Our women’s hiking group, H2O, is blessed to live in an area where there is a wealth of day-hike options, but, once a year, we do it big and plan a weekend hike that turns us into trail warriors by day; pajama partiers by night. Our requirements are simple: we must share a cabin, cook together, play games, build fires, enjoy coffee as the sun rises and wine as the sun sets and, of course, hike in some of Arkansas’s most stunning locations. Petit Jean State Park in Morrilton is one of our go-to places for such a weekend.
There is a multitude of trails on Petit Jean Mountain, but our favorite remains Cedar Falls trail. At only two miles round trip, it’s not a long hike, but the aesthetic rewards are huge, especially after heavy rains. The cascades next to the first half mile of the trail will keep you company as you begin the steep and rocky descent into the canyon, where Cedar Creek then becomes your traveling companion. The trail follows the creek for another half mile (on which occurred the Epic Tarantula Encounter, which is another story for another day) and then you will arrive at the pièce de résistance: Cedar Falls. This 95-foot waterfall was thundering during our first visit. We nestled ourselves among the boulders at the foot of the falls and soaked up every negative ion we could. (Negative ions are found in moving water, among other places, and, contrary to the name, they are a major mood booster!)
We also found more negative ions above Cedar Falls on the Cedar Creek trail, saw giant turtle-shaped rocks and ancient Native American drawings on the Rock House Cave trail, explored the colossal boulder landscape of Bear Cave Trail, and took in the best view in Arkansas at Petit Jean’s Grave.
On our first trip to Petit Jean we decided to maximize our experience and hopped on over to hike Mt. Nebo in Dardanelle, a 45-minute drive from Petit Jean. There are two trails that encircle the mountain, providing for more stunning views of the Arkansas River Valley. You might even be able to watch some human birds take flight, as Mt. Nebo is a popular site for area hang gliders and paragliders.
There are plenty of places to stay for a weekend at Petit Jean, including the 33 cabins and Mather Lodge located on park property, or nearby rental houses. The H2O girls prefer the availability of fireplaces and kitchens in a cabin or house because what better way to make memories than combining friends, food, and fire? (H2O tip of the day: when dipped in olive oil and held to an electric stove burner, the cardboard insert from a prepared pizza crust is a handy substitute if you find yourself without matches for the fireplace. Not that we’d necessarily recommend that route, as one of the girls was sure we were going to lose our eyebrows, but we are nothing if not resourceful.)
As long as you have girlfriends, hiking gear, jammies, and an affinity for breathtaking vistas and stomach cramps from laughing, you have almost everything you need for a girls’ hike getaway to Petit Jean Mountain. Well, according to one of our H2O members, you also need a tutu, but again, that’s another story for another day. M! December 2013/January 2014
Petit Jean’s Story
In the 1700s, a young Parisian girl, Adrienne Dumont, disguised herself as a cabin boy named Jean so she could travel to the New World with the French explorer Chavet, a nobleman she wished to marry. The men called her Petit Jean, French for Little John. After reaching America, the crew spent a summer on a mountaintop in Arkansas. When Jean became mortally ill, her true identity was revealed. She asked to be buried at a spot on the mountain overlooking the river, and she has enchanted visitors ever since.