Arkansas’ motto is the Natural State, and while plenty of examples can be found, few are any better than Petit Jean State Park. And the highlight there is Cedar Falls.
Our house experienced a rare occurrence recently. We found ourselves with a weekend completely free of ballgames and dance. So I took three middle schoolers on a short road trip over to Conway County to see the waterfall.
Petit Jean is an easy drive from Conway, taking about 45 minutes. It’s Interstate 40 to Morrilton, then a nice two-lane highway into the park. Along the road not far from the park is a great little gift shop with a deli and a variety of ice cream.
The park has several trails, some quite short and great for beginners. But the most popular is Cedar Falls Trail. It starts and ends at Mather Lodge. It is one mile in and then one mile out. The park brochure states a one-way trip takes an hour, but most people can make it in 30-45 minutes.
The first half-mile in is a fairly steep decent into Cedar Creek Canyon. As we were beginning our journey down, we passed a parade of hikers marching back to the top. I noticed some were breathing a little heavily and had a bit of sweat on their brow.
Later on our return trip, I understood why. The trek is certainly doable, but the park literature classifies the difficulty as “strenuous.” It is a good workout. But I saw lots of kids. Lots of dogs too, as they are welcome as long as they are leashed.
The halfway point is Cedar Creek. The trail flattens out there. You cross a single lane pedestrian bridge, then follow the creek for another half mile to the waterfall.
It is magnificent. The drop is 95 feet into a large natural pool that feeds the creek you just travelled. It is a beautiful location for photographs.
There are some adventurous and/or foolish enough to walk an unofficial path around to the waterfall and actually get behind it. A few people were doing that the day we were there.
You never know who you might run into on the journey. I passed a local bank executive and his significant other, as well as an old UCA fraternity brother I had not seen in years.
The trail is well worn, so it’s hard to stray. It is also well marked with bright orange diamonds. You can just about always see two or three ahead on the trail to guide your way. To get lost, you would almost have to try to do so.
There is no charge to use the trails at Petit Jean. All it will cost you is a few gallons of gas and some bottled water for the hike. Oh, and a few bucks for ice cream on the way out.