The Best Things To Do at Petit Jean State Park – Unforgettable Outdoor Escapes

Seeking a destination that combines nature, history, and adventure? Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas is your perfect choice.

As the first and oldest state park in Arkansas, it presents a diverse range of attractions and activities suitable for visitors of all ages and interests. From hiking and biking to fishing, swimming, or simply unwinding in nature’s embrace, Petit Jean State Park caters to a wide array of preferences.

Here’s a rundown of the best activities at Petit Jean State Park that promise to make your visit memorable.

Explore the Historic Mather Lodge

One of the highlights of Petit Jean State Park is the historic Mather Lodge, a rustic-style building made of native log and stone by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. The lodge is located on the edge of a bluff overlooking the scenic Cedar Creek Canyon, and it features 24 guest rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop, and meeting rooms.

The lobby of the lodge has a cozy fireplace and a large window that offers a stunning view of the canyon. You can also enjoy the outdoor terrace and the swimming pool that are open during the summer months.

The Mather Lodge is a great place to stay if you want to experience the charm and history of Petit Jean State Park. The rates vary depending on the season and the type of room, but they are generally affordable and include a continental breakfast.

The lodge is open year-round, except for a few days in January when it is closed for maintenance.

Hike to the Cedar Falls

One of the most popular and rewarding hikes at Petit Jean State Park is the Cedar Falls Trail, a 2-mile round trip that leads to the spectacular Cedar Falls, a 95-foot waterfall that plunges into the canyon. The trail starts at the Mather Lodge and descends about 200 feet through a forest of hardwoods, pines, and ferns.

Along the way, you can see some interesting rock formations, such as the Turtle Rocks and the Carpet Rocks, that were shaped by erosion over millions of years. The trail ends at the base of the falls, where you can admire the beauty and power of the water and feel the refreshing spray.

You can also explore the creek and the pool below the falls, but be careful of the slippery rocks and the strong current. The Cedar Falls Trail is considered moderate to strenuous, and it takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to complete.

The trail is well-marked and maintained, but it can be rocky and steep in some sections, so wear sturdy shoes and bring water and snacks. The best time to hike the trail is in the spring or fall, when the water flow is higher and the foliage is more colorful.

It is open year-round, but it may be closed temporarily due to weather conditions or maintenance.

Visit the Museum of Automobiles

If you are a fan of cars, you will love the Museum of Automobiles, a unique attraction that showcases a collection of over 50 vintage and classic vehicles from different eras and countries. The museum is located less than a mile from the main camping areas of Petit Jean State Park, and it is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on major holidays.

The admission fee is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, and $5 for children. The Museum of Automobiles was founded in 1964 by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, a former governor of Arkansas and a car enthusiast.

The museum displays some of his personal cars, such as a 1951 Cadillac that he used as a campaign vehicle, a 1967 Cadillac that he used as a governor’s limousine, and a 1921 Lincoln that he bought from Henry Ford. The museum also features other rare and historic cars, such as a 1904 Oldsmobile, a 1914 Ford Model T, a 1929 Rolls-Royce, a 1931 Duesenberg, a 1953 Corvette, and a 1967 Ferrari.

In addition, the museum has a collection of antique motorcycles, bicycles, license plates, and memorabilia. The Museum of Automobiles is a fascinating place to learn about the history and evolution of automobiles, and to see some of the most iconic and valuable cars in the world.

You can also enjoy the scenic views of Petit Jean Mountain and the Arkansas River Valley from the museum grounds.

Discover the Rock House Cave

Another must-see attraction at Petit Jean State Park is the Rock House Cave, a large rock shelter that contains ancient Native American rock art. The cave is located along the Rock House Cave Trail, a 0.25-mile loop that starts at the Rock House Cave parking area.

The trail is easy and flat, and it passes by some other interesting rock formations, such as the Bear Cave, the Natural Bridge, and the Grotto. The Rock House Cave is not a true cave, but a sandstone overhang that was used as a shelter and a ceremonial site by the Native Americans who lived in the area thousands of years ago.

The cave walls are covered with petroglyphs, or carved images, that depict animals, humans, geometric shapes, and symbols. The petroglyphs are believed to date from the Archaic to the Mississippian periods, and they reflect the culture and beliefs of the people who made them.

