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Petit Jean State Park Guide — Museum, Tours, and More 

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Petit Jean State Park has a fascinating history, ancient geology, and stunning landscapes. It is home to the Petit Jean Mountain, the legendary peak that inspired the park’s creation as the first in the Arkansas State Park system. Each year, 800,000 visitors camp, explore its trails, and visit historic buildings and structures.

How To Get to Petit Jean State Park

Where Is Petit Jean State Park?

Petit Jean State Park is located in Morrilton, Arkansas, in the west-central part of the state, nestled between the Ozark and Ouachita Mountain ranges.

This state park stretches over 2,658 acres of mountain landscape and includes wooded forests, ravines, waterfalls, streams, springs, and unique geological formations that have been standing for hundreds of years. One of the closest major cities is Little Rock, Arkansas, which is about 70 miles away.

Petit Jean State Park Opening Hours and Seasons

The park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. However, the facilities, like the visitor center and swimming pool, have different hours throughout the year, so it is wise to call ahead to find out the most up-to-date hours before your visit. Cabins, campgrounds, and lodges are also available year-round.

Nearest Airports to Petit Jean State Park

The closest major airport to the park is Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock, Arkansas. This airport is 71 miles from the park, and it takes a little over an hour to drive there. This is the largest airport in Arkansas, offering nonstop flights to a long list of major cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami.

Many well-known airlines serve this airport, including Allegiant, American Airlines, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United. Once you arrive, you can easily rent a car at one of the kiosks and set out for the final leg of your journey to the park.

Driving to Petit Jean State Park

There are several routes to Petit Jean State Park, depending on your location. The most common way to get here from Little Rock is to take I-40 West to exit 108 in Morrilton, then take Highway 9 to Oppelo. Head west on Highway 154 for 12 miles until you see the park’s entrance.

Taking the Train or Bus to Petit Jean State Park

There is no train or bus service to Petit Jean State Park.

Getting Around Petit Jean State Park

Getting Around Petit Jean State Park
Image Credit: Arkansas State Park

The best way to explore this state park is by a combination of driving and exploring on foot. You can park in several areas and get out to see the park’s highlights. The park has a printable map on its brochure showing the main attractions and parking areas, allowing you to plan your park adventures.

What To See and Do in Petit Jean State Park

There is no shortage of things to see and do at this state park. From hiking incredible trails to boating and fishing on the lake, and from driving tours to visiting historic buildings, there’s something to appeal to every visitor.

Boating

Petit Jean State Park has a boathouse that offers boat rentals from Memorial Day to Labor Day weekend. You can rent pedal boats, flat-bottom boats, canoes, kayaks, and water bikes to enjoy Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt.

Whether you’re fishing, paddling, or just escaping the busyness of life, this is the perfect location. The boathouse also features a snack bar and game room, where you can grab a quick bite to eat and gather friends and family for fun games.

Fishing

Lake Bailey and Lake Roosevelt are prime spots for fishing. You can fish on the water, from the shore, or from the barrier-free fishing pier. Many fish species call these waters home. The most commonly caught fish include bass, catfish, and crappie. Anglers 16 and older are required to carry a valid Arkansas fishing license.

Hiking Trails

Petit Jean State Park Hiking Trails
Image Credit: Arkansas State Park

Petit Jean State Park has 20 miles of interconnected trails. These trails were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 and offer an incredible opportunity to discover the park’s natural beauty. Some of the trails here include Cedar Falls Trail, Seven Hollows Trail, Canyon Trail, and Bear Cave Trail.

Many of these trails are designated as Natural Areas because they support old-growth forests, diverse wildlife, and rare plants. Hiking these trails is the perfect way to make memories, see the park’s wildlife, learn about the area’s history, and appreciate the scenic views.

Hot Tip:

The park provides a brochure with trail descriptions and a map to help you plan your hiking adventures.

Mountaintop Driving Tour

The best way to see all the highlights of the park is to take the Mountaintop Driving Tour. This self-guided tour begins at the visitor center and has 16 points of interest to stop and explore. Some of the sights seen along the way include The Museum of Automobiles, Petit Jean’s gravesite, Mather Lodge, Bear Cave, and a host of historic structures.

The park provides a brochure with a map that describes each of the stops along the way. This is a wonderful way to see the park’s sights and learn the history behind each one.

The Museum of Automobiles

Museum of Automobiles
Image Credit: The Museum of Automobiles

The Museum of Automobiles is located inside the park. It’s housed in a half-acre building and displays antique automobiles, including vehicles owned by famous individuals such as former President John F. Kennedy and Elvis Presley.

