Petit Jean State Park: Everything You Need to Know about the First State Park in Arkansas

Cathy Bennett Kopf Avatar
Sunrise at Stouts Point one of the scenic vistas in Petit Jean State Park, the first state park in Arkansas.
Sunrise at Stouts Point one of the scenic vistas in Petit Jean State Park, the first state park in Arkansas. Photo credit: Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

Petit Jean State Park ticks off all the boxes. It has waterfalls and sweeping canyon and valley views. There are ancient rock shelters with Native American cave art. Want a classic stone and timber lodge? Petit Jean has that too, plus a romantic, yet tragic legend. And yurts. It’s Arkansas’ first state park and we think it’s the best. Here’s why.

Where is Petit Jean State Park?

The first Arkansas state park, Petit Jean (pronounce it “Petty Jean” or the locals will know you’re from out of town) is located in Morrilton, about 40 miles northwest of Little Rock. It’s an excellent add-on to a southeast US road trip itinerary.

Like all Arkansas State Parks, there is no entrance or parking fee. Upon arrival, check in at the visitor center on Petit Jean Mountain Road. Then stretch your legs on one of the park’s many hiking trails, head to the boathouse to rent a pedal boat for a leisurely float or check out one or more of the park’s natural highlights such as Mather Lodge or Native American art in the Rock House Cave.

This state park has a variety of things to do to appeal to all ages. It’s why we think Petit Jean is definitely one of the best places to visit in Arkansas.

Water Water Everywhere

Love to be near, on or in water when vacationing? Then Petit Jean State Park is the right fit for you. Here are all of the places to get wet in the park:

Lake Bailey

The centerpiece of the park is Lake Bailey, a 170-acre water feature created by a rock dam on Cedar Creek. The seasonal boathouse has a variety of watercraft available for rent for canoeing, kayaking or a leisurely pedal boat ride.

Bring your fishing gear too. The lake’s regularly stocked with crappie, bass and catfish.

Cedar Creek

Follow the Cedar Falls Trail in the park as it winds through Cedar Creek Canyon. Pick up the orange blazed trail at Mather Lodge. It’s a two-mile loop that’s moderately strenuous.

The payoff? Beautiful views of 95-foot high cascading Cedar Falls. Want the view without having to work for it? Take the Cedar Falls Overlook Road off of Petit Jean Mountain Road. A barrier-free walkway with exhibits leads to the falls.

Arkansas River Valley

The best spot for panoramic views of the Arkansas River Valley is the overlook at Stouts Point.

Legend is that the park’s namesake, Petit Jean, was a young French girl who disguised herself as a boy to sail to the New World, secretly accompanying her fiancee who was going to explore the Louisiana Territory. She died before the expedition returned to France; her gravesite is believed to be located here.


There are two swimming pools at Petit Jean State Park. The one at Mather Lodge is for cabin and lodge guests only. The public pool and bathhouse are located in the park’s picnic area.

Daily operating hours are usually noon – 6 pm during the summer months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. The pool may be closed weekdays during the final three weeks of August if lifeguards are unavailable.

In addition to water recreation, Petit Jean has bike trails, playgrounds, a basketball court, tennis courts and picnic tables for guest use.

Rock On!

One of the unique features of Petit Jean State Park is the rock formations. Be sure to include an exploration of at least one during your visit.

Rock House Cave Trail

This quarter-mile purple-blazed trail in the park leads to two of the park’s natural treasures. You’ll discover the mounded formation known as Turtle Rocks. It’s a great photo opportunity.

And the trail leads you to the Rock House Cave. It’s a hanging rock shelter, not a cave, that was home to Native Americans thousands of years ago. Look for ancient pictographs on the walls and ceiling, including one of a paddlefish.

Bear Cave Trail

Another easy trail at Petit Jean State Park is the Bear Cave Trail. It leads to a collection of sandstone boulders that form cave-like passageways.

Seven Hollows Trail

Longer and more difficult, the Seven Hollows Trail will take you several hours to hike. But you’ll access awesome sights including a natural bridge that arches over the trail and a small box canyon with a grotto pool that appears after rainfalls.

Camping at Petit Jean State Park

Loved your day at Petit Jean State Park so much that you want to spend the night? Here are your lodging options.

Tent Camping

Known as “The Natural State”, Arkansas is a wonderful location for camping. Thirty-two of the state’s parks have camping areas and discounts are available for senior citizens and those with 100% total and permanent disability.

At the Petit Jean campgrounds, there are 125 camping sites. Twenty-six are pull-through spots. Sites are classified AAA or B depending on the type and power of the hookups. Detailed information is available on the website or call the friendly rangers at 501-727-5441 like I did. I couldn’t find a reservation link on the website to reserve a tent site. They told me it’s not really necessary; walk-ins are OK and, even during the height of summer travel, they can accommodate tents in overflow spots.


Several Arkansas State Parks offer one-of-a-kind accommodation experiences, including camper cabins and a jailhouse B&B. Petit Jean State Park is one of the state’s Rent-a-YURT destinations; others include DeGray Lake Resort State Park, Lake Catherine State Park, Lake Charles State Park and Daisy State Park.

Your round, high-walled yurt tent comes equipped with cots, a lantern, stove and an ice chest and can accommodate up to six people. It’s BYOL – bring your own linens.

Mather Lodge and Cabins

Picture a natural stone and timber beam lodge. It’s the iconic design of many of the accommodations built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservations Corps (CCC) in America’s National Parks and is often referred to as “parkitecure.”

The main Mather Lodge has 24 rooms and cabins are available too, including one-, three- and studio bedroom configurations. The property’s swimming pool is for lodge and cabin guests only and there are a number of dog-friendly rooms available.

The dining room has stunning views of Cedar Creek Canyon. Time your visit for sunset. It’s a not to be missed moment. The lodge also features a gift shop.

Things to Do Near Petit Jean

Both Little Rock and Hot Springs are easily accessible from Petit Jean. It’s why we recommend crafting a road trip itinerary that includes stops in both of these charming Arkansas cities.

Also definitely include a visit to the Museum of Automobiles in Morrilton. The original collection of Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller now includes vehicles on loan from collectors across the country. Check here for current admission prices and information about daily tours.

Cathy Bennett Kopf serves as the Daily Editor of SheBuysTravel, reporting to Editor-in-Chief Cindy Richards. She began travel writing after serving as the unofficial (and unpaid) vacation coordinator for hundreds of family and friend trips. She launched her blog, The Open Suitcase, in 2012 and joined the SBT (formerly TravelingMom) team in 2016. A lifelong resident of New York, Cathy currently resides in the scenic Hudson River Valley. She’s a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the International Travel Writers Alliance and TravMedia.
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