When is the last time you remember taking a giant leap of faith, while also taking someone along for the ride? Mine was moving to Arkansas almost a year ago. I’d been in Colorado for 13 years, basically my whole “adult” life, and was terrified to make the leap. Yet, ready for a change and filled with anticipation about what my life could be. The first time I visited Northwest Arkansas was in March of 2019, by myself, to get a feel for the area and see if it might be a good place to start fresh. But I am not typically someone who jumps into things without plenty of preparation and research first. Sometimes this is a good characteristic, and sometimes it just gives me time to find reasons NOT to do something.
My target location: Bentonville. In 2019, it was still a very viable option (before home prices skyrocketed). I had a house in Greeley, CO, that I was ready to sell and I assumed I could take my profits from that home to find something for myself and my cats after my school year was up in May of 2020. That would give me a solid year to prepare myself: get my AR teaching license, save more money, research more specific locations, and convince the cats that this was a good idea. Of course, none of us knew that everything we had planned for the spring of 2020 would change in mid-March of that year. Like many other people, my plans were changed – and honestly, it was for the best. Right before the pandemic, I kept having the feeling that it just wasn’t the right time to leave. I wasn’t ready. I knew this could easily just be my mind panicking about a big change, but either way, I’d made the decision to wait one more year. The pandemic gave me more time to get my house sale-ready and enjoy another summer in Colorado playing on my bicycle and really drag out my good-byes.
But after John and I had been together for a while, I realized he was ready for a change himself. Sometime in the first six months of our relationship, Arkansas became a common topic when we discussed the future. By November of 2021, we made our first visit together (his first time in AR) and decided we could really enjoy living in Bentonville. It felt a lot like Fort Collins, CO, to me – we found breweries, bikes, and just a chill vibe that reminded me of why I’d enjoyed Northern Colorado before it ultimately became too crowded and expensive.
Top Reasons to Move to NWA
Often in the months before our move, I’d get the same question: why Arkansas? My answer was usually the same: my brother’s family would be much closer (2 hours from Bentonville), I wanted to ride my bike more often, and I wanted to be able to afford to live without working multiple jobs. But here are a few more narrowed-down reasons, in case you’re considering the move for yourself or your family.
Arkansas is the Natural State, and once you’ve arrived and get out of town (well, actually, even right in the heart of town…) you’ll see firsthand why that name is perfect for this part of the country. Most people have heard of the Lake of the Ozarks, or have watched the show Ozark, or just have a basic recognition when someone mentions the term. But the Ozarks (some call it a mountain range, some call it a plateau, some use the term to designate a culture and heritage) is home to some of the coolest geological features the US has to offer. I feel like a lot of it is easily overlooked when people focus on the large lakes or just cruise through/over AR on their way to another state. But take the time to do your own research, and really, just get here and see it for yourself. Some of my favorite highlights are all the trails (which I’ll also mention in the cycling section, but there are so many more around the state that tend to be more popular for hiking), rivers, lush flora (if you’ve got a green thumb and want to try your hand at some native plants, this is a good resource), and animal life.
One of the biggest draws for John and I, personally, was the mountain bike scene that has really made a name for itself in the last few years. I knew the first time I visited that something special was happening here with the bikes. The first time I drove through Bentonville trying to stay on the path Google had designated, I could see mountain bikers in the ravines right off major roadways (Specifically, the first time I noticed it was right around Tiger and A, for those of you who know the area). I had never seen anything quite like that. In Colorado, I almost always drove to a trailhead before I’d be able to ride. Often there wouldn’t even be enough parking and I’d have to find a plan B, or I’d have people on my ass the whole time I was on the trail due to the crowds. It was beautiful, but constantly busy. Also, there were the fires. Some of my favorite trails burned multiple times, which then led to mudslides, and more closures. Less trails = more and more people on the ones that were actually open. It was frustrating.
Here, people were riding right out their front doors. Now, three years after that first visit, the number of trails have increased exponentially and it’s easier than ever to get around Bentonville on your mountain bike. And if it is a busy time of year, say, spring break, there are enough trails to still get your solitude and peace as you ride. It’s amazing. You can always find a remote path that no one else is on if that’s what you’re looking for. Alternatively, you can join one of many group rides if that is your thing. The OZTrails organization does a lot for this community, and there are other bike-loving entities that happily support and encourage the enjoyment of bikes in our area.
