

Slaughter Pen Hollow
Without question the focal point of the trail scene in Bentonville is the Slaughter Pen system. Designed and built by Progressive Trail Design this complex offers over 15 miles of single track ranging from easy to moderate along the wooded hillsides. Slaughter Pen has three distinct phases stretching from Compton Gardens almost all the way to South Walton, I-540 and Highway 71-B exchange. On any given day you can see hikers, cyclists or runners using the trails. And it is not uncommon to catch some wildlife out along the trails including deer and foxes. There are sections of the trails that are quite rocky and a bit technical but nothing too difficult. The bulk of the trails are located in Phase I. The easiest access is from the Bentonville Bark Park at 2400 S. Walton Ave. just west of the Hwy 71-B exit off of I-540. From the parking lot here (restrooms and water fountain available) it is a short .5 mile jog up the paved multi-use trail to the Slaughter Pen trail head just across the first bridge on your left. A large sign with a map marks the spot. The four trails here: Seed Tick Shuffle (Easy), Armadillo's Last Stand (moderate), Tatamagouche (moderate) and Medusa (moderate), account for the bulk of the Slaughter Pen distance. An out and back on each of the four trails will result in about 10 miles of distance and a couple thousand feet of elevation change.

About .5 mile up the paved trail from there (or 1 mile from the parking lot), just across the second bridge and on the right, is Phase II West. Again, there is a sign at the trail head with a map. You can also access this section from the middle of Seed Tick Shuffle in the Free Ride area (look for the bike ramps). This section contains three different trails: Urban Trail, Razorback Ridge and Angus Chute. This section is not used as much as the first section I described. Maybe it is the sewer plant you run past? I usually run out on Urban Trail to the small wooden bridge and switch to Razorback Ridge following that to Angus Chute which ends with a nice hill climb into a neighborhood. During this route you will pass the Bush Push, a nice, steep climb President Bush rode his mountain bike up a few years back. This route is around 5 miles and a thousand feet of elevation. Remember the little wooden bridge? On the way back go ahead and cross it this time. You will find yourself out on the paved trail. If you turn left and go a very short distance you will see the entrance to Phase II East just across the road. This is NE A Street. There is not a sign here but there is a fence with something that looks like a gate. This is a seldom used section but is quite fun. A little more rocky, hilly and technical these two small loops: Free Time and Rocky Ridge, add a little over a mile but are well worth the effort. As a bonus there is a small creek crossing here. 

Phase III of Slaughter Pen was designed specifically with cycling in mind but I have run it several times. It is located between the sewer plant and the museum on the west side of NE A Street. There is parking available nearby where Cub comes off of Tiger Blvd at NE A Street. From the parking area (a gravel lot) there are two ways to access this section. You can go up Cub halfway and look for the gated entry there on your left or use the entrance just before the viaduct to the south towards the museum. You will see the trail veer off the paved trail to your right and into the woods. You can get a couple of miles in here. Just keep in mind that these are bike trails and leave a little something to be desired in terms of trail running. One good aspect here is you can get a good deal of hill work in within a small area. For more info and maps of the Slaughter Pen trails click here and here.

Update 09/11/2012
PTD has been busy adding some new trails to Slaughter Pen Phase I. On the North end of the hill (at the main trail head) a section of trail now runs along the East side of the creek towards Walton Blvd and 71B. This trail will take you to a multi-use paved trail that crosses under Walton Blvd and 71B and kicks you out on the East side of the highway. You can continue on this trail almost all the way up to BC40 (the county road with the first traffic light) towards Lake Bella Vista. When you see the BMW motorcycle shop look for the trail to dive down and to the right off the road, cross under BC40 and continue to the lake. This connects you to the lake loop which is about 3 miles of paved trail all the way around. From the Slaughter Pen trail head to the Lake Bella Vista loop is less than 2 miles. On the North end of the lake there is a small playground and a memorial to our military veterans. From this parking lot you can continue due North (less than a mile of pavement) past Cooper Elementary School (turn right at the stop sign) and end up at the Blowing Springs trail head.

Blowing Springs Trail
Just a few miles north of the 71-B exit in Bella Vista is the newest gem in our local arsenal. Blowing Springs is quickly becoming a favorite among local runners for the scenic trails and smooth single track. Located just east of Hwy 71 off Dartmoor behind Cooper Elementary School you'll find about 7 miles of sweet Ozark love waiting for you. To find it drive east from the signal light at Dartmoor and cross the bridge (just north of Lake Bella Vista). At the stop sign near the school parking lot continue straight about a .25 mile and the trail head is at the parking lot. Again, there is a large sign there. The south side holds the older trails and more or less makes a loop using an upper and lower trail. There is a spur on either end with one leading down to the school and the other linking up to the far end of the north trails. The north trails have some long flatter sections and some pretty technical trail along the bluff line. These also form a loop with one spur on the north end up to Kingsland Road. As long as you keep your bearings on the paved park road you can't get lost. There are a few wooden bridges crossing the springs and it gets rather muddy with any moisture. A few of us did a lot of training here for Rocky Raccoon over the winter. There is not a bunch of elevation out here but there is plenty of great single track that flows well and is quite beautiful.

North Trail Bluff
South Trail Spur
North Trail Head Bridge

Progressive Trail Design is also responsible for these trails. A nice loop was recently added on the north side trails towards the back of the park and there are plans for more expansion in the future. There is also a trail that leads north from Blowing Springs all the way to the Missouri border. It is not on any map, is poorly marked, quite technical, lots of elevation change and you will get wet as it goes along some creek beds. In fact, we haven't yet made it all the way on foot but we are hard at work on it. We know it exist because the local bikers do it as a point to point route about once a year. About 30 miles in total from the state line back to the Square. After we finish it off I'm sure I'll post some more info on it. Kinda sounds like a future 50k course doesn't it? Mike Rush, are you listening?

