Arkansas has created a growing buzz in the cycling community for a few years now. I wanted to experience the Arkansas High Country Route for myself.
I initially planned on doing the Arkansas High Country Race this year. But as was the case with most events, COVID-19 forced organizers to reschedule it for October. I figured I’d go check it out anyway.
Want to know how to tackle the High Country Route? Jump to my gear list. Otherwise, read on for some insight into the route.
Getting to Know Fayetteville
I headed down to Fayetteville, Arkansas, for an individual time trial of the 1,000-plus-mile route over the Fourth of July weekend. I had high expectations going into Arkansas. But I was still surprised and impressed, especially by Fayetteville. It was a great base camp and a perfect place to start and finish this route.
There is so much thoughtful, modern infrastructure and amenities there — all designed with cyclists in mind. Businesses are following suit by offering little touches like bike storage, bike parking, and bike washes. So it’s no surprise that both the League of American Bicyclists and PeopleForBikes recognize Fayetteville as a top 10 bicycle-friendly community.
Fayetteville is easy to fly or drive to, and it serves as a hip college town with tons to do besides biking. There are great museums and other cultural opportunities, plenty of watersports, and a strong backcountry aviation scene.
Obviously, I was there to ride bikes. And in recent years, cycling has become increasingly accessible in northwest Arkansas.
It’s a great destination for a family bike vacation, as there’s something for all ability and interest levels, whether you’re a parent wanting to shred jumps or a kid just learning to strider bike. That’s a hard thing to find, even in some of the most famous riding destinations around the country.
Plus, you don’t have to drive long miles to a trailhead. The towns and trail networks are all connected by bike paths, including the 40-mile Razorback Greenway.
Fayetteville is even building an international-caliber park that includes a purpose-built cyclocross course to host the 2022 UCI CX World Championships. Basically, if you love to bike, it absolutely deserves a spot on your must-see list.
Arkansas High Country Route: Friendly People & Terrain
The people I encountered in small towns across the route were both friendly and welcoming. In three separate conversations, I had old-timers encourage me to tell all my friends about how good the riding was there.
And good it was!
The terrain was engaging, with plenty of short, steep climbs. The shaded forests offered a huge relief from the hot sun; the gravel was very high-quality; and the swimming holes, rivers, and lakes were abundant.
And as for the scenery, the valleys and high points were captivating in such a different way than the Intermountain West that I’m used to.
I’d say it was in the top handful of gravel rides I’ve ever done.
With all the great backcountry roads through beautiful national forest land, one thing that surprised me was that I barely saw any side-by-sides. They’re so popular where I usually ride that I figured they’d be everywhere. So it was a welcome relief to never be dusted by a fast ATV.
Arkansas High Country Route: Routes & Logistics
I was very careful to practice social distancing and sanitation measures every time I encountered other people, to keep both myself and them safe. Every rider who visits should strive to be a good ambassador for cycling, and I was no exception.
And the people in and around Fayetteville seemed likewise very conscientious about safety.
While I always like to check out new routes, it was especially nice that the High Country Route is an Adventure Cycling Association route. That means the route planner, Chuck Campbell (an old-school Arkansas rider), put a bunch of extra work in to provide all the resupply info, maps, and logistics for an accessible tour. There are even different distances and loops depending on what you want out of the ride. He’s working on a guidebook of the route right now.
This is all good information to have because some very small towns have mercantile with limited hours. So if you’re going for speed, it’s important to know how to schedule your resupplies.
Arkansas High Country Route: Equipment
For the individual time trial, I rode my Rodeo Labs Trail Donkey — a super-capable gravel bike — with a pretty lightweight overnight setup, fast tires, and aero bars.
With half paved and half gravel roads, this bike was the right one for the job. With my setup (see below), I could carry around 150 ounces of water, drinking up to 300 ounces on the hottest days.
Jay Petervary High Country Gravel Cycling Gear
- Bike: Rodeo Labs TrailDonkey
- Wheelset: Industry Nine Ultralite Carbon 235
- Tires: Panaracer GravelKing SS 38mm (New SemiSlick)
- RedShift stem (suspension-style stem)
- CaneCreek eeSilk seatpost (suspension-style stem)
- Fizik Arione saddle
- HED Cliplite Aerobars (shifting pods on ends)
- Drivetrain: Shimano GRX Di2 2x drivetrain, 32-47 Easton crank with 11-40 cassette
- Rockgeist Bags (top tube bag, custom half frame bag and rack bag)
- Tailfin Carbon rear rack
- Osprey Duro 1.5 hydration pack w/100 oz. bladder
- Sleep kit: Emergency space blanket
- PedalED Bibshorts
- Base layer sleeveless shirt
- Jersey (lost on Day 1)
- Montbell long-sleeve sun shirt
- Fizik Terra Powerstrap X4
- Swiftwick Aspire Seven Socks
- Montbell Versalite jacket and pants
- PedalED Odyssey Gloves
- Giro Zero fingerless gloves
- Cycling Cap and neck gaiter cut into a head dressing for sun protection
- Repair kit: Multitool, tire plugs, knife, chain tool, chain links
I was able to set a fastest known time (FKT) record on the route of 5 days, 12 hours, and 6 minutes. I was happy with my resiliency in the heat and humidity, but I think in cooler weather I could break 5 days.
I’m looking forward to riding the route again — just not in the dead of summer. And I didn’t even get to sample all the singletrack. I’ll definitely be back as soon as possible.
Jay Petervary is an ultraendurance cyclist and an ambassador of sport living in Victor, Idaho. He has been fat biking, gravel racing, and bikepacking for decades and holds wins in long-distance cycling events such as the Tour Divide, Iditarod Trail Invitational, Silk Road Mountain Race, and Dirty Kanza XL.