Some of the most recognizable petroglyphs are the turtle, the owl, the deer, and the human hand. The Rock House Cave is a remarkable example of the prehistoric art and heritage of Arkansas, and it offers a glimpse into the past of Petit Jean State Park.

The cave is open year-round, but it may be closed temporarily due to weather conditions or maintenance. To protect the cave and the petroglyphs, visitors are asked to refrain from touching, climbing, or defacing the rock walls, and to use flashlights instead of flash photography.

Enjoy the Lake Bailey

If you are looking for some fun and relaxation on the water, you can head to the Lake Bailey, a 100-acre lake that was created by a CCC rock dam on Cedar Creek. The lake is a great place to fish, kayak, or pedal boat, and you can rent the equipment from the boathouse that is open during the summer months.

The boathouse also offers a snack bar, a picnic area, and a playground for the kids. The lake is stocked with bass, catfish, bream, and crappie, and you can fish from the shore or from the boat.

You will need a valid Arkansas fishing license, which you can buy online or at the park visitor center. The Lake Bailey is a peaceful and scenic spot to enjoy the nature and wildlife of Petit Jean State Park.

You can also take a walk or a bike ride around the lake, and admire the views of the mountain and the forest. The lake is open year-round, but the boathouse and the boat rentals are only available from May to September.

Camp at the Yurts

For those keen on camping at Petit Jean State Park without the hassle of bringing a tent or RV, the park’s yurts present an ideal and unique accommodation. These round, tent-inspired accommodations merge classic camping appeal with contemporary conveniences, boasting a wooden frame, canvas exterior, and a skylight perfect for stargazing.

If you’re new to camping, be sure to read our article for helpful tips. Situated near Lake Bailey, each yurt can house up to six guests and is furnished with a queen-size bed, a futon, table and chairs, and various amenities like a microwave, mini-fridge, coffee maker, heater, and fan.

Outside, you’ll find a deck, fire ring, grill, and picnic table for outdoor enjoyment. While the yurts don’t have private bathrooms, a communal bathhouse is conveniently located nearby.

Yurt camping offers a cozy, novel way to experience Petit Jean State Park, especially enchanting at night with a view of the stars through the skylight and the soothing sounds of nature. Pricing for the yurts varies with the season and days of the week, typically offering a more budget-friendly option compared to cabins and the lodge.

Available throughout the year, the yurts only close for a brief maintenance period in January.


What wildlife might I encounter there?

Visitors to Petit Jean State Park may spot diverse wildlife, including white-tailed deer, squirrels, raccoons, various bird species like woodpeckers and hawks, and occasionally, foxes. Remember to observe wildlife from a distance and not disturb their natural habitat.

Are there guided tours available in the park?

Yes, Petit Jean State Park offers guided tours, especially during peak seasons. These tours can include nature walks, historical tours of Mather Lodge, and interpretive programs about the park’s flora, fauna, and geology. Check the park’s visitor center for the current schedule.

Can I have a picnic at Petit Jean State Park, and are there designated areas?

Absolutely! There are several designated picnic areas throughout Petit Jean State Park, equipped with tables and grills. These areas offer scenic views and are perfect for a family outing.

Is swimming allowed in the park’s natural water bodies?

While swimming in Cedar Creek and other natural water bodies in the park is not recommended due to safety concerns, there is a swimming pool available at Mather Lodge during the summer months for visitors to enjoy.

What types of camping facilities are available at Petit Jean State Park?

The park offers a range of camping options, from basic tent sites to RV hookups. Additionally, the unique yurts provide a more comfortable camping experience. All camping areas have access to modern facilities and are located amidst picturesque settings.

Are pets allowed in the park, and what are the rules for bringing them?

Pets are welcome in Petit Jean State Park but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pet owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets and ensuring they do not disturb wildlife or other visitors. Certain areas, like public buildings, may have restrictions on pet access.

Final Words

Petit Jean State Park is a wonderful destination for anyone who loves nature, history, and adventure. The park has a variety of attractions and activities that will suit any taste and budget.

You can stay at the historic Mather Lodge, hike to Cedar Falls, visit the Museum of Automobiles, discover the Rock House Cave, enjoy the Lake Bailey, or camp at the yurts. No matter what you choose to do, you will have an unforgettable outdoor escape at Petit Jean State Park.