We spent 4 full days and 5 nights camping at Petit Jean State Park with lots of hiking and enjoyment of overlooks throughout the park. I hope you enjoy my little write up on our visit. I actually wrote this up right after our trip, but had never posted it to this blog feed after relaunching the site a couple years ago. Look out for many more trip reports in the future of our past vacations and adventures.
Day 1 At Petit Jean State Park
Arriving At Petit Jean State Park
We had spent the previous night at Lake Wappapello State Park in Missouri to break up the driving to Petit Jean State Park. We arrived around 3:00 in the afternoon to get our camp all set up and were ready to enjoy Petit Jean State Park. Our campsite was great, the lake was only about a 100ft away and we had a full hookup site, so we could use the full amenities of our camper for the week. Not to mention, the campground was really spread out among some large pines and we had a ton of space between us and the next camper. After settling in at camp, relaxing for a bit and fitting in a short canoe ride, Kyle and I jumped in the Jeep to go get some maps of the park from the camp store. We picked up my fishing license and also got a quick lay of the land to start planning the next few days. I got excited about the next few days when Kyle and I came across a few overlooks in the process and were able to take in some the scenery of the canyon as the sun was setting.
Day 2 At Petit Jean State Park
Mountain Top Driving Tour, Petit Jean Gravesite, Overlooks & Hiking
After getting the kids up and around, eating breakfast and just enjoying the morning at the campsite; we decided that taking the Mountaintop Driving Tour would be the best way for us to get a grand view of the park before we jumped into some of the specific hikes. This driving tour turned out to be great little drive that led us to numerous overlooks, trails and sites in which I’ve highlighted below. We went ahead and got the kids out of the Jeep and hit a couple of the short trails. It was our first time using the kid carrier backpacks and they worked out great. We had 2 different carriers, a Kelty and a Sherpani. Highly recommend getting one if you are doing any hiking with toddlers.
Our first stop on the driving tour was the Petit Jean Gravesite at the top of a beautiful overlook. As you drive into the overlook parking lot, you’ll notice the remains of a sandstone structure on the right. It was built in the 1920s and apparently was destroyed by fire in the 1940s. It is completely open and quite interesting to walk thru and take pictures of. I enjoy looking at old structures and imagining what is was like years ago. From the overlook, you can see an amazing landscape with the Arkansas River running through. Just to the edge of the overlook, you can also see what is believed to be Petit Jean’s actual gravesite. Legend says that Petit Jean was a French girl that disguised herself as a cabin boy and traveled on a ship in the early 1700s to accompany her fiancé on an exploration trip of the “New Land”.
The next two stops were the Mary Ann Richter and CCC Overlook. It is highly recommended that you get out of the car at both of these overlooks and take in the great views. From the Mary Ann Richter Overlook, you can see the highest point in Arkansas, which is Mt. Magazine. CCC Overlook is just a little further down the road and you must be careful if you wander far from the main lookout as there are no rails at the edge of the cliff. The CCC overlook provides a great view of Cedar Creek Canyon and you will recognize some of the views from some of the pictures on the Petit Jean State Park website.
Turtle Rocks and Rock House Cave are both on the Rock House Cave Trail, which was our next stop. We grabbed our backpacks and decided to check out the trail. Turtle Rocks comes first on the trail and you have to hike over them to get to Rock House Cave. Turtle Rocks are interesting and gets their name because the rock has worn to the look of turtle shells. I would not consider Rock House Cave a true cave, but it is a large dome shelter in the side of the rock cliff that the Native Americans used as a shelter and lived in. I always enjoy the opportunity to put myself back in time and imagine what it was like years ago. After hiking back to the jeep, we got out a blanket and had a nice little picnic as the kids were getting hungry.
We had one more hike in us for the day, but it was a short one. We stopped in at Bear Cave Trail for the short 1/4 mile hike through small rock canyons and little natural shelters. This is a great little hike for the kids. Its fairly short and is packed with neat little rock formations that you can walk thru. Kyle got a real kick out of it. I guess the trail got its name because an early settler shot a bear in one of the little caves or shelters. After this short hike we were ready to head back to camp and relax for the rest of the day.
