Arkansas River Trail

Arkansas

At a Glance

Name: Arkansas River Trail
Length: 21.2 Miles
Trail activities: Bike, Inline Skating, Fishing, Wheelchair Accessible, Walking
Counties: Pulaski
Surfaces: Asphalt, Concrete
State: Arkansas

About this Itinerary

The Arkansas River Trail runs along the southern and northern banks of the Arkansas River and, with four bicycle and pedestrian bridges connected to the route, loops between the communities of Little Rock and North Little Rock, Arkansas. The Arkansas River Trail (ART) offers scenic river views while providing access to many of the historical and cultural offerings of the Little Rock metropolitan area.

The trail consists of a 16-mile loop between the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge to the east and Big Dam Bridge to the west, and a 5.5-mile extension to the west of Big Dam Bridge connecting to Two Rivers Park. However, because portions of the southern bank segment are under construction with temporary detours and on-road sections, we do not recommend riding the ART as an entire loop trail unless you are prepared to deal with potentially heavy downtown vehicle traffic. Instead, ride both the distinct southern and northern segments of paved, dedicated bike trail and cross between Little Rock (LR) and North Little Rock (NLR) via Junction Bridge. Before enjoying the ART, however, make sure to check on current trail conditions at the Arkansas River Trail website.

As the state capital, Little Rock is a major hub of governmental, economic, and cultural activity.The Little Rock Visitor Center efficiently condenses much of this history and activity into accessible self-guided tours; note the audio download for a Political History Tour that is available from their website as well as a printable, self-guided Museum, Art & Heritage Trail map. One of the delights of the ART is that it guides trail-users to parks, wetlands, nature centers, historical sites, museums, and shops—many of the key attractions that have made the Little Rock region a Southern destination. You can easily devote a whole day just to the trail and its environs. The ART officially begins on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge at the eastern end of the trail; mile markers indicate distance traveling west on either side of the river from this point.

There are numerous public toilets scattered along the ART’s route for ease of access and use. Bike rentals and bike tours are available at Bobby’s Bike Hike which is located right off the trail in downtown LR. For visitors flying into the region, the Clinton National Airport is just a few miles southeast of the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. Downtown LR is just one of the many interesting neighborhoods and districts worth exploring in the area, but places you conveniently close to the trail as well as a plentitude of gastronomic, artistic, and entertainment offerings. Double Tree Little Rock and the Courtyard Little Rock are two of several chain hotels near the trail and the riverfront. For a more historical and classy experience, stay at Capitol Hotel, which has been serving the community since 1870 and is well-versed in traditional but luxurious Southern hospitality. There are also bed & breakfasts in the downtown area, including Robinwood B&B in the historical Quapaw Quarter.

Day 1

Southern Segment /Little Rock (2.0 miles one-way)

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton served as Governor of Arkansas as well as State Attorney and the ART begins immersed in all things Clinton, starting at his namesake 1,600-foot bridge (formerly known as the Rock Island Railroad Bridge). Originally built in 1899 by the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad, this bridge was renovated to a bike/ped pathway as part of Bill Clinton’s vision for his Presidential Center. Today it overlooks the William E. “Bill” Clark Presidential Wetlands, 13 acres of pedestrian trails, elevated walkways, and river habitat. Across from the bridge entrance is the William J. Clinton Presidential Center, its on-site restaurant Forty Two, and the William J. Clinton Library. You’ll notice that the ART does extend east but only for a short 0.2 miles.

Heading west along the southern bank of the river, the ART wanders through the vibrant River Market District and beautiful 11-block Riverfront Park. Anticipate a leisurely pace as there is much to enjoy along this section of the trail, notwithstanding the large, permanent sculptures that lend an artistic flare to the riverfront promenade and the diverse range of water birds that grace the shoreline. Just after crossing under Interstate 30, the trail passes by the Witt Stephens Jr Nature Center, Clinton Museum Store, and Museum of Discovery; beyond the Museum of Discovery is one of the River District’s main features: Ottenheimer Market Hall. Here local vendors sell coffees, groceries, specialty items, and take-out. Stop in for lunch or to gather picnic supplies. On Tuesday and Saturdays between May and October, you can also enjoy an abundance of farm-fresh produce showcased at the district’s Farmers’ Market. There numerous shops and services nearby, including Bobby’s Bike Hike.

Across the trail, notice the large First Security Amphitheater on the banks of the river. You might return to this spot in the evening to enjoy a free outdoor movie during the Movies in the Park series or one of the many outdoor concerts held here, such as the annual Memorial Day art and music festival Riverfest. Also, you can enjoy River Lights in the Rock, the nightly illumination of three of Little Rock’s bridges as thousands of high-efficiency LED lights color the sky. Just beyond the amphitheater is Junction Bridge (mm 0.6), built in 1884 as a railroad bridge, now the nation’s only pedestrian/cycling bridge with a lift span. Cycle to Le Petite Rouche Plaza on the river edge, where you’ll see one of the most important landmarks in Arkansas: a small rock outcropping for which the city is named. Panels with photographs detail this history.

