Petit Jean State Park is one of our favorite state parks in Central Arkansas because Petit Jean has everything! You will find wonderful hiking trails, a lake, a variety of lodging, old CCC buildings, stunning vistas and so much more.
You will love your visit to Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas.
Petit Jean State Park
People have come to Petit Jean mountain to relax and enjoy the scenery for decades. It is an Arkansas classic and one of the premiere state parks.
Although most of the surrounding area is flat Petit Jean Mountain is one of 3 peaks that rise dramatically from the river bottom land. These are called the Arkansas River Valley Tri-peaks. The other two are Mount Nebo State Park and Mount Magazine State Park.
Another state park that you might enjoy is Pinnacle Mountain State Park near Little Rock.
How to get to Petit Jean State Park
Petit Jean is located near the towns of Morrilton or Russellville and also near Lake Dardanelle. It is not too far off of Interstate 40, but you will want to use your GPS to guide you as to which exit to take depending on which direction you are coming from.
The road up the mountain is winding but the curves are much less sharp than those up to nearby Mount Nebo. You will be able to take an RV or trailer up the Petit Jean Mountain.
Cost of Visiting Petit Jean State Park
It is free to visit the park, use the hiking trails, see the overlooks, go to the visitors center, and enjoy the picnic area!
Be sure and check on the prices for camping, staying in the lodges or cabins, swimming pool usage, boat rentals, pavilion rentals, etc.
The Legend of Petit Jean and How the Mountain Got Its Name
Consider this a “once upon a time” story. I’m not sure how much of it is true.
Back in the 1700’s a French nobleman named Chavet wanted to come to America to explore and claim a part of the Louisiana purchase. His fiance wanted to travel with him, but Chavet felt that this was too dangerous for her.
The beautiful woman disguised herself as a young boy and was granted a position as a cabin boy on Chavet’s ship. It must have been a pretty good disguise because the story goes that not even her intended recognized her.
The crew called this cabin boy Petit Jean which of course in French means little John.
The vessel crossed an ocean and eventually came up the Arkansas River to the foot of the mountain where they were greeted and warmly welcomed by the local Indians.
The sailors and little John spent the summer on the mountain top.
In the fall Petit Jean fell terribly ill. Her identity was discovered during her sickness, but she passed away before she could continue the journey and be married to Chavet.
She was buried on top of the mountain.
Today a low mound of earth on a point with incredible views over the valley below is claimed to be the grave of Petit Jean.
How is Petit Jean pronounced?
Any semblance of French pronunciation of Petit Jean is long gone! The mountain and the state park are pronounced “petty gene” by locals.
History of the Mountain and the State Park
Of course, the history of this mountain began many years before the arrival of Petit Jean and Chavet.
On the mountain is found one of the largest bluff shelters in the state. We know it was used by the Indians because they left evidence. There are still ancient pictographs located high on the back wall of the cave.
English speaking Americans began settling the mountain in the 1840’s and 50’s. The Walker cabin still stands in the park today.
By the early 1900’s a lumber company owned the mountain. However, fortunately for us, the company decided that it would cost more than it was worth to clear the lumber.
The lumber company physician, Dr. T.W. Hardison began a campaign to petition the legislature to make this area a state park. He succeeded!
The CCC worked at Petit Jean from 1933 to 1938. They constructed Mather Lodge, many of the cabins, a native stone dam for the formation of Lake Bailey, as well as pavilions, trails, and bridges.
These structures are still in use today!
Lodging in Petit Jean State Park
There are numerous places to lodge at Petit Jean State Park!
You can choose from one of 24 guest rooms in the CCC built Mather lodge. The lodge has an incredible bluff setting and is built of native stone and wood giving it a rustic warmth. This makes it a great location for special occasions.
Most of the parks 33 cabins are located just near Mather lodge. Some are CCC built from the 1930s and others are modern duplex designs. They are fully equipped and 21 of the 33 have kitchens. They come in different sizes and many are spaced along the bluff of Cedar Creek Canyon.
You can bring your own RV or tent and camp at Petit Jean Mountain State Park. Camping is popular here so if you are trying to come on a weekend be sure and make reservations.
There are 125 campsites. 35 of which are class AAA with 50 amp electrical, water, and sewer hookups. The 90 Class B sites offer 30 amp electrical and water hookups.
There are four camping areas and each one has its own bathhouse with hot showers and flush toilets.
Rent a Yurt
There are four yurts available for rent. These are basically round tents with actual doors and each one includes cots, a lantern, stove, and ice chest. They accommodate up to 6 people and are perfect for those who want to camp but don’t have their own equipment.
Petit Jean Has an Airport
Petit Jean is Arkansas’s only state park with its own airport. Private pilots can even enjoy the fly-in campground. These are tent sites with water and electric hookups, picnic tables, grills, lantern holders, and tent pads.
