Pretty Petit Jean


View from Petit Jean Mountain, Arkansas

As we drove south through the Ozarks, we encountered a few storms. Thunder, lightning, torrential rain. We passed yards full of leaves and limbs. We worried the weekend was going to be a washout. However, as we climbed Petit Jean Mountain, the clouds began to clear.

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The entrance to Petit Jean State Park in Morilton, AR, takes visitors right to the scenic outlooks overlooking the Arkansas River below and the Ozark Mountains in the distance. You really could feel like you were standing on the edge of the world, even though this mountain was only a little over 1000 feet.

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Sometimes, we joke that Arkansas is the Colorado of the Ozarks, and at Petit Jean, we could feel that mountain spirit.

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One thing that made Petit Jean seem like a good destination for our family was the variety of things to explore in this state park. During the 1930s, it was one of the locations that the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) helped develop. Visitors to the park can enjoy many remnants of their work.

Overlook built by the CCC at Petit Jean

There are several easy trails to walk. A quick scamper down the Bear Cave trail took us past some towering rock formations. The Rock House Cave Trail paid off with two fun things to see. Our boys enjoyed jumping around on the “turtle rocks,” and we all liked learning about the Native American art in the cave. Over 500 years ago, this area was special to them, too.

Turtle Rocks at Petit Jean State Park

The CCC Hike and Bike trail led us to the Cedar Falls overlook. We looked at Cedar Falls from above, planning to hike to the bottom the next day.

Cedar Falls

One of the gems of Petit Jean State Park is Cedar Falls, a 95-foot tall waterfall. To get to it, we hiked a mile down twisting switchbacks while climbing over and around huge boulders.  On our way down, I kept thinking about how much less fun it was going to be to hike that same path back up.

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Along the trail, there were plenty of lovely scenes offering distractions from the heat and the hike.

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As we hiked, I kept thinking about Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

The previous summer, we didn’t take any trips or go on any adventures. After a very brief battle with lung cancer, my mom passed away. Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? For many years, we had lived up the road from my parents, and my mom and I were very close. Her loss left a huge hole in my life.

As I began to regain my footing after her death, I really began to look at my life. Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? My boys were nine and twelve years old, and I know the time with them is ticking by. When we are at home, it’s easy to fall into the distractions of our various digital screens. For me, the only way to escape that is to go on an adventure.  That is how we found ourselves at the bottom of Cedar Falls.

Cedar Falls at Petit Jean

To understand the scale of the waterfall, look for the tiny man in a white shirt standing to the left of the waterfall. It was a nice place to sit down and be idle and feel blessed.

After taking in the scenic view, we began the mile-long hike back up the trail. Our boys took off without us, as we huffed and puffed. Eventually, we made it to the top with a feeling of accomplishment.

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At the top of the hill, Mather Lodge offered a place to rest and refuel after our hike. The restaurant has a lovely view of some Ozarks hills.

View from Lodge at Petit Jean


Despite having so much more we would have liked to explore, it was time to leave Petit Jean. We’re definitely planning to head back in the future. There are several trails we didn’t get to explore, and we would have enjoyed more time to relax by the lake.

The next time we go, we won’t be staying in a yurt like we did on this trip because we’ll be carrying our own house: our travel trailer, Birdy.

Petit Jean State Park is one of those places that strikes your soul. Check it out.


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9 years ago

How far is this from home?