The facility was opened in 1964 by Winthrop Rockefeller and currently serves as the headquarters for the Mid-American Old Time Automobile Association. Throughout the year, the museum hosts various events, such as annual car shows and swap meets.

Bottom Line:

This is a must-visit destination for automobile enthusiasts and history buffs.

Swimming

To beat the Arkansas heat, go for a dip in one of the 2 swimming pools at the park. One pool is on the bluff behind Mather Lodge. This pool is exclusively for cabin and lodge guests. There is another pool near the picnic area that’s open to the public. It features a diving board and water slides. The swim season is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. If you’re not a cabin or lodge guest, you will pay a fee of $5 to $6.

Best Times To Visit Petit Jean State Park

The park is open year-round and offers an incredible experience no matter what time of year you visit. However, certain times throughout the year are better than others, especially if you’re hoping to participate in a specific activity or event.

Best Time To Visit Petit Jean State Park for Ideal Weather

Weather can make or break a vacation, so it is wise to research weather trends before planning a vacation. September is the best time to visit Petit Jean State Park for ideal weather. This is one of the driest months throughout the year, and the temperature ranges from the upper 50s to the mid-80s, which is perfect for outdoor adventure.

Best Time To Visit Petit Jean State Park To Avoid the Crowds

Many park guests prefer a solitary visit to Petit Jean State Park. If this appeals to you, you should plan to visit during the month of November, as this is when the park is the least busy throughout the year. A crowd-free visit allows you to explore the park at your own pace without the stress of long lines and traffic.

Best Time To Visit Petit Jean State Park for Camping

Petit Jean State Park Camping
Image Credit: Arkansas State Park

Camping is a favorite activity at this park. The best month to camp at Petit Jean State Park is October. The temperatures range from the upper 40s to the mid-70s, and this is one of the driest months throughout the year. Campers can explore the park with comfortable temperatures during the day and warm up by the fire once the sun goes down.

Cheapest Time To Visit Petit Jean State Park

The cheapest month to visit this park is from mid to late September. This is when flights and accommodations are at their lowest throughout the year. A September visit could potentially save you hundreds of dollars in travel expenses.

Annual Events in Petit Jean State Park

This park regularly hosts a variety of events throughout the year. Some of these activities include guided hikes, nature talks, evening programs during the summer, and workshops. Several annual events also attract visitors and locals.

Mountain Fishin’ Derby

The Mountain Fishin’ Derby is held at Petit Jean State Park each June. This event is geared towards younger park visitors aged 15 and under. Anglers meet at the historic boathouse in the morning and head out for a day of fishing. The lakes are well-stocked, and prizes are awarded by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Petit Jean Swap Meet and Car Show

Each year in June, The Museum of Automobiles holds a swap meet and car show. This weekend event has taken place for nearly 70 years and features exciting programs and activities like arts and crafts, an antique car show, and shopping at flea market spaces. It’s one of the biggest events held at Petit Jean State Park and is looked forward to by locals and tourists alike.

Where To Stay in Petit Jean State Park

Determining where to stay is one of the first things to do when planning any vacation. Thankfully, there are abundant options for places to stay in and near the park.

Inside the Park

Whether you want to camp in the great outdoors, stay in a rustic cabin, or enjoy the amenities of a historic lodge, this park has a wonderful lodging solution for every guest.

Cabins

Petit Jean State Park Cabins
Image Credit: Arkansas State Park

Petit Jean State Park offers 33 cabins for visitors who want to retreat in nature with some of the comforts of home. Most of these cabins are within walking distance from the lodge, and many are spread along Cedar Creek Canyon or the bluff.

Guests can choose from fully furnished or rustic cabins with 1 to 3 bedrooms. These cabins include fully equipped kitchens or kitchenettes, fireplaces, televisions, heating, and air conditioning. Cabin guests also have access to the lodge pool.

Camping

Visitors who prefer sleeping under the stars have 125 campsites to choose from at Petit Jean State Park. These sites offer water and electric hookups, access to a modern bathhouse, and can accommodate both tent campers and RVs.

Visitors who don’t have their own equipment can rent everything they need with Rent-A-Camp and Rent-A-Teepee packages. These packages include a tent or teepee, a camp stove, mats, a canoe, and other necessities.

Mather Lodge

Mather Lodge
Image Credit: Arkansas State Park

Mather Lodge is the only hotel-style lodging available within the boundaries of the park. This lodge sits high on a bluff looking over the Arkansas River Valley. This lodge features 24 guest rooms and cabins, a swimming pool, a gift shop, and a full-service restaurant.

