It was a perfect weekend for exploring the Ozarks on a bike, and that’s just what 50+ people did April 10-13. They were taking part in the 4th annual Arkansas 500 charity ride, organized each year by Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge Vice-President Scott Smith to help raise funds for the big cat preserve.
The Arkansas 500 is a Dual Sport Motorcycle ride (not race) that spans three days and travels over 500 miles of back roads in the Natural State. “Arkansas offers the most diverse sites and experiences for dual sport riders in the Midwest,” says Smith, “including beautiful wooded forest, large hill climbs, incredible water crossings and more back roads that can be ridden in 10 years!”
“We all ride dual sport bikes, which are street legal but also suited for off-road riding,” Smith says. “That way you can explore back-country dirt roads, gravel roads and jeep trails. It’s a whole different experience than highway riding.”
Riders camp each night at a different location — Lake Fort Smith State Park Campground and Buffalo Point State Park Campground – and lunches are catered.
“There are dozens of vistas never seen by the rider who sticks to the main highways,” says Smith. “We do ride street legal dirt bikes, but we try to stay off the pavement. It’s a great way to enjoy nature and simply riding.”
Smith rides an XR650L Honda but says a wide range of bikes participated in the weekend. “We had everything from a Yamaha 250 to a BMW GS 1200,” he said.
What makes Arkansas a go-to destination for dual sports riding, says Smith, is the widely varied landscape – hundreds of miles through forests, along rivers, all accessible through back roads most people never ride.
His favorite route in the state is from Turpentine Creek to a town Oark, 90 miles to the south, passing through places like Pettigrew, St. Paul, and Red Star.
“There are many many ways to get from Point A to Point B,” Smith says. “You can go a different route every time. It’s great.”
“Dual sport riding offers you an experience you will rarely find on the paved roads, and the lack of traffic makes the ride much safer than otherwise,” Smith says. “We bring in everything we need and take it out with us, from food to gas to fixing your own bike if you get a flat.”
Throughout the year Smith rides the Ozark Mountains searching, exploring, and hunting for the best roads for riding dual sport bikes. “A lot of us choose to communicate through online forums, while others find ride buddies during their adventures,” he says. “Either way, we all want one thing — an awesome, adventurous ride in the mountains.”