Plunging into an ice cold creek has never been more fun than at the annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival held each April at Devil’s Den State Park.
Most off-road fanatics wouldn’t pedal a perfectly good bicycle fast as they can into chilly water. But a cheering crowd on the creek bank egging them on gets riders psyched up for the Big Splash Challenge. The contest to see who can make the biggest splash has become a highlight of the festival, which features guided group rides, clinics, free food and more.
This year was the 33rd annual Ozark Mountain Bike Festival held April 1-2 at the state park situated in rocky, jagged country west of Winslow. Activities kicked off on April Fool’s Day with a guided 6-mile ride along Fossil Flats Trail. The path is billed as the birthplace of Arkansas mountain biking.
Back in the ’80s, Assistant Superintendent Tim Scott and a co-worker traveled to a mountain bike festival in Colorado. They figured Devil’s Den would be perfect for a similar bicycling party, and the Ozark Mountain Bike Festival was born.
“We basically stole their ideas and brought them back to Arkansas,” Scott, who still coordinates the festival, is fond of saying. Fossil Flats became a mountain bike trail of sorts.
More miles were added and now Fossil Flats circles through woodsy back-country in the heart of the 2,200-acre park. Fossil Flats and the recently completed Monument Trails make Devil’s Den attractive for mountain bikers of all abilities. Both routes are open for hiking as well.
Scott is a salty mountain biker himself, but at festival time, he’s busy riding herd on platoons of riders sending them off on the many guided rides and greeting them at the finish.
He chatted on Saturday morning April 2 with a bevy of gals who’d just finished the ladies-only ride around Fossil Flats. Each group ride has one or two leaders. Allie Corlett led eight women around the loop, over hill and dale and across Lee Creek. It was her birthday.
“I’m here at the 33rd annual festival on my 33rd birthday,” she beamed. “I like it because it’s more low key than a race. We’re all on mountain bike time. Another thing, people aren’t busy messing with their phones because there’s no service here.”
Different ride options cater to all skill levels, she noted, or people can ride on their own. The 9 a.m. ride on Saturday morning of the festival, usually around three miles, is ideal for novices and families with kids. Longer group rides up to 12 miles cater to intermediate and expert riders. Helmets are mandatory on all rides. Scott advises riders the Monument Trail network has some of the park’s most challenging routes.
The tsunami of Arkansas mountain biking has brought waves of riders from distant states to all of Northwest Arkansas’ mountain bike trails, including Devil’s Den. “We’re definitely seeing more mountain bikers,” Scott said.
Most hail from the north-central, central and south-central United States, though Scott chatted recently with mountain bikers from Massachusetts. March was particularly busy at the park. All through the month some state somewhere was having spring break, he noted.
The park staff hasn’t had problems dealing with the increased traffic. Devil’s Den Superintendent Monte Fuller said even with more miles of trail and more people, there hasn’t been an uptick in staff responses to accidents out on the trails.
“Mountain bikers, they pretty much take care of themselves,” he said.
Riders can plan on attending the next Ozark Mountain Bike Festival, tentatively set for April 7-9, 2023.
Visit Devil’s Den State Park
Devil’s Den State Park, at 2,200 acres, has trails for mountain biking, day hiking, backpacking and horseback riding. There are campsites for RVs and tent camping, as well as full service cabins and camper cabins. Scenic Lee Creek flows through the heart of the park.
Civilian Conservation Corps workers built the park in the 1930s using native stone and wood that mirror the surrounding natural beauty.
Information: arkansasstateparks.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 479-761-3325.
Source: Devil’s Den State Park