A Sacred Place – The Fossil Flats Mountain Bike Trail
Long before the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) named its first Epic trail in Arkansas, before there were mountain biking advocacy groups in the state, before there were fat tire bikes, full-suspension bikes, carbon bikes, etc., there were mountain bike trails at Devil’s Den State Park in Northwest Arkansas. In the late 1980s, park staff started the first mountain bike festival in the state. This was a time when surrounding states were banning the contraptions from their trails. The festival was a success and the same park staff decided it was time to have a dedicated trail for mountain biking. Note: Check out our FREE 2016 IMBA World Summit Bookend Rides (Blog) at Devil’s Den and Hobbs led by locals on Nov.8 and Nov. 13.
In the early 1990s, Fossil Flats trail was built. At the time it was about a five mile loop accessible from two trailheads in Camping Area A of the park. Over the years, improvements have been made to the trail bringing it up to more than six miles in length. It has been the home of the Northwest Arkansas Mountain Bike Championships and Ozark Mountain Bike Festival for the past 28 years.
Being more of an old school trail, much of the ride is technical with rocks being a dominant feature. Recent updates to the trail have added flow sections to the ride giving visitors a real feel for Ozark mountain biking. The championship race is generally done in a clockwise direction, the recommended route. At the far end of the campground loop is the trailhead with a small parking area, gate and sign.
Once past the gate, the original trail heads up an old mountain road but look quick to the right and you’ll find a wonderful new pump track like section that takes riders to the bluffs above Lee Creek. This is a fun fast section with little technical features but a whole lot of fun. The trail eventually crosses the old road for a short rocky section before crossing again to mostly flowy, rolling hills as riders make their way up the creek.
Just past where the trail makes a right turn back onto the road (it doesn’t look like much of a road here) the first trail intersection comes up. For a short ride or quick fun spot, head down the Outlaw Loop to the creek bed. This area is a big flat rock with some boulders thrown in for fun. If you like to play around with trials riding, this is the place. Crossing the creek here takes riders on a much shortened ride. A word of warning, when the creek is up over the rock, it gets very slick and riding is not recommended.
Back up on the trail, riders follow the old road a bit more including a tough rock-strewn climb followed by a fast rocky downhill to the creek bed and across. This is a rocky crossing but easily rideable if you keep your momentum up. Once across the trail, riders have a choice, a shortcut to the right takes the big climb out of the ride but we recommend the trip to Racer’s Hill. The climb was much more daunting in past years but a series of switchbacks now take riders to the top.
Racer’s Hill is a fast singletrack ride over rocks and roots and tight turns. This is not a bermed up flow trail but an old school trip through the woods that eventually dumps the now grinning mountain biker back near Lee Creek.
Next up is a ledge area high above the creek. This is a technical area with a severe drop off on the right. Crossing roots and rocks takes some nerve but a confident rider can handle it. The next section of trail varies from rocky climbs to smooth forest flow until all of a sudden the trail drops out. Welcome to the Gravity Cavity.
The Gravity Cavity is a fairly easy feature but takes a little nerve. The trail just drops down and then immediately shoots back up. The trick is simple-don’t brake and hold the line. Done right, riders pop out over the top grinning from ear to ear. Hitting your brakes on the way down leads to walking your bike up a steep, short hill. It’s all fun.
Just past the Gravity Cavity, riders cross through the hike-in camping area before picking up an old forest road that takes them back across Lee Creek at a usually wet crossing and back into the campground. Now go for another lap.
Tent camping is available at the trailhead and an RV area with full hook-ups is also available in the park. Want a more civilized trip, rent one of the modernized, historic cabins. The area has other trails open to mountain biking, horseback riding and hiking. Food and a pool are available for guest during the summer months. The park is open year round and reservations are available online. Entry to the park and use of the trails is free.
Since 2005, Joe Jacobs has served as the manager of Marketing and Revenue for the Arkansas State Parks. Trails are a passion for Jacobs, he serves on the boards of the Central Arkansas Trail Alliance, an IMBA chapter, and the Arkansas Mountain Bike Championship Series. He has also been instrumental in the design and creation of mountain bike trails at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, Woolly Hollow State Park and Boyle Park in Little Rock.