Continue west and look for a Civil War Marker indicating the location where Steele’s army entered Little Rock on September 11, 1863. On the western end of the Riverfront District is the beautiful Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden. Take time to wander around these peaceful surrounds featuring walkways and natural terraces as well as dozens of dynamic sculpture pieces (art lovers may want to look into the annual Sculpture at the River Market Show & Sale). After crossing under Highway 5, you will have completed ART’s first mile. An overpass takes you off-trail over La Harpe Boulevard to the Old State House Museum. Free and open daily, this history museum originally served as Arkansas’s first state capital and remains the oldest standing state capitol building west of the Mississippi River. Return to the trail via the same overpass.

Very shortly, the trail crosses under Highway 67 and the on-road section of the ART begins. Turn around and return to Junction Bridge to cross over the Arkansas River to the community of North Little Rock. On the way back, consider that much of the route west of this point runs alongside the active short-line railroad, Little Rock & Western (LR&W). The history of this right-of-way dates back to the early 1870s but it became an important main line between Memphis and New Mexico, long known as the “Choctaw Route” or Sunbelt Line - when Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific (Rock Island or CRI&P) acquired it during the early 20th century. After the Rock Island shutdown, the LR&W acquired the segment to Little Rock while others have since been abandoned.

Northern Segment /North Little Rock (7.5 miles one-way)

The north side of Junction Bridge drops you off into downtown NLR and its Riverwalk Park (the first of five parks that the ART passes through on the 7.5-mile jaunt through NLR). Enjoy views of the LR skyline across the water and take time to appreciate the Trail of Tears exhibit, an important part of the Riverwalk’s promenade recognizing the forced relocation of thousands of Native Americans. To the east of the bridge, the ART continues less than a mile to the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge. Instead, head west and stop almost immediately at the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum (mm 0.8), if touring a World War II submarine sounds interesting to you. Also, sports fans may want to take a quick detour off trail to the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum, two blocks away on E. Washington Avenue.

In downtown NLR, the ART runs along the southern edge of the Agenta Arts and Entertainment District where, as the name suggests, shops, art galleries, restaurants, and bars line the streets; though you will have to leave the trail, cross Riverfront Drive and head north to North Main Street to get to most of them. Stay on the trail to head west and partake in the serenity of the ART as it journeys through acres of green space. Despite the relative seclusion as compared to its southern counterpart, expect to share the trail with many other outdoor recreationalists as well as wildlife such as deer. Just over a mile from downtown at Riverview Park, watch the graceful gliding of skateboarders. Two miles farther, the large, 1,700-acre municipalBurns Park (mm 3.0-6.0) will likely be popping with all sorts of activity at the fishing pier, golf course, soccer complex, dog park, and campground (to name only a few of its amenities). It also happens to have a pre-Civil war log cabin, a covered bridge, and a network of on- and off-road trails.

From Burns Park, the ART continues along the river’s wooded banks to Campbell Park (which has two lakes that are popular for wildlife observation and fishing) and Cooks Landing (mm 7.0). At Cooks Landing, you can cross the magnificent Big Dam Bridge (mm 7.2), a 4,226-foot bridge considered to be the longest pedestrian and bicycle bridge in the U.S. You’ll have plenty of time to enjoy the views of the river (a major tributary of the Mississippi River), the Murray Dam, and Pinnacle Mountain to the west.

Two Rivers Park segment (8.5 miles one-way)

On the southern side of the Arkansas River once again, the ART heads east for 3 miles past the Murray Lock and Dam, through Murray Park and Rebsamen Park Golf Course.Beyond the golf course, the trail ends and meets the on-road section of the ART once again; turn around and return back to NLR the way you came. Alternatively, turn right (west) at Big Dam Bridge to cross Jimerson Creek. Continue along the shoreline for 2 miles to Two Rivers Park Bridge(mm 9.0) and cross over Little Maumelle River to Two Rivers Park. This 1,000-acre park consists of wooded wetlands and open fields with paved and dirt trails for walking, bicycling, and horseback riding. Follow the ART for 1.5 miles to a parking lot on Two Rivers Park Road. From here, turn left to bike along the Little Maumelle River for an additional 2 miles. Proposed plans suggest that the ART will eventually connect Two Rivers Park to Pinnacle Mountain State Park and the 225-mile Ouachita Trail.

Day 2

During yesterday’s journey along the ART, you passed numerous attractions. Today, explore those amenities more in depth and visit any that you didn’t have time to stop for previously.

Attractions and Amenities

Restaurants, Wineries, Ice Cream, Pubs
Outfitters/Bike Shops

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