For details and to make reservations at Arkansas’s only fly-in tent sites, call the airport at: 501-374-5022.
Hiking Trails at Petit Jean State Park
I’m only going to talk about the most popular trails in the park. Be sure and stop by the visitor center if you want a list of every trail!
Cedar Falls Trail
Cedar Falls is the most popular trail in the park. It starts just behind Mather Lodge and leads to a spectacular waterfall. The trail is about 2 miles round trip but it does begin by heading down into a canyon which means you have to climb up on the way out!
It is definitely worth the climb especially if there has been plenty of rainfall and the waterfall is really flowing.
Seven Hollows Trail
This is one of favorite hikes not just in the park but in the state. Seven Hollows is a 4.5 mile loop trail which will take you through stunning forests and natural features such as bluff shelters, stone arches, and box canyons.
Bear Cave Trail
This isn’t a true trail or a true cave but it is a fascinating place where you can walk through, over, and around sandstone boulders that form rock shelters and little passageways.
Cedar Creek Trail
Cedar Creek trail is 1.2 miles and begins at an historic log cabin. It follows near Cedar Creek above the falls and is a very pretty hike particularly when the water is flowing.
Overlooks on Petit Jean
Petit Jean’s Gravesite
This is located on Stout’s Point on the east side or Petit Jean mountain. There is a parking area and a short walk to gorgeous views of the Arkansas River in the valley below. Walk around and see the views from different spots around Stout’s Point.
Mary Ann Richter Overlook
This is on Red Bluff Drive and has views toward nearby Mount Nebo State Park and the more distant Mount Magazine.
Cedar Falls Overlook
This is a wooden, barrier free walkway with exhibits that leads down from the parking area to a vantage point high above Cedar Falls.
Palisades Overlook and CCC Overlook
These are overlooks that face one another on different rims of the mountain. The CCC overlook is made of native stone and gives you views of the canyon and the river. Palisades is a great place to watch the sunset over the Arkansas River Valley.
The Rock House Cave at Petit Jean
This is not a true cave but a large bluff shelter. It is located at the end of a short walk, only about .25 miles.
We know that native Americans used this shelter. Evidence of this use can be seen in the many rock art images that appear on the walls and ceilings.
The shelter contains at least 105 rock art images. They believe that the art work is about 500 years old but that the shelter has been in use for perhaps thousands of years before that.
A new 11,672 square foot visitor center recently opened at Petit Jean. It is called the Dr. T.W. Hardison Visitor Center, named for the man whose was the visionary behind the creation of Petit Jean state park.
This is the place for camper registration, meetings, special events, and staff offices. There are also interpretive exhibits.
According to the state park website “This visitor center not only honors the legacy of Dr. Hardison, but it also honors Petit Jean, its unique features and history, as well as highlighting the important contributions the park ranger plays in all 52 state parks.”
There are two gift shops in this state park. One is at Mather Lodge and the other at the Visitor Center. You will find snacks and supplies for your trip as well as Arkansas gifts, books, and souvenirs.
Mather Lodge Restaurant
Petit Jean State Park has a restaurant located at Mather Lodge. There are huge picture windows that will allow you to see gorgeous views while you dine. A meal at sunset is particularly dramatic here.
They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The dining is casual and the food is southern style.
Be sure and check to see opening days and hours. You can call Mather Lodge for more information at: 501-727-5431.
Fishing and Boating at Petit Jean State Park
There are two lakes at Petit Jean State Park. Both Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt are home to many fish species. You can bring your own boat or rent one from the park. There is a 10 horsepower motor limit.
However you don’t have to have a motor boat to fish. You can try your luck from the shore or from the barrier-free fishing pier on Lake Bailey.
You can also bring your own kayak or canoe to fish from or just for paddling around and enjoying being out on the water.
Boat rentals at the Boathouse are only open in the summer from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Here you can rent pedal boats, water bikes, or flat-bottom boats with and without a motor.
Picnics at Petit Jean
There are some wonderful picnic areas at Petit Jean! My favorites are near the lakes with tables and grills. You do not have to reserve a picnic table. These are first come, first serve. They are well spaced out and almost all in the shade.
There are also pavilions that can be used for events or large groups. However, these must be reserved and there is a charge.
There are two children’s playgrounds at Petit Jean. One is in the picnic area and the other is in the cabin area near Mather Lodge.
There are two swimming pools At Petit Jean State Park open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The pool located just behind Mather Lodge is for cabin and lodge guests only.
The second pool located near the picnic area is open to the public. There is a small charge to use the public pool.
Petit Jean State Park is truly a beautiful place to visit. I hope that you enjoy it! Let us know in the comments if you think of anything that should be added to this list.
If you want to make plans for a summer trip to Arkansas here is a list of the best summer activities in the state.
Thanks for stopping by!