Things to Do at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

Overlook at Petit Jean State Park

Things to Do at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

Chances are if you found yourself on this blog post you’re interested in visiting Arkansas State Parks. If not, allow me to persuade you to visit! Petit Jean State Park was actually Arkansas’ first state park. The land for Petit Jean was set aside in 1923 as park land then was later founded as a state park in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Today Petit Jean State Park is one of Arkansas’ most visited state parks and for a number of fabulous reasons. There are a ton of hiking trails, scenic drives and overlooks, and a number of historical spots to visit. Here are some of our favorite things to do at Petit Jean State Park as well as other helpful information when planning your trip.

Before we begin, I would also like to acknowledge that Petit Jean State Park lies on 3,471-acres of stolen Osage, Caddo, Sioux, and Quapaw land.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links from which we may make commission from. As always, we only recommend places and products we love! In addition, we try our best to keep our articles up-to-date with current prices, locations, and hours of operation however we always recommend double-checking when planning a trip as these items can change frequently.

Where is Petit Jean State Park?

Petit Jean State Park is an Arkansas State Park that is located in Morrilton which is near Russellville and Conway in Central Arkansas. Because of its location, it is an easy day trip from Little Rock, Arkansas.

How to Get to Petit Jean State Park

The best way to get to Petit Jean State Park is by driving! If you are flying in from another state or country the fastest way to get to Petit Jean is to fly into Little Rock (LIT) and drive to Petit Jean (Approximately 1 hour 10 minutes). However, if you are visiting other places on an Arkansas road trip then you can also get there from a number of nearby cities by car.

Driving to Petit Jean State Park from Northwest Arkansas: Approximately 2 hrs 45 minutes

Driving to Petit Jean State Park from Hot Springs, Arkansas: Approximately 1 hr 30 minutes

Driving to Petit Jean State Park from Dallas: 5 hours 30 minutes

Driving to Petit Jean State Park from Memphis: 3 hours

Tips for Visiting Petit Jean State Park

Hiking at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

Since Petit Jean State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Arkansas it is highly developed so you can easily find the welcome center and hiking trails on Google Maps. However here are a few tips we have for visiting Petit Jean State Park that might make your trip a little easier.

  • All Arkansas State Parks are free to visit! Yep, you read that right. Petit Jean State Park is also free to visit and has a lot of free parking options in many of the places we’ll cover in this post. In fact, we drove from place to place and found a parking spot everytime. However, if you are visiting on a busy weekend or during the autumn months you may have a harder time finding a spot so plan accordingly!
  • Go to the Visitor Center when you arrive. At the visitor center you can find souvenirs, public restrooms, maps, and other helpful information about Petit Jean State Park. This is also where you can get your Arkansas State Parks passport stamped!
  • Download offline maps prior to arriving. While Petit Jean does have decent cell service in many parts, there are a few spots that don’t always have reception. We always recommend downloading offline maps for the places you plan on visiting, especially state and national parks.
  • Bring a small backpack with some items you might need during the day. A few of the things we bring on our trips to any state park we visit are a small first aid kit, water, snacks/protein bars, sunscreen, and a battery charging pack.
  • Dress in layers. Since Petit Jean State Park is located in a mountainous area the temperature fluctuates throughout the day and can be very windy. When we last visited in April we wore pants, hiking shoes, t-shirts, and sweatshirts and were comfortable. As the temperatures rose later in the day, Logan switched to shorts. So make sure you pack some items you can layer!
  • Pack a cooler and leave in your car. We always take a cooler with us on road trips and keep drinks and snacks in there.
  • Get there early if you want to avoid crowds. Like many state parks or popular sights we always recommend trying to get to a place early if you want to avoid crowds. We arrived at Petit Jean State Park around 8:30am in early April and found the crowds to be fairly light. As the day progressed we saw more and more people on the trails. If you happen to be visiting during one of the most popular times, especially autumn, you might want to consider getting there even earlier because many people drive through this state park because of the scenic drive spots.

The Best Time to Visit Petit Jean State Park

View from Petit Jean Overlook

While Petit Jean State Park is a popular place to visit year-round in Arkansas, I personally feel like spring and fall are the best seasons to visit. Spring brings mild temperatures, flowers, and budding trees. With rainfall, you can also see waterfalls like Cedar Falls at their peak. In the fall you can experience glorious autumn foliage that is beautiful at the scenic overlooks and the drive within Petit Jean State Park. Another popular time to visit is during the summer months, but summers in Arkansas can be really hot making the hikes less enjoyable.

Where to Stay at Petit Jean State Park

There are a number of options for an overnight state in Petit Jean State Park or near the park. On our road trip, we chose to stay in Russellville which is just a 30-minute drive from Petit Jean State Park. The reason we stayed further away is due to the fact that we planned our trip last minute and the options within the park weren’t an option for us. Also, if you are wanting to stay in a place that has more restaurants or things to do, Russellville is a great option.

We stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Russellville which is a newer hotel. We found it to be quite comfortable and clean, two of the biggest things we look for when booking a hotel. However, if you plan ahead you can choose from a variety of lodging options within Petit Jean State Park.

Places to Stay at Petit Jean State Park

  • Historic Mather Lodge: 24 room lodge that overlooks Cedar Creek Canyon and has a restaurant, gift shop, and meeting rooms inside. 
  • Cabins in Petit Jean State Park: If you want something a bit more private consider renting one of the 33 cabins located within the park. Many of them have kitchens and views of the canyon. 
  • Campsites at Petit Jean State Park: Last, there are 125 campsites at Petit Jean State Park (35 class AAA and 90 class B) that are located near Lake Bailey. In addition to those campsites you can also find a group camp area and there are currently four Rent-A-Yurts available too! 

Amenities at Petit Jean State Park

If you are choosing to stay a night or a few nights at Petit Jean State Park then you might be wondering what some of the amenities are within the park or lodging areas. Here are the current amenities at Petit Jean.

  • Two swimming pools (seasonal)
  • Picnic areas and pavilions
  • Playgrounds
  • Boat launch ramp
  • Tennis and basketball courts
  • Amphitheater 

Things to Do at Petit Jean State Park

With a large variety of hiking trails, scenic drives, and overlooks, plus interesting history, there are many unique things to do at Petit Jean State Park. Here are our favorite things to do at Petit Jean State Park. 

Enjoy the Picturesque Drive & Visit All Scenic Overlooks

As you drive up the path to Petit Jean State Park you’ll immediately notice how beautiful the drive is. The winding roads are lined with seasonal foliage, rock-lined paths, and water features that are perfect for viewing as you make your way to the scenic overlooks. There are many scenic overlooks in Petit Jean State Park that can be enjoyed just steps away from your car. While they have similar views, there are some distinct landscape differences such as views of the Arkansas River, foliage, pastures, and more.

Mary Ann Richter Scenic Overlook

The Mary Ann Richter Scenic Overlook (located north of the South Scenic Overlook) is another great scenic viewpoint in Petit Jean State Park. I couldn’t find out much about Mary Ann Richter when I was searching but this spot was named after her as a memorial when she died suddenly in 1977. From this overlook, you can see the peaks of Mt. Nebo and Mt. Magazine behind the Arkansas River Valley.

South Scenic Overlook (CCC Overlook)

​​The South Scenic Overlook (also known as the CCC Overlook) was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the early 1930s. This overlook is on the rim of Cedar Creek Canyon and has views of the Petit Jean River.

Palisades Overlook

The Palisades Overlook has a view of the Arkansas River Valley as well as a canyon view with red cliff walls with white markings created by vultures who roost there. This overlook is most popular at sunset.

Stout’s Point

Old fort at Stout's Point in Petit Jean State Park

One lesser-known fact about Petit Jean State Park is that it is a certified Trail of Tears Historic Site. From Stout’s Point, you can view a portion of the route taken by the Cherokee people and other tribes who were forced to migrate from their homes in the 1830s. Another interesting piece of history at Stout’s Point is the gravesite of Petit Jean for which the park is named for. 

Visit Petit Jean’s Gravesite

Petit Jean gravesite in Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

At Stout’s Point, you will notice a spot on the east side where a rock-laden grave is located. This grave marks the site of Petit Jean’s burial spot. Legend tells the story that dates back to the 18th century of a young French girl by the name of Adrienne DuMont. DuMont begged her fiancee, a French nobleman named Chavet, to allow her to embark on a journey to the “New World ” with him. 

He refused this request so she came up with a plan. She disguised herself as a young cabin boy so she could travel secretly and the fellow sailors gave her the name “Petit Jean” (Little John). Shortly after arriving at the Arkansas River, she became very ill and her identity was revealed. DuMont begged Chavet to forgive her and her final request before she died was to be buried upon the mountain overlooking the river. Today you can see this infamous grave from Stout’s Point and read more about the legend of Petit Jean.

Location: // MAP

Hike Some of the Petit Jean Trails

Petit Jean State Park offers a wide variety of hiking trails from easy to strenuous. One of the reasons we love this Arkansas State Park so much is the diversity in the trails in regards to rock formations, water features, vegetation, wildlife, and historical elements too. Here are the Petit Jean trails you’ll find within the park!

Cedar Falls Trail 

Type: Hiking
2-mile loop
Approximate Time:
2 hours

Cedar Falls Trail begins directly behind Mather Lodge and follows alongside Cedar Creek to Cedar Falls, a 95-foot waterfall that is one of the tallest continuously flowing waterfalls in Arkansas! Unfortunately, Cedar Falls Trail was closed when we visited Petit Jean State Park due to damage sustained in 2019 which made it unsafe to hike. But I’m happy to say that it appears the trail has reopened as of November 2021.