The short driving tour with the couple of hikes ended up taking us about 5 to 6 hours to complete. There are quite a few other neat things to see on the Mountaintop drive, such as the Palisades Overlook, CCC Water Tower, CCC Bridge and other various neat photo opportunities. We got back to camp just in time to relax by the lake and do a little fishing. I wouldn’t call it serious or relaxing fishing by any means. I’m not sure you can accomplish either, when you hand an ultra-light with an open face reel on it to a 2 year old, but hey, it was a good time!
Day 3 At Petit Jean State Park
Cedar Falls And A Family Canoe Ride
I really wanted to hike Cedar Falls trail to see the main falls of the park. We read that it was a pretty steep grade to the bottom of the canyon, so we decided to skip on trying to trek to the bottom of the canyon and back up with both of the kids. I took off late morning to make the hike myself while Lynn relaxed at camp during the kids nap. It did turn out to be a very steep grade, but well worth it. It was very peaceful at the bottom of the falls. I even stood under the falls just off to the edge enough to catch some of the refreshing spray from the falling water. This hike is a must do if you visit Petit Jean State Park.
Prior to coming back up the canyon, I did hike down the Canyon Trail to the Blue Hole Area, which was a nice little out and back hike along the creek on the Canyon Trail. As you hike the Canyon Trail, you can see the fish swimming in the creek pools. There are some stepping stones that you can cross the creek on at the end of the trail. If you wanted, you could continue down the trail after crossing the creek on the stepping stones to connect to the larger trail loop, called the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail, but I turned around at this point. The entire hike took me about 3 hours to complete, which also included a little bit of time sitting near the falls or next to the creek just taking in the scenery and peacefulness.
Once I met the family back at camp, we spent the rest of the day relaxing near the lake again with our fishing poles and enjoying a few short family canoe rides. We even got a picture of Reid drinking a bottle in the front of the canoe.
Day 4 At Petit Jean State Park
Family Hike And Playground Time
It was actually my birthday and we decided to hike the Cedar Creek Trail as a family. Kyle said “I hike Dad” and didn’t want to ride in the kid carrier, so I carried Reid with me. The Cedar Creek Trail isn’t too technical of a trail and is just a little over a mile in length. Kyle actually hiked the whole trail except for the last 200 yards or so. It was a very nice trail along the creek and overall was a nice hike to take. There are no major overlooks on it, but the trail does have some minor elevation changes as it follows the creek bed.
After the hike, we spent the rest of the day relaxing at camp again and did take one visit down to the playground. Kyle calls all playgrounds “parks”. He very much enjoyed it. Reid was only 9 months old at the time, so he hung out in is stroller taking in the nature while we watched Kyle climb all over the “park”. As we did the rest of the evenings, we capped off the night with a nice campfire and I got to open a couple presents!
Day 5 At Petit Jean State Park
The Seven Hollows, Natural Bridge And The Grotto
This was our last full day at the park and there was one main trail that I still wanted to hike, the Seven Hollows Trail. Seven Hollows is about 4 1/2 miles in length, so I went at it on my own in the morning. What a great trail! This trail never got dull. There is very little elevation to the trail, with just a few rolling hills. If you ever hike this trail, make sure that you take, the side trail that goes just a short distance up to what they call The Grotto. The Grotto is probably the main feature of the trail aside from Natural Rock, the other big feature of this trail. This hike has been one of my favorites. The walk through the hollows is very majestic.
I was able to finish the hike and get back to camp in time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon with Lynn and the boys. Kyle and I managed to fit in another canoe ride with our fishing poles. We didn’t catch anything, but I find it fun to get him out on the water and he likes being a big boy and hanging out with Dad. I’ve learned to tie his fishing pole to the canoe, otherwise it may end up overboard. This was our last night at Petit Jean and we spent the evening riding some bikes and then settled in next to a nice campfire.
Day 6 At Petit Jean State Park
Time To Head Home
Our time at Petit Jean State Park was over, but we very much enjoyed it and highly recommend it as a place to camp. We packed up the camper first thing in the morning and headed for Roaring River State Park in Cassville, Missouri.
Petit Jean State Park Final Thoughts
This is a great place and I could have spent another day or 2 here and hiked back down to the falls again or sat out on one of the overlooks just to relax. That is a bit hard to do with a baby and toddler along at camp with you though. Petit Jean State Park should definitely be on your to-do list for a 3 to 4 day stay. It is definitely a gem, tucked away in the hills of Arkansas.