Towns Near Petit Jean State Park

No towns are located right next to the park, but some options are available about 30 to 40 minutes away.

Morrilton, Arkansas

Morrilton is one of the closest towns to the park. It’s about 16 miles from the park, which is about a 22-minute drive. This town has plenty of options for lodging, dining, and recreation. There are various chain hotels, affordable motels, and vacation rentals. The dining scene is a treat, with numerous family-run restaurants serving authentic Mexican cuisine, classic American dishes, and local fare.

Bottom Line:

Morrilton offers lots of outdoor adventure, including several parks to explore, botanical gardens, and nature trails.

Russellville, Arkansas

Russellville is 23 miles from Petit Jean State Park, and it takes about 35 minutes to get there. This town offers great places to stay, a variety of restaurants, and opportunities for recreation. The lodging options here range from budget-friendly chain motels to luxury hotels and private rentals.

There are several restaurants here for when hunger strikes. Most of these restaurants are locally owned diners, steakhouses, and barbecue joints. For recreation, Russellville offers hunting, fishing, hiking, and biking.

Where To Eat in Petit Jean State Park

There is only 1 place to dine at the park, but several other options are available in the towns surrounding it.

Petit Jean State Park Restaurant

The Petit Jean State Park Restaurant is in the Mather Lodge. This dining room offers stunning views of the Cedar Creek Canyon. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily. The menu features breakfast burritos, biscuits and gravy, gourmet sandwiches, and burgers.

Yesterday’s Bar and Grill

Yesterday’s Bar and Grill is one of the top-ranked restaurants near Petit Jean State Park and is only 25 minutes away. It is open Monday through Saturday for lunch and dinner. The menu features Southern American cuisine, such as barbecue ribs, chicken fried steak, and country catfish dinners. Not only does this restaurant serve amazing meals, but there is often live music and trivia for an exciting way to end a day.

Petit Jean State Park Facts

Petit Jean State Park
Image Credit: Seth Wickham via Unsplash

1. It Was Established in 1923

Petit Jean State Park was designated an Arkansas state park in 1923. It preserved an 80-acre tract encompassing Cedar Falls and a portion of Cedar Creek Canyon. This was the first park in the Arkansas State Park system.

2. The Park Honors the Legend of Petit Jean

A legend dating back to the 1700s tells the story of how Petit Jean got its name. The legend is about a young French girl who disguised herself as a cabin boy to secretly come to the New World with her fiancé. Petit Jean, or Little John, became fatally ill and requested to be buried there. Her death and the following legend supposedly give the mountain and overlook a magical quality that continues attracting visitors. The gravesite can be visited today on the Mountaintop Driving Tour.

3. The Park Was Built By the CCC

The Civilian Conservation Corps built many of the structures in Petit Jean State Park. Some of these structures include the overlook at Cedar Creek Canyon, Mather Lodge, and Palisades Overlook.

4. You Can Hike National Recreation Trails

Cedar Falls, Cedar Creek Trails, and Seven Hollows have been designated as National Recreation Trails because they have a rich history and scenic beauty.

5. It’s a Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Site

Petit Jean State Park is one of 5 parks in Arkansas certified as a Trail of Tears National Historic Trail Site. Cherokee Indians and members of other tribes passed by Petit Jean Mountain when they migrated to Oklahoma against their will. A portion of this historic route can be viewed from the overlook at Stout’s Point.

Final Thoughts

Petit Jean State Park boasts diverse activities appealing to every interest, from tranquil fishing spots to an intriguing automobile museum, and from scenic hiking trails to engaging driving tours. With an annual visitation of 800,000, this marvelous park is a must-see destination.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Petit Jean State Park?

There is no entrance fee for visiting Petit Jean State Park. However, fees are collected for certain facilities or activities, such as camping.

How much time should I spend at Petit Jean State Park?

Plan to stay a full day and night at Petit Jean State Park. This will allow you to see the highlights of the park and stay in the historic lodge, rustic cabin, or camp under the stars.

What are some attractions I should visit near Petit Jean State Park?

Some popular activities to enjoy in this part of Arkansas include a visit to the Morrilton Depot Museum and exploring Barnyard Friends and Stables, where you can experience the petting zoo and enjoy horseback riding.

Can I bring my dog to Petit Jean State Park?

Dogs are welcome at this state park. They are required to be on a leash and cleaned up after at all times.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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