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Rolling beside the Arkansas River to the Big Dam Bridge
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

arkansas cyclist
A cyclist rolls off the Big Dam Bridge, the longest bridge in North America built just for cyclists and pedestrians; image by Tom Adkinson.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas – The wind in your face, the sun on your shoulders and relative solitude – three joys of life we crave as we muddle through the coronavirus pandemic – are available on a bicycle ride, and the folks in central Arkansas have just the place for that joyful experience.

It’s a 15.6-mile loop on both sides of the Arkansas River that includes Little Rock and North Little Rock and highlights one of the best-named places in America – the Big Dam Bridge.

Mentioning the Big Dam Bridge in conversation with people unfamiliar with the 4,226-foot-long structure can prompt a giggle or a sideways look until you explain that the Big Dam Bridge came by its name honestly.

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A photographer pauses on the Big Dam Bridge to frame an image looking downstream toward Little Rock and North Little Rock; image by Tom Adkinson.

It was a statement of the obvious that named the bridge and helped cement its identity as the longest bridge in North America built just for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Pulaski County Judge Buddy Villines was a major proponent of a regional trail system, but it required building a bridge over the top of a massive Corps of Engineers dam. In a planning meeting when spirits were down, Villines rallied the troops and declared, “We are going to build that dam bridge.”

arkansas cyclists big dam bridge
A group pedals along leisurely on the 15.6-mile-long loop that includes the Big Dam Bridge and the Clinton Bridge; image by Tom Adkinson.

In a description from the Big Dam Bridge Foundation, Villines explains, “There was a pause and then laughter when people realized that I said ‘dam’ instead of ‘damn.’”

The bridge they envisioned would soar 30 feet over the Murray Lock and Dam on the Arkansas River (the big dam in question), which is just a few miles upstream from Little Rock and North Little Rock. Just imagine the Corps of Engineers meeting when that idea was first proposed. A pedestrian and bicycle bridge atop a federal dam certainly wasn’t part of the dam’s original concept or anywhere in the Corps of Engineers’ playbook.

The idea did take root, and $12. 8 million later, the Big Dam Bridge became a popular attraction. The bridge’s special virtue is that it is a vital link in the Arkansas River Trail, an 88-mile-long loop that connects 70,000 acres of city, county, state and federal park land.

In addition to the Big Dam Bridge, the close-to-town 15.6-mile loop has numerous other attractions and reasons to take a break from the saddle. You cross the Arkansas River a second time on the Clinton Bridge, which is next to the Clinton Presidential Center in the heart of downtown Little Rock, and you can pause multiple places in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, an outdoor space with more than 90 works by sculptors from Arkansas and across the nation.

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The white support columns for the Big Dam Bridge never were part of the Corps of Engineers’ plan for the Murray Lock and Dam; image by Tom Adkinson.

Across the river in North Little Rock, you’re only a few blocks from the Argenta Outdoor Dining District, with plenty of retail and art attractions, plus a dozen eating and drinking establishments. Among those especially appealing to thirsty bicyclists are Flyway Brewing and Diamond Bear Brewing Co.

Rock Town River Outfitters has two locations for bicycle rentals on the Big Dam Bridge loop. Regardless of where you enter the loop, expect to see walkers, joggers and skaters.

And if you’ve ever wondered what 3,000 people in Lycra biking shorts look like, the Big Dam Bridge 100 attracts that many competitors every September. It is the state’s largest cycling tour – best observed this year from a distance, of course.

Trip Planning Resources:,, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published July 31, 2020

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