I had seen that Arkansas The Natural State television commercial and the Arkansas tourism ads in our publications lots of times but had never been in Little Rock in the fall when the colors are at their peak. The Big Dam Bridge, completed in 2006, sounded like a bike magnet. Little Rock is close (two hours in the truck convoy on Interstate 40) and cheap (about $200 for the weekend including bike rental, meals, gas, and a room at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock).
I started in North Little Rock at River Trail Bike Rentals, where owner David Fike rented me a hybrid for $16 for half a day. The shop is next to a park inside the floodwall near the landing for the Arkansas Queen and the U.S.S. Razorback World War II submarine. There's a big parking lot, historic murals on the floodwall, a public restroom (open and clean) and a water fountain (cold and working). The riverbank is crushed rock with a concrete pathway to the boats. I bet it didn't cost $42 million.
On the north side, the trail passes Verizon Arena, the minor-league baseball park, Big Rock Quarry, high bluffs, the Burns Park golf course, Centennial Park soccer fields, and a wetlands. On the south side (downtown Little Rock) it passes The Peabody, River Market, a sketchy section of downtown where the trail is incomplete, Rebsamen Golf Course, and a suburban office center that includes the headquarters of Dillard's and Verizon.
Like the Cumberland in Nashville and the Tennessee in Chattanooga, the Arkansas is a manageable river that lends itself to recreation and riverside development. Little Rock and North Little Rock have clustered their hotels, corporate buildings, sports facilities, and tourist attractions. The Clinton Museum was a big boost, as was the Big Dam Bridge. But the cities do the little things right, too. The 15-mile River Trail loop is one of them.