Northwest Arkansas usually gets all the outdoor cred, but if you haven’t been to Little Rock, you’re missing out. Aside from the 1,200 miles of cycling trails in the metro area alone, the restaurants and cultural scene are world-class. If you’re looking to explore a city where you can get outside and learn something new, read on.
Cycling and Getting Outside
If you’re big on cycling, you’re big on Little Rock. Whether you’re an avid, advanced cyclist or just getting into biking and wanting some practice, there’s a trail around Little Rock for you. Start with an easy ride along the Arkansas River Trail—a gorgeous, beginner-friendly loop that runs along both sides of the river. The sides are connected by the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and the Big Dam Bridge, which is the longest cyclist- and pedestrian-intended bridge in the country. In late September, the Big Dam Bridge 100 goes through here, offering cycling routes from 15 to 105 miles long through mountain scenery and challenging hills.
Dustin Smith, a Little Rock resident and cyclist, also recommends Pinnacle Mountain State Park. He says that even though you can ride there from town, it feels like the country, and it’s rarely crowded. “People are very friendly, and generally drivers are aware that cyclists will be on those routes, so as an experienced cyclist it feels safe to be riding there,” he says.
Feel free to come any time of year, even when it’s snowy in your neck of the woods. Little Rock’s weather is usually pretty mild year-round despite being in the Ouachita Mountains, so you can hit the trails in any season. Leave time to venture a little further out of the city, too, if you want to hit the gravel trails of Ouachita National Forest and Lake Winona, about an hour and a half away. “It’s an amazing natural place to be,” Smith says.
If biking’s not for you, don’t sweat it. You can rent SUPs and kayaks at Rock Town River Outfitters downtown, right along the Arkansas River. It also offers expertly guided tours of the nearby Little Maumelle River if you have time for a little more exploring.
Little Rock has an impressive culinary scene, so make sure you work up a good appetite to hit as many local restaurants as you can. For an early-morning caffeine boost, Smith recommends grabbing coffee at Fidel & Co. For lunch, he’ll send you to the Root Café, which has great burgers, biscuits and gravy, and a substantial brunch for even the toughest adventures. Post-ride, you’ll want to swing by Lost 40 Brewing for a locally brewed pint (or two). “It’s very affordable and it’s kind of a hidden gem,” Smith says of Little Rock. “If you’re new here and you’ve never been, there’s an adventure around every corner.”
Little Rock’s Black residents fought hard during the Civil Rights Movement, and since, to make changes that have reverberated throughout the country. Take some time to travel the self-guided Civil Rights Tour to learn about the Little Rock Nine—the high school students who fought to desegregate education in 1957—and visit historic places like the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and the Daisy Bates House Museum, where the publishers of the Arkansas State Press facilitated meetings between the Nine and the NAACP legal team.
While you’re strolling through town, keep an eye out for countless murals and over 100 sculptures. Check a map of the murals before you go to get a glimpse at these gorgeous works, but make sure to leave time just to wander aimlessly too. In late 2022, the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts will reopen in a stunning, architecture-award-winning new building in MacArthur Park. It’ll house over 14,000 works from artists all over the world, and you’ll have a chance to create your own masterpieces too. The new arts center will have studios for printmaking, ceramics, painting, metalsmithing, and other art forms that let adults and kids alike get messy and create.
Downtown is easily bikeable if you stay north of Interstate 630, close to the Arkansas River, Smith says, and there’s plenty of parking so you can road-trip effortlessly in with your bikes. Stay at the elegant Capital Hotel, whose five-star rooms sometimes go for under $200 a night. It’s just a moment’s walk from the picturesque Riverfront Park and the Arkansas River Trail where you can go on an easy evening ride—the perfect way to end a trip to this do-it-all capital city.
Little Rock, Arkansas, is home to 1,200+ miles of mountain, gravel, and road cycling trails, making it the epicenter of Arkansas’s artistic, culinary, and cycling cultures. Visitors can walk the path of civil rights pioneers at historic Central High School and explore modern American history at the Clinton Presidential Library.