Lake Wilson stands as one of South Fayetteville’s most unique scenic offerings. Nestled in behind miles of gravel road, the lake offers outdoor opportunists an awesome number of avenues including fishing, hiking and that thing we all came for: Gravel grinding.
The ride to Lake Wilson has been the introductory gravel ride for generations of Fayetteville’s fledgling adventure bikers, myself included. The ride seems to understand that several things are required of it, and it holds to those things with an earnest tone, like your great uncle who let you try your first beer.
Getting to the Gravel
This ride begins where many other epics have — on the Razorback Greenway. Once in Fayetteville, you can really begin on the Greenway wherever it suits you. Just be sure you’re heading south.
The Greenway portion of the ride isn’t long, but does provide several solid options for food stops right along the trail, which I would suggest taking advantage of on the way home. It’s not good to be full of Burrito Loco if you’ve never ridden gravel before.
Once you lay eyes on the skate park in the Walker Park area, you’ll be close to turn one. Take a left at the crosswalk to exit the Razorback Greenway, turning east onto E. 15th Street. There’s a section of 15th Street that has a sidewalk, but the road itself is two lanes. If you’re comfortable riding in the street, you should be safe staying in the right lane, but there’s no shame in a brief sidewalk jaunt either.
The time on 15th Street may be intimidating to the rider who isn’t used to dealing with automobile traffic, but be comforted that it’s a short stretch.
The first light at the end of the E. 15th Street is Morningside Drive, and that’s your intended destination. Turn right at the light to get onto the main drag and begin your southerly journey toward Lake Wilson.
Once the turn onto Morningside is made, it’s time to get comfortable. Hunker down in the saddle, get that position just right and tuck in behind your riding buddy. The ride down Morningside is one of the most scenic and rewarding rides I’ve yet profiled, because it opens up some extraordinary Arkansas views.
Riders should be conscious that cars use this road, though it isn’t typically heavy traffic. Stay near the shoulder, but don’t live in fear either. Keep your lights on as a safety measure and things will be fine.
Morningside stays enjoyable, with a couple solid climbs and fun descents. You’ll need to ease left onto Wilson Hollow Road (Washington County Road 69).
Your final turn before the gravel begins will be a left onto South Lake Wilson Road, where things begin to turn especially awesome.
The Time Has Come
A few miles down South Lake Wilson Road, the moment we have all been waiting for finally arrives. Across a creek, a solitary yellow sign has been filling cyclists with joy for years. City maintenance ends, you’re warned. Then, like a beacon from on high, you see it: “Loose Gravel.”
This is, needless to say, a stellar photo opportunity. If this is your first gravel ride, please don’t miss the opportunity to pose your bike and your riding partner in front of the sign in as many ways as possible. There’s a large open field behind the sign that makes for a classic Arkansas scene: Rural roads, beautiful bikes and wide-open sky. What else could one want?
The move to gravel is the best part of the ride. The super cool thing about this part is that there are several directional options once you get to the gravel, so the rider can really vary the length of the ride with ease.
If this is your first gravel ride, I would suggest heading left to take the road to the lake. It’s a bit of a climb on the way there, but as I may have mentioned already, everything is a little bit more fun in gravel. Practice sitting and spinning. Practice standing and climbing, but keep your weight straight over your saddle so the back wheel doesn’t stray.
Once you get to the lake, options for exploration continue. There is a trail that meanders around part of the lake, but it isn’t super well suited for cyclocross or road bikes due to some larger rocky sections. If you brought your mountain bike for this ride, it’ll finally pay off once you get to the lake and have more versatility than your road friends — though they’ll probably beat you there by a good margin!
This is the part of the ride where my suggestions for what next are designed to taper off, because you do in fact have options. Explore the gravel, look around the lake, drink some water, take bike pictures (drivetrain out, obviously) and see who can do the longest most rad skid. Bad for your tires, but good for bonding purposes.
The Way Home
Getting back to the pavement is the best part of the ride to Lake Wilson, if you like to go fast. The majority of the ride back to smoother ground is downhill, which makes it a ton of fun on gravel. If this is your first ride, feel free to take it easy. Descending on a sometimes-slick surface can be intimidating, but it can also be a joy if you really go for it.
The route is reversed for the homeward journey, which may be made easier if you use any type of ride-mapping software like Strava or MapMyRide.
Something generally to keep in mind with gravel rides is that they tend to get more remote, so it’s always a good idea to have a real map with you in the event that technology fails, which it has been known to do at the least opportune times.
All told, this ride should provide interest for anyone. Whether it’s your very first ride on gravel or just another day in the saddle, Lake Wilson offers scenery and a new challenge that is sure to excite anyone who loves a good day on the bike.