This was Arkansas’ first state park, a slice of land between the Ozark and Ouachita mountain ranges considered so beautiful it was under consideration to be a national park before being deemed too small. Petit Jean was a young French girl who disguised herself as a cabin boy so she could secretly sail with her lover to America. Once on these shores she fell ill and requested to be buried here before she died.
The park, where dogs are permitted everywhere but in the lodges, is an enchanting mix of eroded bluffs and forested canyons lubricated by Cedar Creek. There are more than 20 miles of trails across more than 2,500 acres but you will likely steer your dog towards the three that have been awarded National trail designation and will your dog’s hiking day. The most popular is a one-mile trek down into Cedar Creek Canyon (rock steps and wooden walkways constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s will ease the journey) that climaxes at Cedar Falls. The wide plunge pool in the rock ampitheater is a perfect spot for your dog to swim under the 94-foot cascade.
The Seven Hollow Trail (you actually only visit four) takes your dog from lush hardwood forests to stark, open air rock fields in its 4.5-mile loop. Each hollow on this sporty canine hike has its own delights, from a natural rock bridge to a secluded watery grotto beneath a rock overhang. The Cedar Creek Trail launches form the rough hewn pine cabin constructed by John Walker, Petit Jean’s first settler, in 1845. This interpretive loop of a few hops over a mile envelops your dog in the thickly vegetated stream corridor.
Visitors to Bear Cave can walk under, around, and through these gigantic rocks. Although there is no true cave, the huge rocks form a number of rock shelters and narrow passageways. Bear Cave was named when the last bear killed on Petit Jean Mountain met its end in this area. The cathedral of rock running down the center of the trail loop is believed to have been cut by Cedar Creek long ago. This passageway is called “The Eye of the Needle.” Wander through these fragile sandstone monoliths and imagine the tremendous forces of wind and water that caused what you see today.
Petit Jean State Park is southwest of Morrilton on Route 154 via Route 9.