Iron Mountain is one of the great fun mountain bike rides in Arkadelphia, Arkansas (USA). Not too hard and not too easy with about 1600 feet (488 meters) in elevation. I had the opportunity to ride the Iron Mountain bike trails over Easter weekend while camping out at Lake DeGray campgrounds. May the following information enhance your ride experience and avoid the pitfalls I encountered navigating the trail routes.
Who would name their children this?
There are 6 trail loops (some named tongue-and-cheek). They are marked with painted swatches on tree trunks at riding height level. There is signage at trail intersections such as Yellow Snow, Jolly Green Giant, Clockwork Orange, Blue Bayou, Pink Cadillac and The White Zone. Along with the trail intersection signs are signs with letter designations to guide you along the trails to show your progress.
There are six trailheads to park and start at different colored loops with exception of the White Zone Trail. Spillway Trailhead starts you at the Yellow Snow. Lower Mountain Trailhead starts you either on the Yellow Snow or Jolly Green Giant. The popular Upper Mountain Trailhead starts you onto the Jolly Green Giant or Clockwork Orange. The Corp Trailhead starts you at Clockwork Orange. The Campground Trailhead starts you on Blue Bayou or Pink Cadillac. Iron Mountain Marina starts you at the Pink Cadillac. Stop by the Iron Mountain Visitor’s Center for a map and directions of the trailheads.
Taking a spin onto the Yellow Snow!
I started at the Spillway Trailhead to ride all the loops. You may opt to just do one loop or combination thereof. A half-day is ample time for an intermediate rider to cover the whole route of about 23 miles. The Pink Cadillac trail is just a short straight cut through to the Iron Mountain Marina comprising of camping area, cottages and marina. Unless you are camping or parked there I would skip that section.
Starting out from the Spillway Mountain Trailhead, you start the climb on the yellow trail with switchbacks. The climb is not brutal with the highest at 1609 feet elevation level to the dam, but has enough switchbacks and downhill sections to reward your climb to the Lower Mountain Trailhead. You may loop back on the yellow to the Spillway Trailhead, but as I’ll explain later you will need to travel the blacktop to get to the Yellow Snow trailhead return entry point.
Good Golly Jolly Green Giant
Going to the Jolly Green Giant Trailhead entry point, the combined elevation gain is about 900 feet along all the remaining loops. The clerk at the Iron Mountain Visitor’s Center told me I needed to cross the bridge. After the bridge, you will need to ride about 200 meters of blacktop following the road bend to the right, past two guardrail sections of the road. Then proceed to the left to a small open field, and the green trailhead sign will be to the left on a sloping hillside. I started counter clockwise and right into it I missed the rock ledge jump climbing the trail as part of the Jolly Green Giant Rock Gardens. Take the green trail on your return clockwise to get some big air on the rock ledge or counterclockwise for a fast and flowy ride with a couple of challenging rock gardens to maneuver through. I am glad I skipped the jump else I would have been cashing in early on a disability policy. Since I was riding solo there was no one to egg me on.
The green trail has several degrees of difficulty in challenging rock garden terrain by riding counterclockwise or clockwise to pick a line to ride thru and challenge yourself to staying upright. The green trail on the return counterclockwise offers sweet fast flowing s-turns.
A lettered “H” checkpoint sign is placed in the intersection of green trail for a progress check or bailout back to Lower Mountain Trailhead. I continued on the green counterclockwise to the Upper Mountain Trailhead.
Counter Clockwise the Clockwork Orange
The Upper Mountain Trailhead connects to the fast flowing single track s-turns of Clockwork Orange Trail and forest canopies. By riding counterclockwise, I encountered a couple of cut thru shortcuts which may be tempting to take, but take the full route to the far right.
At the next intersection, checkpoint “K” routes you to Blue Bayou, The White Zone and finishes the Clockwork Orange Loop.
Wooo Hooo– the Blue Bayou
Entering the Blue Bayou counterclockwise offers stream crossings, peeks of the lake view through the trees, flowing trails and slight climbs. Checkpoint M parallels the blacktop road and provides access to the Pink Cadillac trail to Iron Mountain Marina. I skipped the marina and continued along Blue Bayou. Along the trail an intersection opportunity appears for either clockwise or counterclockwise to an outer loop. Finishing out the blue provides a challenging opportunity to ride a small uphill rock garden section. Pick a line and maintain momentum and balance to finish the Blue Bayou.
Don’t zone out on the White Zone
Enter the The White Zone and you will find numerous photo opportunities.
For a first run, take the time soak in the lake views and that trails that follow the contours of the lake as seen in the video.
After taking the downhill s-turns, the return loop will reward you with not to strenuous climbs. I bumped into a local area riding group who mentioned it was relatively flat compared to other Arkansas trails. As a flat terrain rider from Memphis, I would disagree but in the context of riding Arkansas EPIC rides in the Upper Buffalo and Syllamo, Iron Mountain trails are not as hilly (read Ride the EPIC-Rated Syllamo Mountain Bike Trails).
There is another checkpoint O to bailout or add miles and additional lake views. I continued counterclockwise to eliminate any route confusion on outer loop to the checkpoint O intersection.
Exiting out The White Zone you will return back to the intersection checkpoints N and L. Proceed to the Clockwork Orange loop with a short remaining uphill section to finish out to the Upper Mountain Trailhead.
Green with Envy
The return trip (counterclockwise on the Jolly Green Giant) offers awesome downhill runs and two sections for a challenging rock garden ride. I rode the rock garden green sections twice. For the first run I took a left onto the rock garden challenge and slow walked it as shown in video below.
Here is a glimpse of the second rock garden challenge that you encounter when turning right.
Finish out the Jolly Green Giant by riding back out to the blacktop. Ride pass the guardrails sections and bridge to take one last glance of the Lake Degray dam view.
Where is Checkpoint C in the Yellow Snow?
Ok, I have to admit I am a terrible navigator. Ask my family. Although the Lower Mountain Trailhead signs offer guide information, finding the checkpoint C entry point was challenging for me since it does not directly connect after the Jolly Green Giant Trail.
On the return ride to the Yellow Snow Trail, I glanced at the map at the Lower Mountain Trailhead. It wasn’t apparent to me where the entry point back to yellow was located. The first leg of the yellow trail exits at checkpoint B onto an blacktop intersection comprising of a restricted entry gated fire road, entry to the Jolly Green Giant across the dam bridge, an exit to the main road and a road entry to the a boat ramp and maintenance fire road. Taking the restricted gated fire road climbs towards the dam, but did not present a checkpoint C sign.
Going the opposite way towards the boat ramp and maintenance fire road appeared promising, but the fire road and a mile riding into it, did not offer the elusive checkpoint C sign either. Finally I decided to follow the exit towards the main road and at 200 meters was the elusive checkpoint C Trailhead entrance sign. Be on the lookout for checkpoint C on the left side of the road. While riding the second leg of the yellow trail it appeared to be under construction with old sections of the single track trail marked by yellow swatches on the tree trunks running parallel with a temporary maintenance fire road. I continued following the fire road to the right and the painted yellow markers to return along a valley between two ridges curving along the fire road.
If you have the opportunity to visit Hot Springs or camp at Lake DeGray, take the time to ride Iron Mountain and experience the fast and flowing trails, challenging rock garden sections, and natural beauty of Lake DeGray up close.
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Please pin me!
LeahApril 26, 2017 8:24 am
Really cool post and videos. It’s such an underrated area!