Gravel Riding in the River Valley

by | Mar 23, 2022 | River Valley Adventure

Photo by Michael Roys

What is gravel riding, gravel biking or adventure biking? It’s simply riding your bike on any unpaved stretch of road such as a county road or forest service road, and has become cycling’s fastest growing segment.

The River Valley’s location makes it easy to access both the Ozark-St. Francis and Ouachita National Forests, so it’s no wonder it has become the center of many nationally recognized gravel riding routes such as the Arkansas High Country Route. With approximately 2,500 miles of forest service roads, 40 plus campgrounds not including dispersed camping, and thousands of miles of streams, the River Valley is a natural base camp to consider when planning your next ride. 

Best Bikes for Gravel Riding
For most riders, any suitable mountain or off-road bike will work on the River Valley’s gravel roads. Riding on gravel is more about comfortably riding at a slower pace, than is riding on a paved road and mountain biking on single-track trails.

A gravel-specific bike is a cross between mountain and road bikes. It has drop-bars and a more comfortable geometry, designed to travel at higher speeds on unpaved roads. No matter the bike, gravel riding is fun and can be less stressful than single-track mountain biking. 

Mountain Biking versus Gravel Riding
People tend to associate mountain biking with narrow, harrowing, steep single-track trails, filled with cliffs, rock features, jumps, gaps, and a greater chance of injury. In reality, many of the mountain bike trails in the River Valley are made for the beginning to average skilled mountain biker. It does take more concentration and skill, but improvement and confidence will come with practice and riding in groups.

The main advantage to gravel riding is fewer hazards, obstacles, and traffic. There’s time to more thoroughly experience the River Valley’s surrounding scenery and wildlife while still getting a healthy workout.

A Favorite Gravel Riding Location
The River Valley has many excellent options for gravel riding, with the Spring Lake area containing some of the best. In the summer, one can park at the Recreational Area, ride the miles of gravel roads and return to cool off in Spring Lake. There are many great restaurant options in the River Valley at which to finish the day with a hearty meal, well deserved after a long day of riding and swimming.

A Beginner-Friendly Gravel Route
Holla Bend Wildlife Management Area, located outside of Dardanelle, is the ideal location for a gravel-riding beginner. The well-maintained gravel roads are clearly marked with no hills. The road surrounding the management area is between 12-18 miles with detours to view the Arkansas River and wildlife such as deer, eagles, hawks, ducks and geese. There is cell service and many parking areas. The adventure is well-worth the three-dollar entry fee per vehicle.

No matter the biking experience level, gravel riding can be one of the most satisfying and safest types of riding in the River Valley. Get outside and ride a bike!

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