By Flip Putthoff
The Monument Trails at Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area showcase the beauty of the Ozarks at every step of a hike or push of a bike pedal.
To really crank up the scenery, just add water.
That’s easy to do circling the Karst Loop of the Monument Trails network. A good portion of the 7.8-mile route follows the Van Winkle Hollow arm of Beaver Lake. Foot and bike travelers see vistas high above the water. In other spots, the trail falls to the water’s edge to perfect places for a picnic or a dip in the lake.
The trail gets its name from the karst topography of the park area, with its many caves and sinkholes created in part when water dissolves limestone.
A trip around the Karst Loop can begin at Paige Sawmill Road east of the Visitor Center. From the visitor center, follow Arkansas 12 east for about two miles to Rambo Road. Turn a hard left and follow Rambo Road to the bottom of a hill where the road makes a sharp right turn.
Don’t turn, but go straight on the gravel road for about one-quarter mile to a trail crossing. You’ll see the Karst Loop trailhead on the right. It’s open for feet and bike tires. Horses aren’t allowed on the Monument Trails.
It’s mandatory for mountain bikers to ride in a counter-clockwise direction. Hikers can go either way. So let’s hop on our mountain bikes for a counter-clockwise tour of the Karst Loop.
The hardest part of the whole ride might be the start. The trail meanders gradually uphill on some switchbacks that aren’t too steep, maybe a 5 on the wheezer scale. From the top of the switchbacks, it’s pretty easy going the rest of the way.
The trail squirrels around through the woods over gently rolling forest for an enjoyable ride. The surface is mostly dirt that’s smooth as a baby’s behind.
We’re still pretty high on a ridge two miles into the ride when views of Beaver Lake start to unfold below. In short order, we’ll be right beside the water after some gradual downhill riding.
The trip is mostly beside the lake the rest of the way. Sometimes the trail goes easily uphill above the water. Other times riders are so close to the lake, they’d get wet if they took a spill.
Along the way are some dandy spots for a picnic beside the lake on rocks warmed by the sun. A swim may be welcome once the water warms.
More views of the lake unfold all the way back to the trailhead.
For riders who want a longer distance, start at the visitor center and ride the Tunnel Connector section, Wolf Den Loop and Karst Loop, then return to the visitor center for a trip of 14.1 miles.
Tomek Siweic, a mountain biker from Rogers, knows the Karst Loop well.
“It’s one of the best trails around,” he said. “The hardest part is keeping your eyes in front of the handlebars because the trail is so beautiful.”
He rates it ideal for intermediate riders. There are some rocky sections along the lake, but beginner riders can walk their bikes over these.
Sheila Ross, who lives on Beaver Lake east of Rogers, explored the Karst Loop on an Ozark Society hike one Saturday last winter.
It’s a gorgeous hike, she said. Ross recommends hiking during the week. The loop sees lots of bike traffic on weekends.
“You have to be constantly aware of bikes coming through,” she said.
We were amazed how quickly we covered the 7.8 miles at our usual mosey pace. The loop is so well designed with no major climbing. Even after stopping to take pictures, sip water and enjoy the views, we were back at the trailhead in two hours.
We’ll be sure go to slower and enjoy the ride even more next time.
<em>Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com.</em>