Location: // MAP

Cedar Creek Trail

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 1.25 miles
Approximate Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Not to be confused with Cedar Falls Trail, Cedar Creek Trail winds through a scenic area of Cedar Creek above Cedar Falls. This trail was constructed in the early 1930s by the CCC and has many rocky areas that make parts of this trail more difficult (good hiking shoes are a must!). However, the streams, bluffs, and wildlife make hiking this trail worth it!

Location: // MAP

Bear Cave Trail 

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.25 mile
Approximate Time: 30 minutes

Despite the name, there are no true caves on Bear Cave Trail. However, you can walk through, under, around, and over sandstone boulders that are absolutely massive! In some ways, these boulders reminded us of Elephant Rocks State Park in Missouri solely because of their size. These rocks have formed a number of intriguing passageways of different sizes and are really fun to walk through. 

Rock House Cave Trail 

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 0.25 mile
Approximate Time: 30 minutes

Similar to Bear Cave Trail, Rock House Cave is not a true cave but does have some semblance of such. At the beginning of the trail, you’ll come across what is known as Turtle Rocks which are interesting geological formations that look like turtle shells! Then at the end of this short trail, you’ll find a large rock shelter that is a premier viewing spot for viewing Native rock art that was created over 500 years ago.

Location: // MAP

Canyon Trail

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1 mile (or 2 miles if also visiting Cedar Falls Trail)
Approximate Time: 2 hours

Canyon Trail is a rocky area that follows Cedar Creek with many small waterfalls and massive pine and sycamore trees that provide shade on sunny hiking days.

CCC Hike & Bike Trail

Type: Hiking, Mountain Biking
Difficulty: Easy
Distance: 1.75 miles
Approximate Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

The CCC Trial connects Mather Lodge to the campgrounds within the park. The shaded winding trail has access to Cedar Falls Overlook, Cedar Creek trailhead, and many of the park amenities. Because the roads are windy and narrow for driving, this trail is often used by mountain bikers and hikers as a means to travel along Highway 154 while staying in the park. 

Winthrop P Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Strenuous
Distance: 12 hours
Approximate Time: 8 hours

The Boy Scout Trail is the longest hiking trail in Petit Jean State Park and connects to nearly all of the other trails mentioned in this list. Since this trail is so long and has difficult parts, make sure you start early and pack enough water and food plus a small first aid kit in case of emergencies. Petit Jean State Park asks that all visitors who plan to hike this trail register at the visitor center prior to leaving.

Seven Hollows Trail

Type: Hiking
Difficulty: Moderate
Distance: 4.5 miles
Approximate Time: 4 hours

Seven Hollows Trail is a loop trail that passes a series of small canyons in a hardwood forest. On this trail, you’ll find a natural stone arch, rock shelters, and bluff dwellings that have prehistoric Native depictions. 

Enjoy the Views from Cedar Falls Overlook

Cedar Falls Overlook at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas - Trails at Petit Jean State Park

At first, we were really bummed to find out we couldn’t hike Cedar Falls Trail but once we learned there was an overlook that gave an incredible view of Cedar Falls from above we were excited to visit again. Cedar Falls Overlook is a barrier-free accessible boardwalk that allows guests to enjoy a scenic view of the giant 95-ft Cedar Falls! At the time we visited the trees were just starting to bud and the sun was really bright which didn’t allow for the best view but even so, we could tell that Cedar Falls would be majestic if we were able to get closer.

Location: // MAP

Browse the Museum of Automobiles

Old Chevy car outside of the Museum of Automobiles at Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas

If you are a car enthusiast or are traveling with one, the Museum of Automobiles is a nice stop while in Petit Jean State Park. It has a large collection of privately-owned antique cars spanning a few decades. The Museum of Automobiles is also home to the only Climber automobiles that are known to exist.

Location: 8 Jones Ln, Morrilton // MAP
Hours: 10am-5pm daily
Cost: $10/adults, $9 over 65, $5/students

Get Lunch at Petit Jean Coffeehouse

After visiting the highlights of Petit Jean State Park make sure you stop at Petit Jean Coffeehouse on the way out. This small coffee shop is inside the cutest A-Frame cabin and serves up Airship Coffee, local to Northwest Arkansas, and lunch bags that you can get to-go. Logan got a turkey sandwich and I got their homemade chicken salad on a croissant – both were terrific! For coffee, I ordered an iced lavender latte which is one of my favorites.

Location: 1482 Petit Jean Mountain Rd, Morrilton // MAP
Hours: Wednesday-Friday 7am-2pm, Saturday & Sunday 7am-4pm, Closed Monday & Tuesday

We hope that you found this list of things to do at Petit Jean State Park helpful! We can’t wait to hear what you think about one of the best Arkansas State Parks. 

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