PEA RIDGE — Bird songs and the gentle ding of a bicycle bell are heard now where cannons once roared on the Civil War battlefield at Pea Ridge National Military Park east of Pea Ridge.
Today visitors explore the 4,300-acre national park on the paved 7-mile tour road that circles the woods and fields where the Battle of Pea Ridge raged on March 7-8, 1862. A good number of those visitors are on two wheels. The tour road has been a favorite cycling destination for decades, as it is today.
Families and hard-core gear heads enjoy a rolling ride with one hill midway through the loop that rates a 7 on the wheezer scale. Riders who like to crank out the miles can circle the 7 miles as many times as they’d like.
Each time our little Tour de Madison County cycling group rides at Pea Ridge National Military Park, we never forget the lives lost at the Battle of Pea Ridge. Some 400 men were killed outright during the two-day battle. Many more died of their wounds in the following days. Total casualties was around 3,400, says the park’s website.
We always start our rides at the shady picnic area about 100 yards west of the visitor center. The route turns right out of the parking lot and heads slightly downhill on the tour road.
It’s two-way traffic to start, but the road soon becomes a one-way street. Travel is in a clockwise direction around the loop.
There’s some easy up and down riding as the road leads bikers and car travelers to various stops along the way, key points during the Battle of Pea Ridge. Replica cannons are placed here and there that make great photo ops for pictures with the kiddos. Vehicle traffic moves along the tour road at a nice, easy pace. That’s good news for people on bikes.
The hill-climb workout comes halfway around the loop as the road heads uphill through a forest toward a nice overlook at the top. Could be a moderate or major climb, depending on the lungs and legs of the handlebar holder.
From here, riders follow a ridge top for quite a ways to the East Overlook, one of the park’s highlights. There’s a pavilion here where visitors can see long views of the Civil War battlefield.
On our ride a few Sundays ago, a park ranger was at the pavilion to show us artifacts from the battle and answer questions about the battle.
From the East Overlook, there’s a fast downhill section past boulders and a forest of hardwood trees. Elkhorn Tavern, a centerpiece of the national park, comes into view soon. The home was also a field hospital during the battle.
Artillery firing demonstrations and living history campsites are held at Elkhorn Tavern on occasion. The park’s website and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette will have information about upcoming programs.
The ride’s best part may be the last mile. It’s a speedy, gradual downhill that’s arrow straight back to the visitor center or picnic area to complete the loop.
Right now there’s no entrance fee to visit or ride at Pea Ridge National Military Park because of the coronavirus and construction in front of the visitor center, which is temporarily closed. Riders may pedal the tour road from sunrise to sunset each day.