The First Ride: Mt Nebo State Park Monument Trail

The drive up Highway 155 to the top of Mt Nebo is a memorable one, especially if it's on a foggy morning and the switchbacks become visible only as you're turning around them. My first trip up was such as the mountain was fully shrouded. Highway 155 is the only route up the mountain.

The first seven miles of Phase I (opened in July 2019) introduced central Arkansas to some of the most modern riding in the region, Phase II, which will add 18 new miles of diverse trail will soon be open and offers something for everyone.

I would recommend making it to the top and turning right toward the Visitors Center. You can stop in and chat with park staff or continue to the parking lot at Sunset Point. The lot will be on your right. You will see the entrance to the beginner friendly 2-mile Three—C Trail across the road. If you're getting started mountain biking this is a great trail to learn body control and shifting with fun views and great destinations. You will travel along some of the parks’ historic sites such as Sunrise Point to the south, Sunset Point to the north, and the remains of several CCC structures in between.

If you're game for a longer ride, from the Sunset parking lot, drop down off the east side and onto the Sunset Connector down to the Chickalah and Miller's Goat hub. Chickalah is a blue, intermediate trail loop of 7.5 miles. The Downhill has optional expert level jumps but can still be enjoyed by more intermediate riders as a nice flow downhill with sweeping turns, ending across a beautiful rock creek and waterfall area, nicknamed Gnarnia. At the base of the downhill you can continue the large loop onto the bluff line left or cut off into 4-mile downhill laps by taking the short cut off to the right.

At the Chickalah and Miller's Goat hub you could take the Green trail around the entire mountain on the nearly 6-mile Miller's Goat. Miller’s Goat refers to a CCC Company photograph. Matt Miller was a caretaker and later superintendent for Mt Nebo. Matt’s son, Pat, had a goat the company called its mascot. You can swing a left onto that trail and enjoy great views of the west and beautiful pine forests. You will pop out at Fern Lake where you can take a break on the bench, listen to the frogs, and enjoy the waterfall. You’ll see why this was a retreat spot prior to the Civil War. Hop back on Miller's Goat and pop out onto the Bench Trail for about 1/4 a mile after taking in the views from the gazebo at the Overlook. You'll see Miller's Goat off to the right again. Both trails end back at the Chickalah and Miller's Goat hub. You can climb the Sunset Connector back to your car.

For more advanced riders, take the Sunset Connector to Lizard Tail. Lizard Tail is named for the Dardanelle School Mascot and was chosen for its tenacity- which you will need on this 2.5 mile advanced trail. It begins with a benign warm up but kicks it up with technical, narrow, exposed terrain, and goes underneath a wet weather waterfall. Continue your ride on the shared section of the Rim Trail to the Sunrise Loop off to your right. This short, gravity section can be descended either way and climbed up to session or you can drop down all the way to Miller's Goat, take it left (east) to the Hayes Creek Run Downhill. It is named for the creek that begins on Mt Nebo and runs toward Lake Dardanelle. From the base of the descent you can and ride up the Ox-Pull climb around right (north) on Miller's Goat to the Sunset Connector and up to your car. If you’re in a group, someone can be waiting for you at the base to shuttle you back to the top. For maximum gravity, someone can shuttle you by dropping you at Sunrise Point. You can roll down the Sunrise Loop, across Miller's Goat to the Hayes Creek Run downhill and get picked up at the base of the mountain for a 3.5 mile, 1,100ft descent.

Whatever loop you decide to do, grab a Gatorade at the Visitors Center and clean your bike off at the Bike Wash Station. If you're lucky, you may see a hang glider take off from the east side of the Visitors Center. You can cool off at the pool and then head into Dardanelle for tacos at Tarascos or pizza at Tony's—both within 15 minutes of the park. The local bike shop, Carr’s, is on the highway in Russellville and is fully stocked with anything you would need - including rental e-bikes for this mountainous terrain.

Enjoy the adventure!

Author: Amber Brown, Trails Project Manager

Amber Chambers is the trail project manager for the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation. Her work in mountain biking has taken her across the country, from Colorado to California, and then to Northwest Arkansas, where she hopes to help build the next mecca of mountain biking. Her first bike was a Gary Fisher Sugar 292, and she now rides a Mondraker Foxy Carbon 27.5. Chambers' favorite trails in NWA are Schroen Train and Barn Burner.