Going around in circles is a good thing when it comes to biking at Pea Ridge National Military Park east of Pea Ridge.
The tour road at the Civil War battlefield is high on the menu of the region’s great cycling destinations. Seven miles of pavement circle the 4,300-acre national park. Riders roll through forests and along vast fields where the fierce Battle of Pea Ridge was fought on March 7-8, 1862. Riders can make one lap or ride around in circles until they get dizzy.
Families and high-mileage gear heads enjoy a ride over rolling terrain. One hill midway through the loop gets the attention of riders, rating a solid 7 on the wheezer scale. Stops along the way tell the history of the horrific fire fight eventually won by Union troops. Touring the park on a bike is a fun and healthy way to learn about this key Civil War battle.
Each time our little Tour de Madison County cycling group rides at Pea Ridge, we never forget the lives lost at the Battle of Pea Ridge or the harsh conditions troops on both sides endured. Some 3,500 troops were killed, wounded or reported missing.
Bird songs and the gentle ding of a bicycle bell are heard now where cannons once roared. We always start our rides at the shady picnic area 100 yards west of the visitor center. The center is a major feature of the park, but there’s no need to check in at the front desk before biking or driving the tour road. Admission fees are no longer charged at Pea Ridge National Military Park.
From the visitor center, it’s two-way traffic to start a clockwise bike trip around the loop. The road becomes one-way in short order. Riders pass a spring, a creek and acres of hardwood forest. Most of the cedar trees have been removed in an effort to make the park’s landscape look more like it did in 1862. Replica cannons are situated at some of the tour stops. The park is a hot spot for birding,and our feathered friends seem to enjoy perching on the cannon barrels or wheels.
Vehicle traffic moves along the tour road at a nice and easy pace. That makes it safer for people on bikes.
The hill climb workout starts about 3 miles into the ride where the road ascends through a forest and ends at a nice overlook at the top. From here, riders follow a ridge top for quite a ways to the East Overlook, which is one of the park’s highlights. There’s a pavilion here where visitors can see long views of the battlefield.
A curvy downhill stretch of road whisks riders to Elkhorn Tavern, a centerpiece of the national park. The home was also a field hospital during the battle. Artillery demonstrations and living history events are held here occasionally. Park staff recently rerouted the tour road farther away from Elkhorn Tavern and also added a roadside restroom.
The ride’s best part may be the last mile back to the visitor center. It’s a speedy downhill that’s arrow straight back to the visitor center or picnic area to complete the loop.
Stop at one loop or ride it 10 times for a 70-mile workout. Riders are welcome to ride from sunrise to sunset.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com when he’s not on his bike.