By: TJ Stallbaumer
This represents the first piece in a five part series about what makes riding motorcycles in Northwest Arkansas so extraordinary. It is a consideration that is as difficult as it is easy.
It’s difficult only because there is so much to be said—and so much to be ridden. But it’s easy for the same reason. If you have stumbled upon this guide in a search of some of the nation’s greatest roads, search no further.
Motorcycle riders in Northwest Arkansas have understood the area’s excellence for quite some time. The rest of the world is beginning to catch up.
Bikes, Blues and Barbeque, which organizers now call the second-largest motorcycle rally in the nation, began to shine the spotlight on Arkansas in the mid 2000’s as its attendance increased each year.
The rally attracts riders each fall from across the country, but some still wonder where they should ride.
The goal of this series is to put those questions to bed, by answering which of the area roads deserve your time. I intend to introduce you to the rides that are quickly making this area one of the nation’s premier destinations for those who love the open road.
Scenic Highway 12 to Eureka Springs
This may be the Holy Grail of motorcycle roads. I invoke the cup intentionally. This road deserves fame equal to that of other well-known rides like the Tail of the Dragon in Appalachia or Needles Highway in South Dakota’s Black Hills. And yet it remains relatively hidden, at least to top-10 lists and Harley magazines. Like the grail, those who find it spend a lifetime appreciating its beauty.
Highway 12 contains stretches of road that are made for those with a love for riding.
It’s important to note that when I say riding in this sense, I mean the art and act of controlling one’s motorcycle. Highway 12 is very rarely straight.
The best starting point for this ride is anywhere in Rogers, Ark.. Fear not if you’re staying in Springdale, Fayetteville or Bentonville, just hop on Interstate 49 and follow the signage.
I advise starting the ride in Downtown Rogers. The downtown district features an old time feel, complete with cobblestone streets. Local bars and restaurants have made homes there, and you can grab a pizza, custom burger or cold beer anywhere in the downtown area.
From Downtown Rogers, you can take Walnut Street to 2nd Street, and then turn East onto Scenic Highway 12. Don’t worry if you’re not coming from the same direction. You can enter Highway 12 into a GPS and it will absolutely get you there. There’s also some stellar signage. Just be sure you’re going East when you find it.
Once on the highway, the nature of the ride starts to take shape pretty rapidly. Highway 12 is beautiful, and it’s also empty when compared to some of the other roads that find their way onto “greatest of all time” lists.
The first bit is calm. Take note, there is one hill that features a passing lane going east. It’s a great spot to get in front of that car slowing you down, but be aware: During rally season, police will almost always hide there. Don’t ruin your ride.
You should know you’re on the right track once you cross the Highway 12 bridge over Beaver Lake. If you’re piloting a motorcycle, this will be your last time to really look around. Take in the beautiful view. Feel the change of temperature as you’re opened up to the water and the wind. Prepare to ride.
The cornering begins quickly after you pass the bridge. A wide sweeping right introduces you to the feel of the road for the next 30 miles. It’s followed pretty immediately by a strong left, and by then you should begin to realize what you’ve found.
Highway 12 doesn’t quit curving for many more miles, but there are things to do besides just testing your riding ability on the way to Eureka.
Be sure not to miss The War Eagle Mill.
Built in 1832, the mill is a piece of Arkansas history that also provides great photo opportunities. The historic War Eagle Bridge was built in 1907, and is worth a detour just to ride over. New riders be aware, the bridge features raised parallel planks intended for the tires of a car. You have to pick one to ride on. They’re plenty wide, but if the thought makes you nervous, maybe just snap some photos.
The mill is well marked, but as you’re heading East on Highway 12, the entrance will be on your right at an aptly named thoroughfare: War Eagle Road.
Take your time down War Eagle Road, as the canopy of trees that have grown over the top is a sight to behold. Beyond that, you’ll be in the middle of Hobbs State Park, where hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers sometimes encounter road crossings, and may not be expecting you.
After your time at War Eagle, head out the way you came. You’ll absolutely not want to miss what’s waiting.
Keep east on Highway 12 for a few more miles of winding curves. If this is your first time on this ride, try and imagine that it’s only going to get better, and see what you think that would look like.
Your next turn will be to Highway 127, and it’s a left. Be careful here, as Highway 12 curves back around to the right. Make sure you can see all the way through the curve on 12 before making the left.
Once on 127, things get even better. The riding here is truly world class, with sections featuring almost every type of corner. In the same way there are “driver’s cars,” there are “rider’s roads.” And this is one of those.
The first turn on 127, a strong rolling right, introduces you to the rest of the road. Back to back corners are on display in this part of the ride, where you hardly have enough time to stand the bike straight before you must enter another lean.
The signage marking the corners is fairly accurate, depending on your skill level. Be aware, there are a couple turns on 127 that could be described as “switchbacks.” If the sign leading into the turn suggests you go 25 or fewer miles per hour, I would take it seriously. Anything above that is up to the discretion and skill of the rider.
You’ll stay on 127 for a while. The only point of interest here is the road itself. I can’t say that enough. You won’t want to stop for a while.
As you approach the junction of 127 and Highway 23, there’s a Shell station on your right. It’s a good place to stop if you have big groups, need gas or are sore. There’s plenty of parking, and the bathrooms are usually clean.
You’ll want to go north on Highway 23, which is another left.
23 is typically known as “The Pig Trail,” and is also a famous road in its own right. It will be the subject of an upcoming column, where it will serve as the primary road. On this ride, it’s just the icing on the cake.
Highway 23, much like the two roads that came before it, is a joy to ride. Use your openness for what it’s worth on this road, and take note of what gives The Natural State its name. Smell the wildflowers, and get some vista views.
If you’re in the market for a novel experience, make a stop at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. It’s a few miles North on 23, and is one of America’s few big cat refuges. If you want the full experience, call ahead before you embark in the morning and ask when “feeding time” is. There are few things cooler than being surrounded by the roars of hungry carnivores in complete safety.
Keep heading north on 23, and it’ll take you all the way into Eureka Springs. The reason we end the ride here is because the whole town is a point of interest. It’s a deeply unique little place, nestled at the end of some of America’s best roads.
If you’re in the market for something biker friendly, I would recommend you check out “The Cathouse” at the Pied Piper Inn and Pub. It has bike parking all across the front, and is an easy place to grab a brew while you check out other motorcycles.
The Rockin’ Pig Saloon is another biker-friendly venue, which also features cold beer and bike parking. You can’t go wrong.
If you want to experience Eureka as it deserves, just park your bike and walk the main drag, which is noted as a loop in the included map.
Now for the return trip, I advise something simple: Go back the exact way you came.
Some of you may be asking why I didn’t turn this particular ride into a loop, and that’s a fair question. But it also has an answer born of experience. This ride, and the roads that comprise it, are so dynamic that to return the same way you came feels like another ride altogether. When every turn that was a left becomes a right, a whole new world is opened to you. If you have a favorite lean direction, you owe it to yourself to go back from whence you came.
The pursuit of wonderful roads should be a large part of why we ride. Scenic Highway 12 is a road unlike many others. With challenges and beauty, and fewer cars than its counterparts, anyone with an eye toward adventure is sure to be satisfied.