Update 09/11/2012
The trail to Missouri has been completed on foot. Several NWA GOATS have made the trip on what is now simply called The Epic Trail.

Hobbs State Park
About 30 minutes from Bentonville in Hindsville, AR. you can find miles and miles of single track out at Hobbs State Park, home of the War Eagle Trail Races. The event is held in part to celebrate National Trails Day and for 2012 this will be on June 2nd. Swag includes hand made finishers medallions and a tech shirt with a hand drawn design by local artist (and stud runner) Ryan Holler. Check the photo below by none other then the Trail Zombie himself. The race director is local ultra legend Jeff Genova and of course Rush Running has a big hand in everything. Hobbs features a new 17,000 square foot visitor center and more than 30 miles of wonderful Ozark mojo on the 12,000 acres. Hardwood and pine forests, abundant wildlife (including the elusive NWA Goat), thong trees (unusually bent trees used by Native Indians to mark trails), limestone bluffs, views of Beaver lake and Blackburn Creek are just some of the things you will see. These trails are open to hikers, bikers, runners and horses. There really is too much to cover so if interested the best place to start is by clicking here. The elevation here is not terrible, mostly rollers, but a couple of spots will certainly grab your attention. Likewise there is nothing too technical and the trails are all well marked. We do most of our trail running on the Hidden Diversity Trail with the bulk of those miles on Little Clifty and the War Eagle Loop. If that's not enough for you then hit the Bashore Ridge and Dutton Hollow Loops or as we call them the  "Rabbit Ears". All of these trails are rated moderate to strenuous. If you're coming for the War Eagle be prepared for the heat and a great event. If you're headed out that way and have never explored the area, make sure to visit the War Eagle Mill and War Eagle Cavern. And make sure to take some time to visit with the park staff. They are always excited when we stop in and visit with them.

2011 War Eagle shirt

2011 War Eagle Medals & Awards

Lake Wedington

Twin Knob Bluff

On Saturday 11/03/2012 I returned to Lake Wedington for the first time since my college days more than 20 years ago. Funny how one can go for so long without visiting a relatively close by area with trails. Perhaps that is because, from those days when I preferred to cover dirt on two wheels instead of my feet, I recalled not being very impressed with what was offered out there. The idea on this day was to knock out a 24 training run. The trails at Hobbs were closed due to the annual youth gun hunt weekend. So I headed South. Lake Wedington is located on Arkansas State Highway 16 between Fayetteville and Siloam Springs. Technically it is located within the confines of the Ozark National Forest. David and I were planning on running the North Twin Trail. The trail head is located on the (duh!) North side of Hwy 16 near the entrance to the recreation area on the opposite side of the road. Look for a small parking area (maybe 12 spaces) and a sign board at the start of the trail. The trail is clearly marked in most areas by blue blazes. 

Twin Knobs Bluff

From what I could find the trail is about 7.25 miles in length and we would run it as an out and back. The first couple of miles are pretty rocky and has some rolling hills. At about the 1.6 mile mark you come to a dirt road. The trail continues if you turn right and travel across the small spring that crosses the road here. Look to your left and watch for a rough, likely overgrown double track with blue markings. That's the trail. Another two miles or so and you cross CR 839 (dirt road) for the first time. Just past this is where the Twin Knobs rock formation is seen. This was worth the effort. Super technical single track (especially with all the leaves on the ground) travels along the face of the bluff before turning and then continuing between the two faces of the bluff that are split apart. Very scenic. I would put the scenery up there at the very top of the list here. Another turn and the trail goes along the backside of the bluff before diving down into the gulley below. CR 839 is crossed again as are a couple of other dirt roads. Eventually the trail winds along the bottom of a dense thicket before ending on the top of a large, wooded hill. There is another spur towards the end that leads to the Illinois Bayou but we were not able to locate it. 

In numerous places the trail is blocked by down trees but it is easy enough to navigate around all of it. We never really got off trail. The trickiest part is the first road crossing. There are signs of pretty heavy equine use on the trail and parts are kinda rough. There are stretches of very "runnable" trail but for the most part expect rocky conditions. The elevation is no big deal, we hit 1,600' of vertical for 24 miles out there. Just shy of 15 miles on the trail and then the dirt road leg. On the "out" leg of our run we decided that doubling up on the trail was not the best idea. Yes, it is that technical (compared to Hobbs of Blowing Springs). After we made it back to the trail head, we headed West to CR 839, found a good place to park and then completed the final 9+ miles on forest service roads. We just reached the edge of the WMA boundary before we turned to head back. Very little traffic, just a few hunters and horse riders out there. In the end I'm glad I returned and I'm super stoked to take my kids out to the bluffs sometime. They are gonna love it. To find the Twin Knobs bluff you will need to take CR 839 North from AR Hwy 16, maybe 3 miles or so. Look for the blue trail markings once you see the bluffs. 

Somewhere down the line I'll cover some more trails including the smaller Bentonville park trails, Lake Fayetteville and Devils Den. If you have any info on trails I missed let me know. And as always you can follow me on Twitter @RedDirtRunner. Thanks for stopping by and Cheers. 


  1. I'll see what I can do for this year. I know all of them from last year are long gone.

  2. Great write up James. Love it. Do you mind if we cut and paste some of that info into the TZ Trail Guide ?

  3. Brian,

    You gave me the push to finally put this together w/ your Trail Guide project. I'd be happy to share with Tatur Nation. Cheers!