Trail Love Letter: The Sylamore Trail

AJW’s love letter to Arkansas’s Sylamore Trail.

By on February 5, 2021 | Comments

AJW's Taproom[Author’s Note: This is the second installment of a monthly series to pay homage to some of my favorite trails. These are not trail guides, per se, but rather tributes to some of the finest running trails in the United States.]

A quick two-hour drive north of Arkansas’s capital, Little Rock, lies the sprawling forest network of the Ozark-St. Francis National Forests. Beginning at the southeastern boundary of the forest and winding its way northwest along and above Sylamore Creek, is the North Sylamore Creek Trail which all the locals simply call, Sylamore.

This popular backcountry trail is the venue for two annual ultramarathons, the Sylamore 50k in February, one of the most popular ultras in the mid-U.S. South, and Three Days of Syllamo, a stage race in March with a 50k on Friday, a 50 miler on Saturday, and a 20k on Sunday. In both of these events, the 13.5-mile Sylamore Trail is prominently featured.

The Sylamore 50k begins in the crossroads hamlet of Allison, Arkansas and runs the roads out of town to the edge of the national forest where runners ford the river and begin the 27-mile out-and-back to Barkshed Aid Station. In between the river crossing and Barkshed, there are two idyllic aid-station spots at Blanchard Springs and Gunner Pool. They are both popular camping and swimming areas in the summer and excellent basecamps for long adventures in the Ozarks all year round.

Blanchard Springs, located about five miles up the trail from the river crossing, also serves as the base of operations for Three Days of Syllamo when it is transformed from a forest oasis into a three-day, tent-city ultra party. Over the course of three days, runners traverse sections of the Sylamore Trail several times, taking in stunning views high on the bluffs overlooking the creek, running by cascading waterfalls of crystal-clear Ozark water, and climbing and descending some of the most sustained technical terrain in the region.

My favorite parts of the trail are the several miles of smooth, flowing, pine-straw-covered trail that are more reminiscent of the buffed-out trails of the West Coast than the gnarly, rock, and root-infested trails of the East Coast. Alas, however, those blissful sections are short lived such that the last time I ran Sylamore, I fell smack dab on my face while transitioning from one of the smooth sections to one of the gnarly sections.

In many ways, the Sylamore Trail has a fitting partner in the Ozark Mountains. The Ozarks, known as one of America’s oldest and understated mountain ranges, hold a certain secret beauty that brings the locals back year after year and yet tend to slide under the radar of some of the bigger and more majestic wild places in our country. Like the mountains, the Sylamore Trail has some secrets to share, as well, just as long as you run long enough to hear them.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Ozark Brewing Company in Rogers, Arkansas. One of my favorite Arkansas beers is Ozark’s Cream Stout. One of those rare stouts that is good drinking all year round, the balanced and rich Cream Stout has that classic, dark-chocolate taste and creamy body that, for many, has always been the key to a good, easy-drinking stout.

Call for Comments

  • Do you regularly run on the Sylamore Trail, or have you visited it for one of the local races or for an adventure weekend? Leave a comment to share your story on the trail.
  • What parts of the Sylamore Trail are your favorites?

At the Three Days of Syllamo stage race. All photos courtesy of Three Days of Syllamo.

During Three Days of Syllamo.

Bluff running at Three Days of Syllamo.

Scenery on the Three Days of Syllamo course.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.