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20 In Arkansas/ Hiking + The Outdoors/ Travel

Hiking in the Ozarks – Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

Petit Jean State Park is Arkansas’ first state park and it is a beauty! Don’t be fooled by the French name – in the Ozarks a lot of places have French names, but we have our very unique way of pronouncing things. For example Petit Jean is pronounced ‘pet-it jean’ with no sort of French accent, just the charming southern accent from Arkansas.

PetitJeanStatePark

A Little History:

The legend of the name of Petit Jean comes not from a man (Jean is the French form of John) but from a woman who dressed like a man to gain access to the New World in the 1700’s. When France had this land, a French Nobleman named Chavet got permission to explore this region. He was engaged to be married and his fiancée wanted to get married right away so she could come explore as well (sounds like a case of wanderlust to me!), however Chavet thought that sounded too dangerous and said that they would be wed when he returned safe & sound and that they could perhaps move back to the New World together. This was not okay with her, so she disguised herself as a man – and apparently did a good job at it – because she applied to be a cabin boy on the ship and got the job, even fooling her fiancé! Because she was so small, they gave her the nickname Petit Jean, or Little John. The night before they were to return to France Jean came down with a mysterious illness, and her identity was discovered. She begged Chavet’s forgiveness and requested to be buried on top of the mountain she had grown to love. The Native Americans in the area built a deer-skin stretcher to carry her to the top of the mountain. She died there just before sundown.

Later, in the mid-1800’s pioneer days, a farmer from North Carolina settled here, built a log cabin and lived here. Jump ahead another 50+ years and see Petit John become Arkansas’ very first state park! Originally, they applied to have this park be one of the nation’s first national parks, but it didn’t have enough acreage. While I could see this being national-park-status, I am just grateful that someone found it beautiful enough and worthy of being preserved. (source)

What To See & Do?

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

photo by my amazing fiancé 

Hike – Matt and I went there for the hiking, but there are several miles worth of hikes here to lots of beautiful sites! What were our favorites?

» Cedar Falls, The Natural Bridge and Rock House Cave.

Davies Bridge – This stone bridge built in the 1930’s is one of only eight masonry arch bridges left in Arkansas. It spans Cedar Creek and has a small (what appears to be man-made) waterfall flowing under the arch. Be sure to stop and appreciate this beautiful bridge.

PetitJeanStatePark

⋙ Go to the Automobile Museum – it’s technically outside of the park, but if you’re interest in the history of automobiles, I heard it’s nice! We skipped it, trying to fit as much hiking in as we could in our visit.

⋙ Stay & Eat -Mather Lodge looks like an incredible place to stay and I can personally attest to the deliciousness of their meals! I had their chicken fried chicken and Matt had a burger – we both enjoyed them very much!

PetitJeanStatePark

PetitJeanStatePark

» In addition to Mather Lodge itself there are campgrounds and yurts to stay in. All of which seem to be extremely reasonably priced!

⋙ Get out on the Lake – There are loads of fishing opportunities and you can rent fishing boats, as well as kayaks, canoes and water bikes to get a different kind of exercise out there on the water.

More About The Hikes & Overlooks:

⋙ Cedar Falls Overlook – This boardwalk overlook takes you down into the woods, to the edge of the canyon. All of this was once part of an ancient ocean millions of years ago. I love seeing waterfalls from above, but theres this special thing with some of the Arkansas waterfalls. The cliffs make this sort of semi-circular alcove for the water to flow into and you really notice it from above.

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

photo by my amazing fiancé 

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

Hey look! It’s a waterfall!

⋙ Canyon Trail & Cedar Falls Trail – Both of these trails start at the Mather Lodge. You start out looking at a glorious view of Cedar Creek Canyon. I just adore this view. In fact, we think this might be where we celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

PetitJeanStatePark

This view is from beside lodge down into the canyon.

PetitJeanStatePark

These two trails start out along the same trail. Then, you cross a footbridge and if you turn right you take the Canyon Trail – leading to the Blue Hole Area.  If you turn right it takes you to the bottom of the 95 foot Cedar Creek Falls.

PetitJeanStatePark

photo by my amazing fiancé 

PetitJeanStatePark

PetitJeanStatePark

» We started to the left to complete the Cedar Falls Trail (about 2 miles roundtrip). I would definitely say that the most strenuous part of the trail is the quarter mile or so at the beginning & then the end. You go down a decently steep bluff, but it isn’t anything crazy. Just remember it’s quite humid in the Ozarks if coming in the summer.

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

photo by my amazing fiancé 

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

CedarCreekFallsArkansas

Unlike many of the waterfalls in the Ozarks, it is illegal to swim at the base of this 95 foot beauty.

» So, what if you turn left at the footbridge? That takes you on the Canyon Hike (approximately 2 miles if you go there & back) to the Blue Hole Area. That sounds like a magnificent pool, right? In my head I was picturing a cenote, but that was not what I found. Because I made the mistake of comparing it before I even saw it, I was disappointed. It’s also mosquito season, so we got eaten alive on this trail. While, it was pretty and it a spot that connects three trails, it wouldn’t make the top of my list on a return visit.

PetitJeanStatePark

PetitJeanStatePark

This rock walkway leads you to a connector trial & even the remains of an old stone building, but it was a once & done trail for us. The Blue Hole is that area to the right… Not exactly blue, or much of a hole.

⋙ Seven Hollows Trail (about 4.5 mile loop) – I would highly recommend this trail – it takes you through four canyons, a massive natural bridge, a wet-weather-waterfall and more! It’s an extremely well-blazed trail that takes you over rocks, down into canyons, looking up bluffs and through the first. Be sure to bring plenty of water and maybe some tick-repelent.

PetitJeanStatePark

photo by my amazing fiancé 

I LOVE rock formations. The magic of water & wind never ceases to amaze me. This natural bridge is HUGE and I loved being able to explore it!

PetitJeanStatePark

This was on top of one of the bluffs. We had just been in that canyon that Matt is overlooking. This area has these formations known as turtle rocks, but I think that the turtle rocks on another hike were much more distinct.

PetitJeanStatePark

⋙ Rock House Cave (.25 miles) this barely constitutes as a hike, but it is totally worth it! This is the trail with the incredibly distinct turtle rocks – rocks that look like giant turtle shells sitting on top of the mountains, and then at the end there’s this bluff overhang. This was a bluff shelter for Native Americans and over 500 years ago they left their mark, literally, with their Rock Art.

PetitJeanStatePark

PetitJeanStatePark

Can’t you see the Turtle Shells?

PetitJeanStatePark

Standing on the back of a “turtle shell”.

PetitJeanStatePark

photo by my amazing fiancé 

Inside the cave shelter it was just the two of us basically the whole time we were here,only meeting people only upon arrival and when we back on the trail back to the car. It was nice to be able to take your time strolling through the shelter sharing it only with the birds who nest in the bluff. It’s just a beautiful place and this archaeological site is thankfully protected by state law.

Petit Jean State Park is a truly beautiful place. There are plenty of hiking opportunities whether you’re looking for a short stroll or an all-day, 12-mile hike. You can swim, eat delicious food, kayak and just relax. This is the perfect Arkansas Mountain getaway for the day or even for the week. Don’t miss Arkansas’s first state park.

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20 Comments

  • Reply
    Laura @ Grassroots Nomad
    June 6, 2016 at 9:37 am

    What a beautiful place to explore! Its a shame you aren’t allowed to swim under the waterfall, but I guess that helps with conservation work. And that stone bridge – wow!!! Gorgeous reflections 🙂

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 8, 2016 at 9:32 am

      I’m such a nerd because after you asked that, others also asked, and then I got super curious! So, I just got off the phone with the Petit Jean Park Superintendent and he said that it isn’t just below the falls, it’s the lake there & the creek itself. He said because it’s a flat top mountain, it collects a ton of water and these waters flow into other rivers, lakes, etc and it’s to keep bacteria counts down and for people’s safety. He also said that the creek & lake have been closed longer than he’s been there – which was 20 years. Thanks for asking so I could educate myself even more!

  • Reply
    casstravels
    June 7, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Wow! What an absolutely gorgeous park and hike! I loved the beautiful stone bridge and all of the wonderful lush green around the waterfall! Not at all what I expect in Arkansas!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 8, 2016 at 9:34 am

      I know! I was born in Central Arkansas and grew up in SW Missouri and I didn’t know that it looked like this until I was 24! I feel like I really missed out in my childhood & young adulthood. We’re making up for lost time, though.

