The state of Arkansas offers inspiring landscapes and abundant natural beauty, earning it the nickname “The Natural State.” And what better way to take it in than by cycling its many trails and paths? Though there are numerous highly-rated trails available to cyclists, one stands out for its status as the longest biking trail in Arkansas. Read on to find out which trail claims this distinction, its length, and where to find it!
What is the Longest Biking Trail in Arkansas?
The longest biking trail in Arkansas is the Delta Heritage Trail. It forms part of the Delta Heritage Trail State Park, a state park covering 960 acres of land. The trail passes through the counties of Desha and Phillips. The surface of the Delta Heritage Trail is packed with limestone; though it isn’t paved asphalt, it still makes for a fairly smooth cycling experience.
Currently, the state has finished 44.4 miles of the Delta Heritage Trail. The trail separates into two sections: Arkansas to Watson (23.8 miles) and Elaine to Lexa (20.6 miles). Cyclists will find trail ends for the first section at Kate Adams Road and CR 43 (Arkansas City) to Front Street and AR 1 (Watson). The trail ends for the second section lie at Main Street and Quarles Road (Elaine) to PC 251 (Lexa).
The Delta Heritage Trail
The two existing portions of the trail aren’t connected as of yet, though there are plans in the works to create a connecting piece between them by 2025. This piece will span approximately 38.4 miles to create a cohesive route 84.5 miles long. The middle section will take route users through a pristine portion of wetland forest, one of the last of its kind in the state, and cross the White and Arkansas rivers. Agricultural development has interrupted and reduced the wetland forests in the state, making the remaining portions especially valuable.
The construction of the Delta Heritage Trail began when Arkansas State Parks acquired the land in 1993. The project is a rails-to-trails conversion that takes advantage of old railway lines that no longer function. Arkansas has seen a surge of similar new trails in recent years.
Arkansas City to Watson
This first, southernmost section of the Delta Heritage Trail runs for 23.8 miles from Arkansas City to Watson. It utilizes 14.4 miles of low-speed roadway, the Mississippi River Mainline Levee. This stretch sees little traffic and shouldn’t be a problem for most cyclists to navigate. Along this route is Rohwer, a small community where more than 8,000 Japanese Americans found themselves interned from 1942-1945 during World War II. The Rohwer Heritage Site is well worth visiting along the way to explore this grim aspect of American history.
Watson to Elaine (Under Construction)
The section of the trail under construction will pass from Elaine to Watson and cover 38.4 miles. It will cross the White River and the Arkansas River as it passes through lovely wetland forests. For the time being, construction may limit access to the trail in parts.
Elaine to Lexa
The third section of the Delta Heritage Trail runs for 20.6 miles from Elaine to Lexa. Elaine and Lexa are both very small towns, though cyclists should be able to replenish food and water supplies and find places to rest. The trail crosses Lick Creek on its way from one town to the other. It also runs alongside Old Town Lake for a brief period.
Navigating the Route
The Delta Heritage Trail is easy to cycle and navigate. The grade is almost completely flat, no more than 1% at any given time. Cyclists of any age and experience level will find this a welcoming and manageable path. However, anyone intending to cycle the entire length of the route should make sure to bring food and plenty of water as it leads through rural or remote areas.
For those without bicycles of their own, there are shops in Barton offering bikes for rent. There are also 5 primitive campsites for anyone wishing to make an overnight stop. In addition to this, the town has a visitor center with a gift shop and restaurant. Picnic sites nearby allow for a leisurely meal outside.
There are eight trailheads allowing ingress and egress from the Delta Heritage Trail. Cyclists can find them at Lexa, Barton, Lick Creek, Lake View, Elaine, Watson, Rohwer, and Arkansas City. Additionally, the Barton, Elaine, and Arkansas City trailheads have restrooms available to the public. The Barton trailhead is located near the Delta Heritage Trail State Park visitor center.
Wildlife on the Delta Heritage Trail
Arkansas is home to a wide array of wildlife, many species of which are visible from the Delta Heritage Trail. The state animal is the white-tailed deer; along with the elk, it is one of the most popular game animals in Arkansas. Popular sport fish include black bass, striped bass, trout, catfish, walleye, panfish, and alligator gar. Small mammals include rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, moles, shrews, gophers, otters, opossums, and bats.
Cyclists should be aware of and watch for the presence of predators. Black bears, coyotes, red foxes, grey foxes, and bobcats all call Arkansas home. Red wolves were once strong there, but their numbers have since decreased dramatically.
Arkansas also has its share of reptiles. Among its snakes are the cottonmouth, copperhead, Western diamondback rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and Texas coral snake. Some are venomous and should not be approached or handled. Along with its snake population, the state has 17 species of turtles including the common snapping turtle, painted turtle, common musk turtle, and three-toed box turtle. Cyclists may also catch sight of lizards like the legless lizard and the collared lizard.
With its many rivers, lakes, wetland marshes, and bayous, the state is also home to a healthy number of alligators. Experts estimate there are as many as 2,000-3,000 alligators currently in Arkansas.
For an unparalleled glimpse into the Natural State’s natural beauty, check out the longest biking trail in Arkansas, the Delta Heritage Trail.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Michael Dean Shelton
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