Petit St. Jean:
A Natural Enclave for Summer Fun
A Petit St. Jean park ranger explains the geologic features of Bear Cave to park visitors.*
By Holli Haynie
Celebrating its 75th anniversary next year, Petit Jean State Park, Morrilton, AR, lures visitors out of the urban jungle with unusual geological structures and captivating views of the Arkansas River Valley. One favorite landmark that adeptly “bridges” the park’s past and present is the freshly reconstructed Davies Bridge, a sandstone arch overpass straddling Cedar Creek.
Repairs to the bridge began in fall 2006. The $586,610 project was completed earlier this year, assuring that the bridge will delight visitors for years to come. The bridge is one of only eight masonry arches remaining in AR, and the only one featuring finished rather than rustic stone.
Davies Bridge, a popular park landmark, is newly restored.*
Located 70 miles west of Little Rock, Petit Jean state Park is also home to Petit Jean Mountain. The mountain was named after an 18th century French girl who disguised herself as a boy to secretly accompany her betrothed on a voyage to the New World. Unfortunately, she died of a mysterious illness.
Legend has it Petit Jean -- translated as Little John -- was buried on an eastern overlook of the park, where, reportedly, her spirit continues to enchant the mountain. Her gravesite is one of the park’s most popular attractions.
A climb up the mountain provides stunning views. Families visiting for the day also might head for the campgrounds beside Lake Bailey where they can rent paddle boats, fish or just commune with nature. Multiple trails complete with meandering streams, mossy hollows and massive rocks await.
Petit St. Jean State Park offers many scenic overlooks, where visitors glean spectacular views.*
Trails and Water Wonders
Trails offer both short and long hikes. Wear solid hiking shoes for sure footing on the rocks and keep water handy. And prepare to encounter lush vegetation and geological wonders like natural rock bridges.
The park’s popular Cedar Falls Trail begins at Mather Lodge. It descends a mile deep into the craggy, tree-filled ravine along steep, manmade stone steps.
In the distance, the whisper of rushing water directs your path to the climax, a 95-foot waterfall plunging into a pool below. It looks calm but don’t be fooled. Underneath the churning water lurks a 25-foot deep, cone-shaped crater with a nasty undercurrent.
Swimming at the waterfall is strictly prohibited. Instead, rest on the colossal sandstone boulders clumped around the pool’s bank and listen to the tranquil spray.
Hiking in the park brings visitors up close with several cascading waterfalls.*
If you opt instead for the Rock House Cave Trail , you’ll find other wonders. More than 1,000 years ago, native Americans resided in the Petit Jean area. Evidence of their existence can be found on faint cave wall pictographs along the trail. Also look for weathered and aptly named turtle rocks along the way.
If you desire to dig deeper into geological history, consider the park’s free and diverse interpretive activities offered from May 28 through Sept. 4. For example, visitors might enjoy guided trail walks, nature workshops, demonstrations or arts and crafts.
Just outside the park, visitors might stop at the privately owned Museum of Automobiles (501-727-5427 or www.museumofautos.com). Open year-round, the museum displays 51 privately-owned antique and classic automobiles from old Model-T’s to Elvis Presley’s Chevy Ranchero.
Park goers who are automobile buffs might stop outside the park at the nearby Museum of Automobiles, which boasts an eclectic collection of antique cars.*
Visitors may overnight in the park by making a campsite reservation (501-727-5441) or by renting a private cabin or room at Mather Lodge (501-727-5431 or www.petitjeanstatepark.com/lodge). The lodge is a massive stone lodge building atop Petit Jean Mountain.
Mather Lodge is situated in a pristine natural area, perfect for guests seeking escape from an urban environment.*
Built in the 1930s, the lodge offers superb views of Cedar Creek Canyon. Don’t miss the sunset flurry of hummingbirds feeding along the lodge’s restaurant deck. Mather Lodge offers 24 guestrooms – six doubles and 18 singles; rates range from $60 to $65 nightly.
In addition, you might stay at the lodge’s more secluded cabins – all with fireplaces and many with perks like full kitchens and satellite tv. Nestled in the nearby woods, cabin rental rates vary by the size and type of cabin. For example, the Honeymoon Cabin, priced at $165 nightly for two adults with a two-night minimum, features pine wall and floor interiors, a fireplace, fully-equipped kitchens, linens, television with satellite hook-up, and an enclosed deck with hot tub.
Call 800-264-2462 for Mather Lodge and cabin information and reservations.
Petit St. Jean features diverse accommodations including lodge rooms and roomy private cabins.*
Alternatively, you might try the rustic but nicely equipped log cabins at the privately owned Tanyard Springs (888-826-9273 or www.tanyardsprings.net). These cabins are located in the woods just a short distance from Mather Lodge.
Tanyard’s cabins range from $125-$175 nightly, with weekly rates from $800 to $1,000. In addition, a modern-style Tanyard House with three bedrooms is priced from $185 nightly, with weekly rates from $1,195.
Whether you come for an overnight in the park or just a fun day excursion, the result is the same. Petit Jean State Park delivers a picturesque hiatus from city life.
For More Information
Petit Jean State Park: 501-727-5441 or www.petitjeanstatepark.com
Holli W. Haynie, a freelance writer based in Memphis, TN, contributes to many local and regional publications. She specializes in lifestyle, health, culture, family and travel. She is currently expanding her reach into national publications and completing a teen novel.
*Photos are owned, copyrighted and used with permission of the Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism. All rights reserved. Please do not link to nor copy these photos. Thank you.