I could have easily spent an entire day, or more, at Petit Jean State Park. The crown jewel of Arkansas’ state park system offers a sampling of all the natural wonders spread across the northern end of the state.
Arkansas Route 154 connects the park with scenic Route 7 (to the west) and Route 9 (to the east). If you’re arriving from Route 7, like I was, you’ll first come to a set of bluffs, which provide a great viewpoint over the Cedar Creek valley.
Before stopping anywhere else, I drove on through the park to the visitor center, which is located near the east entrance and Lake Bailey (it’s the first thing you’ll see if you’re coming in from Route 9). Then, I backtracked towards Mather Lodge.
Along the way, there are plenty of chances to appreciate the work done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC built dozens of buildings, bridges, and other structures in the park…
… including the old water tower, which stands at the turnoff to Mather Lodge.
Mather Lodge is a beautiful stone structure, also built by the CCC in the 1930’s.
Park visitors can relax in the lodge’s lobby. I’m sure it’s quite cozy in the winter months, with a fire burning in the fireplace. It was also quite welcoming during my visit, for the opposite reason: air conditioning. I desperately needed a cool place to rest, after hiking the trail to Cedar Falls in the steamy June heat.
Cedar Falls Trail begins at Mather Lodge. It’s a bit more than a mile one-way downhill, to the foot of Cedar Falls, the park’s most famous feature. If you ask a park employee, “what’s the one trail I should hike?”, this is the one they will recommend, so don’t expect to find solitude along the trail.
The trail to Cedar Falls is an easy path, except that it loses a lot of altitude, which means the return trip will be a little more difficult. Be sure to stop for a picture as the trail runs underneath a fallen tree, propped up by a huge boulder.
Once you’ve hit the bottom of Cedar Creek Canyon, the trail crosses the creek on a narrow bridge, then levels out. It’s only a short distance further until you reach the falls.
From a distance, you can catch a nice reflection of the falls in the water.
Some people (like me) stop at the edge of the lake beneath the falls, but a few people take the slippery path around the lake, to walk underneath the falls. I’ve slipped one too many times around waterfalls, so I stayed on the driest ground I could find.
Cedar Falls features a drop of 95 feet, making it one of the tallest year-round waterfalls in the state of Arkansas.
Of course, this is Arkansas, so wherever there’s water, there will be rednecks. I tend to like my swimming holes chlorinated, thank you very much — not to mention, I’m pretty sure the park doesn’t want people swimming here.
Even without taking a swim at the falls, I was soaked by the time I made it back to Mather Lodge. The humid heat left me drenched in sweat. Since I had plenty more miles to cover, and because I was hoping to hike two more trails before quitting for the night, I hit the road, headed back to Route 7. Petit Jean’s other hikes, as well as its rock art, caves, and natural arch, would all have to wait for my next visit, sometime in the future.
Here’s a dash-cam, time-lapse video of my drive from Petit Jean State Park, back to Arkansas Scenic Route 7, via Route 154: