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Top 7 Adventure Motorcycle Rides in Arkansas

 The Natural State is one of the best-kept secrets of Adventure Riding.

Published on 12.23.2015
Top Motorcycle Rides Arkansas

When Adventure Riders think of great motorcycle rides in the US, places like Colorado, Utah, California, New Mexico, Idaho and Alaska typically top the list of destinations. And those are great places to ride.

But those who have been on motorcycle rides in Arkansas know that the Natural State has everything an Adventure Rider could want, from punishing single track, to endless dirt roads, to peg-scraping twisties. It has rivers, lakes, forests, mountains and waterfalls. In other words, the Natural State is a top dual sport and adventure touring destination, even if it isn’t on everyone’s list.

Below is a list of the top seven motorcycle rides and destinations in Arkansas. The route descriptions provide a general overview. Make your own way, or get a detailed map if you want to follow along.
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1. Arkansas portion of the Trans America Trail

Ozark National Forest Motorcycle Rides in Arkansas
Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

About 450 miles of the Trans America Trail runs through Arkansas. Many say it’s the best riding on the TAT until you get to Colorado. The Arkansas section begins as you cross the Mississippi River just south of Helena in the Arkansas delta. Roads in east Arkansas are dirt and blacktop, two lanes and lightly traveled. The views are horizon to horizon.

As you ride west, still on dirt and gravel roads, you get into rolling hills and cross streams, some of which can be swollen from rain. West of Hector, you’re riding in the Ozark Mountains, and you’ll find scenic, winding roads and stunning vistas that will take you up to the Oklahoma border, and beyond.
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2. Natural Dam, White Rock Mountain and Ponca

Natural Dam Arkansas motorcycle rides in Arkansas
Courtesy Flickr/Jonathan Ball

The best way to get a taste of the twisty pavement, tasty dirt and forest roads that weave throughout the Ozark National Forest in the northwest corner of the state is to start in Natural Dam, also a great swimming hole on a hot day. Two miles north on Arkansas 59 is Liberty Hill Road, which leads you off into the forest toward Devil’s Den State Park, a maze of great hiking, camping and swimming spots. From there continue east on Arkansas 74 and south on scenic Arkansas 71 until you get back on dirt at Shepherd Spring Road to Lake Fort Smith State Park, another great camping option. Turn off on Bidville Road and be prepared for some twisty, scenic dirt, and turn again at Hurricane Creek to White Rock Mountain. Follow the signs to the scenic overlook, where you can see 20-plus miles on a clear day.

Next you jump on Arkansas 23 for a few twisty miles (a.k.a. the Pig Trail) then get off at Fly Gap Road and loop west, then south, back to Arkansas 215 near Oark. You’ll want to make a stop here at the Oark Cafe. It’s been featured in dozens of ride reports from the Trans Am Trail, the food is good (try the buttermilk pie), and it’s got historical significance too, being the oldest continuously operating store in the state (since 1890). Expect big crowds of bikers, street and dirt, on weekends. It’s also one of the few places in the area that sells gas, so lines at the pump can be long.

From there a series of dirt roads, and at least one creek crossing, takes you north to the scenic Boxley Valley and ultimately Ponca, a river town that serves as a base for paddlers headed out on the Buffalo River. The whole route is about 160 miles.
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3. Queen Wilhelmina State Park and Talimena Scenic Byway

Talimena Scenic Byway Arkansas motorcycle rides in Arkansas
Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

The “castle in the clouds” is a Victorian-era guest lodge atop Rich Mountain near Mena originally built in 1898 to house railroad passengers, many of whom were from the Netherlands. Dutch Queen Wilhelmina was crowned in 1898, so the lodge was named in her honor. It’s now a state park, which means you can reserve one of the 38 rooms, or pitch a tent in the campground if you are on a budget.

Riding options include the Talimena National Scenic Byway, which runs 54 miles between Mena and Talihina, Okla., along the crest of Rich Mountain and Winding Stair Mountain in the Ouachita (pronounced “wash-a-tah”) National Forest. The route is paved, but don’t let that stop you. The views are amazing and if you crave dirt, take the Kiamichi Trail (locals shorten the name to “K Trail”) back to Mena. Pick up the K Trail in Clayton, Oklahoma, west of Talihina, where it’s called the Clayton Trail. Heading east you’ll soon be on the K Trail, which ends before reaching the Arkansas border. Finish the run on a series of forest service and county roads that wind around the mountains and back to Mena. The route is rocky, rutted, challenging two track on the western side, and smooth easy dirt on the east side.
 
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Author: Bob Whitby

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