UPDATE – Due to extensive rain in the area, the Grand Opening Ceremony is being rescheduled. Keep an eye out for the new date.
Some people believe that mountain bike trails can only exist in mountainous regions, but others have expanded the definition to include areas that aren’t typically considered suitable for mountain biking. Even in states like Florida and Louisiana, mountain bike trails are available. Some of our friends who live in the Rocky Mountain states like to point out that our mountains aren’t as high as theirs, but we remind them that our valleys are lower. In fact, the elevation changes on our mountain bike trails are often equal to or greater than many trail systems out west.
Although Arkansas may not be known for tall mountains, innovative trail builders can create fun and exciting trail systems using modern techniques. Recently, we visited Monticello, Arkansas to explore a new mountain biking trail system situated by Lake Monticello. It’s worth mentioning that Monticello translates to “hillock” or “little mountain” in Italian.
Not only are there new trails in the area, but there is also a newly formed volunteer group dedicated to maintaining and advocating for these trails. The group is called the Trail Organization of the Arkansas Delta (TOAD), and its vice president, Jeff Newton, shared that they aim to expand their involvement to other trail systems in the region, such as those found in Cane Creek State Park.
Last week, we took advantage of a break from the scorching 100+ degree weather and decided to hit the road to Monticello. It took us approximately an hour and thirty minutes to reach Lake Monticello, located south of Little Rock. As we headed south of Pine Bluff, we were welcomed by picturesque rolling hills and lush timber forests. Our destination was Harold D. West Park, which is situated on the eastern shoreline of Lake Monticello, just a few miles north of town. The park is equipped with a large pavilion and several smaller ones, a playground, and a fishing pier extending into the lake. The parking area has restroom facilities, and the main trailhead is where we began our trek on The Lakewood Trails.
Although there are approximately 5 or 6 miles of trail available, attempting to ride all of them will result in a 7-8 mile ride due to an out-and-back route. According to Newton, this is only the first phase of the trail’s construction. TOAD plans to expand the trail system to 25 miles which will encircle the lake. The initial phase of construction was completed by Progressive Trail Design (PTD) from Northwest Arkansas, with funds raised through local fundraising, a Recreational Trails Program grant administered by ARDOT, and grant money for trails previously requested by the city but not yet spent.
At the beginning of the trail, there is a skills area with wooden features such as skinnies, wave bridges, and off-camber turns. These features are connected by a rolling trail and have alternative routes for those who want to bypass them. This area is designed for practicing and improving skills, as it loops back to the beginning. The remainder of the trail is a smooth and enjoyable ride, with a few minor inclines. For the most enjoyable flow of the trail, it is recommended to ride to the southern end and back.
At the southern end, a PTD crew was putting the finishing touches on the last 600 feet of the trail for phase one. During the ride, the trail was dry and well-packed, with only a few sandy areas. Mr. Newton mentioned that there was no signage yet, but it is currently being developed. If you plan on riding the trails, we suggest downloading the latest Arkansas maps through the Trailforks app. Phase 2 of the trails has already secured funding, and the bidding process is about to get underway for the construction work.
The trail is perfect for National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) training and possibly racing. The local schools have an All Kids Bike program funded by a grant from NWA Trailblazers. The area is well on its way to growing mountain biking.
About the Area
The park also has the beautiful, new Little Mountain Disc Golf Course. Lake Monticello is currently being refilled after some work was done on the dam and levees around the lake. It is expected to be back at full pool next year depending on rainfall.
Lodging is available at several popular hotels in Monticello or RV camping is available just down the road from the park. Camping is also available at Cane Creek State Park about 20 minutes away.
The trails will have a Grand Opening ceremony on Saturday, September 9 from 10 to 2 at the trailhead (299 Harris Rd, Monticello, AR 71655). Besides the ceremony, there will be food trucks, ride tours, a bouncy house for the kids, and more.
To keep up with trail conditions or to report trail conditions go to the Lakewoods Trails Page.
For a taste of the trails, here is a short video we shot during our visit: (https://youtu.be/e52g8EoS4Ms)