I am still a little disappointed in the gravel/road bike options, but part of that is just me being terrified to explore on the roads themselves, versus trails. I had some awesome gravel roads near Longmont, CO, where I could park at a popular lake ten minutes from my condo, and from there the gravel was endless. People were respectful to cyclists on the roads because they were used to them, and I never ran out of road to explore. Just from that one spot. I’m struggling around Bella Vista to find easy access to gravel roads that doesn’t involve riding on a curvy (often tree-covered) street without a shoulder. I know there is a gravel community here. I just haven’t figured out how to access it yet. But I’ll get there, and Bellatrix is a patient girl as she sits on the trainer in my living room.
There are some big-name companies based in Northwest Arkansas. If you’ve been to the Bentonville Square, done any research at all, or even driven north from Fayetteville toward Bentonville and looked around at the buildings you’ve probably noticed recognizable names. Some people may not like that, but one thing is for certain – where there are impressive companies there are job options. JB Hunt, Tyson Foods, and Walmart are all based in this area. But the opportunities don’t stop with working for the actual company. There are so many other smaller entities that connect and work with these names in one way or another, which allows more flexibility but still a decent amount of stability. Plus, if you’ve got a remote job (which many do these days) and can relocate to the area, you get to enjoy all the perks of AR without worrying about finding a new job at all. There are also some relocation incentives for remote workers that have been making the rounds lately. When we were ready to move, we each applied for a “$10,000 and a bike” opportunity, which neither of us got, but was a very real option (we’ve met people here who came because they were chosen). Either way, remote or on-site, there is a plethora of paths for you to take if you’re curious about job options in NWA.
I also want to mention the U of A, for any students who may be considering this area as a future option (or higher education employees). The University of Arkansas is based in Fayetteville, and has incredible academic options, an stellar location in the city, and a world-class athletics program (if you like to follow that kind of thing). If you opt to settle down in Fayetteville (or anywhere, really, in AR) be prepared to learn how to Call the Hogs (yes, there is a certain way this is done). Don’t be alarmed, it’s just part of life here. Our first experience was at Hideaway Pizza in Conway, and we sure felt like outsiders for a couple of minutes. But before you know it you’ll have the technique down and will be ready when the supermarket cashier brings it up while you’re paying for your groceries. For real.
Good ole southern hospitality
As I’ve mentioned, there is some debate as to where certain regions of the US actually begin or end. But legal borders aside, Arkansas is full of some wonderful people and classic southern hospitality (mid-southern hospitality?). Colorado was wonderful in its own way. But most of the time, around Denver, I felt like one of many humans just doing my thing without really getting to know the people around me. Of course I had friends and family, and a cordial relationship with neighbors, but something down here is just different. On our first few weeks in Bentonville, neither of us had jobs and hadn’t really started networking. We were just enjoying our “funemployment” riding bikes and exploring everything the town had to offer. But whenever we’d be perusing in a new local shop, eating on a restaurant patio, or even taking a snack break on a bike trail we’d almost always strike up conversations with locals. It was always more conversation than was typical for me in CO. People weren’t shy, and genuinely wanted to help us settle into our new lives here. They’d give recommendations, tell you the tips and tricks of certain things in town, give you the “real” story on people or things that were well-known, and sometimes even offer to connect you to a possible employment option. All of this while I’d be playing on the ground with their dog. It was just a different kind of encounter than we were used to. A little much, sometimes, when you’re in a hurry – but nice, nonetheless.
Our Bella Vista neighbors are that way, too. Your house will have someone “keeping an eye on things” when you’re gone even if you’ve never asked anyone to. Your trash can might get taken off the street and put back by your garage on trash day before you even have a chance to do it yourself. And you might have someone bring you fried okra on a warm autumn evening, even when you’re trying to cut back on all the delicious food you’ve discovered here. Occasionally, it feels overwhelming and intrusive. But most of the time, it is a kindness that you just don’t find everywhere. So, even though it’s tough to have uninterrupted doing yardwork or getting the mail, just embrace the stories and subtle suggestions you know are coming. Everyone means well and it is a reassuring detail 99% of the time.
There is always more to discover
This is an incredibly brief introduction to some of the things that we enjoy about this area. You will find that everyone mentions slightly different things when you start asking people why they moved here. But that in itself should be reassuring – because no matter your top reasons for relocating to NWA, there is never a lack of said reasons. Is it perfect here? Well, no place really is. Do I miss Colorado? Yes. But was this a good choice? Definitely. Come see for yourself.