  • Reply
    aberkholtz
    June 7, 2016 at 11:13 am

    Wow, I love that picture of the waterfall cascading off into seemingly nothing/space! My buddy just came back from the Ozarks, however he was there for a bachelor party so I doubt he saw as much of the awesome nature as you did! 😉

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 8, 2016 at 9:35 am

      It’s a stunning spot, huh? What town was he in? I had my bachelorette party in Eureka Springs, Arkansas and it was perfect for it!

  • Reply
    IvyIvy
    June 7, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Lush forest, a waterfall, AND a cave, what a gorgeous hike! Do you know why it’s illegal to swim at the base of the waterfall? It looks like an amazing place to take a dip.

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 8, 2016 at 9:36 am

      I never thought about why I couldn’t swim there… I just read it and obeyed I guess. After so many people asked, I got curious! So, I just got off the phone with the Petit Jean Park Superintendent and he said that it isn’t just below the falls, it’s the lake there & the creek itself. He said because it’s a flat top mountain, it collects a ton of water and these waters flow into other rivers, lakes, etc and it’s to keep bacteria counts down and for people’s safety. He also said that the creek & lake have been closed longer than he’s been there – which was 20 years. Thanks for asking so I could educate myself even more!

  • Reply
    The Thought Card
    June 7, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    I loved your intro about Pet-it Jean. I’m guessing it was meant to be for her to fall ill and die at the land she loved so much. Great back story!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      June 8, 2016 at 9:38 am

      I think you’re absolutely right! I love hearing about the myths & legends behind the names of places. Especially when you’re in parts of the country that sites are named after Native American legends.

  • Reply
    marie
    June 8, 2016 at 10:18 am

    This looks beautiful, I love your pictures especially the waterfall. It is so wonderful communing with nature and recharging our batteries for a week ahead.

  • Reply
    Its A Travelful Life (@atravelfullife)
    June 8, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    What a beautiful park! I loved reading how the park got its name. Good on Chavet’s fiancée for not listening to him and going anyway. It most certainly would be a wonderful place to celebrate your first wedding anniversary.

  • Reply
    Amandas_Wanderlust
    June 8, 2016 at 2:00 pm

    Hands up… I’m not sure I have ever even considered visiting Arkansas. But from your Petit Jean state park pictures it looks absolutely gorgeous. I love cascades and waterfalls and I don’t think I’d be disappointed here.

  • Reply
    thetravelpockets
    June 8, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    I have never hard of this park and now I want to go! It’s so beautiful. I love bridges and escpeiclly those old ones made out of stone. So cool to see that one that was built in 1930! And I love waterfalls, even if it is man-made 🙂

  • Reply
    Chantell
    June 8, 2016 at 4:37 pm

    What an incredible story! Petit Jean sounds like she was a tough lady with a definite hunger for an adventure. So sad that she became sick and pass away however it is a legacy that the park was named after her. The park itself looks beautiful with some great hikes. Also the chicken fried steak made me soooo hungry!

  • Reply
    Hung Thai [Up Up and a Bear]
    June 8, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    A lot of great pictures and so many wonderful hikes to be had 🙂 It looks like a great park to visit for a weekend!

  • Reply
    Megan Claire (@mappingmegan)
    June 9, 2016 at 2:06 am

    Love the photo from Cedar Falls Overlook – we haven’t yet made it through Arkansas, but I know there is supposed to be some of the most stunning nature in the country here. Can’t wait to include it on our next US roadtrip and spend some time in the National Park 🙂

  • Reply
    nycgingeronthego
    June 9, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    Such a cute story behind the name. I recently heard another story of a woman who fought in the civil war, bunking with the men and was then fled when she became ill so she wouldn’t discovered to be a woman by the military doctors! I can’t imagine being so clever as to maintain a disguise for so long. Beautiful park though!! Love any waterfall.

  • Reply
    Mac Valdez
    June 10, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Wow. What a Gorgeous Park

  • Reply
    2016 Travel Roundup - For the Love of Wanderlust
    December 27, 2016 at 9:21 am

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