My mountain bike’s knobby front tire teetered on the lip of a large stone slab at the top of a trail called Dragon Scales. The chunky path before me looked like something out of Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a wagon road rolling through a pretty Shire. This flight of imagination struck me as I pedaled across the hilly outskirts of Bentonville. Famous for being the worldwide headquarters of retail giant Walmart, this Arkansas town rests in a bucolic zone in the foothills of the Ozarks, about 30 miles north of Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas. Buzz surrounding Bentonville’s emerging mountain-biking scene drew me here, but I found so much more than just great cycling.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. For years, vendors seeking to do business with Walmart have traveled to Bentonville, a pilgrimage the late company founder Sam Walton insisted they make. In 1962, Walton launched his first Walmart store in Rogers, just down the road. Walton, of course, went on to become a business legend and died a billionaire many times over. Today, nearly 10,600 Walmart-affiliated shops dot the globe, with more than 4,700 Walmart stores in the U.S. Thanks in part to investments made by Walton’s heirs who still call the city home, Bentonville has blossomed into a bona fide destination for cyclists, art lovers, and foodies.
The handsome little city of about 55,000 residents is around 3 hours by car from Little Rock. Moreover, Bentonville boasts a busy regional airport with frequent nonstop flights from the East, West, and Gulf coasts. While business execs have long traveled to Bentonville, fun-seeking travelers began arriving about a decade ago.