About Cedar Falls
In our minds, Cedar Falls was arguably the most attractive waterfall in the state of Arkansas.
It featured a classic rectangular shape where Cedar Creek dropped 95ft into a shady grotto surrounded by impressively tall and vertical cliffs.
The grotto beneath the waterfall was deep enough to even allow people to scramble behind it.
As you can see in the photo above, we happened to see it with a healthy volume, which yielded enough spray to produce rainbows.
Moreover, if that wasn’t enough, the panoramic view from the trailhead next to the attractive Mather Lodge further made our time spent here one of the best natural experiences to be had in the state.
Speaking of experiencing Cedar Falls, we managed to do this in a couple of ways – by an overlook and at its bottom by hiking.
Experiencing the Cedar Falls Overlook
The Cedar Falls Overlook was the easiest way to experience the waterfall with minimal effort.
It involved a short walk, which started from a separate parking lot away from the Mather Lodge (see directions below).
The mostly wheelchair-friendly trail led to a lookout deck with a sideways and somewhat obstructed view of the uppermost parts of the Cedar Falls.
Beyond the overlook deck, there were stairs leading beneath the deck and onto a trail that followed along the cliffs above Cedar Creek.
We walked around five minutes in the Mather Lodge direction (downstream), which led to a protruding part of the cliff.
This was where we managed to get a more direct look at Cedar Falls, but that view was no less obstructed than the one at the lookout deck.
In other words, you really need to experience the waterfall from the bottom and not settle for this viewpoint to really get the most out of Cedar Falls.
The Hike to the bottom of Cedar Falls
Before even getting started on the hike to Cedar Falls, we already got a nice panoramic view from behind the Mather Lodge (see directions below).
The well-signed trailhead began right beneath the panoramic views and immediately descended along a well-defined trail in a series of switchbacks.
Given that we had to descend pretty steeply at the beginning of this hike, we knew that we would have to get all this elevation loss back at the end of the hike when we would return.
Anyhow, along the descent, we noticed some trail junction for the Bear Cave Area, which we didn’t do.
We also noticed that there were orange hashes or blazes marked on specific trees or rocks, which also indicated that we were on the Cedar Falls Trail (in case there was any confusion with this or other trails, I guess).
At the bottom of this descent, the trail flattened out and then approached Cedar Creek.
There was a footbridge traversing the fairly large creek, but a sign there indicated that only two people at a time could be on the bridge.
So this caused a little bit of a queue given how popular this trail was.
Once we got to the other side of bridge, we then turned right at the junction to follow the creek upstream towards the waterfall.
Note that going left at the junction would’ve followed Cedar Creek downstream towards the Blue Hole Area.
Anyways, as we continued along the Cedar Falls trail, we noticed there were more large rocks flanking the path.
We noticed quite a few people used these rocks as photo subjects for selfies or people shots.
Some of these rocks looked like they were balanced on top of each other.
The trail continued to meander alongside Cedar Creek for the next half-mile.
Eventually, after about 40 minutes of hiking (or about a mile from the Mather Lodge), we finally arrived at the huge plunge pool for Cedar Falls.
There were lots of giant boulders on the opposite side of the plunge pool to view the falls from.
However, the trail kept going up some rock steps as it led right up into the shady yet deep and wide open grotto that afforded us views of the waterfall from different angles.
Within the grotto, the trail degenerated into a steep and narrow scramble with quite a few slippery spots.
However, the degenrating trail conditions didn’t spot dozens of people from making it all the way to the backside of Cedar Falls and beyond to the other side.
I didn’t go all the way down there as it exceeded my comfort level and degree of time commitment.
Eventually after having our fill of Cedar Falls, we went back the way we came.
Not surprisingly, the final stretch going up the switchbacks towards the Mather Lodge was perhaps the most strenuous part.
Still, with all things considered, we wound up spending between 30-40 minutes on the return hike, and the grand total hiking time was on the order of 60-90 minutes round trip (or 3 miles round trip if you include all the exploring around the falls).
While the signs and the park literature proclaimed this to be a strenuous hike, we felt that this characterization might have been a bit exaggerated and probably should’ve been characterized as moderate.
Nevertheless, it was still a good idea to bring plenty of water, especially on the return hike.
The Story of Petit Jean
Finally, I found the French name of Petit Jean to be a very interesting name for the state park that the Cedar Falls resided in.
By the way, Petit Jean meant “Little John” in French, but locals apparently say “petty jeen” instead of the French way like “puh-tee zjhahn”.
So I did a little digging to find out how this park got its name.
To make a long story short, the park was named after a mountain where Adrienne Dumont of Paris, France was buried.
A young French nobleman by the name of Chavet was engaged to be married to Dumont, but he didn’t want her to accompany him in his overseas explorations of the Louisiana Territory given the dangers involved.
In a very Joan of Arc manner, Adrienne wanted so badly to accompany Chavet that she disguised herself as a cabin boy on Chavet’s ship.
Her disguise was clever enough that one of the sailors called her Petit Jean, and not even Chavet recognized her.
That was until the eve of when the crew was to set sail back to France when “Petit Jean” became gravely ill by some unknown disease.
Upon the revelation that Petit Jean was Adrienne Dumont, she asked Chavet for forgiveness as well as granting her last wish, which was to be buried atop what would eventually be known as Petit Jean Mountain.
There were other legends involved, but this particular one pretty much explained the park’s French heritage in my mind.
Cedar Falls resides in the Petit Jean State Park near Morrilton in Conway County, Arkansas. It is administered by Arkansas State Parks. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Since we recognize that most people don’t make such a long drive and detour to this waterfall in the manner that we did it, I’ll describe the driving directions from Clarksville (where we spent the night after visiting the falls), Little Rock (probably the nearest big city), and Rockport (where we deviated from the I-30E towards Little Rock due to a traffic jam on the interstate).
Note that Morrilton to the east and Russellville to the west were the closest towns of somewhat significant size to Petit Jean State Park, but the directions I’ll be describing pass through these towns anyways.
Driving from Clarksville to Mather Lodge
Turn right to go south onto Hwy 7 (Arkansas Ave) and follow this road through Russellville and beyond for nearly 15 miles to the Hwy 154.
Turn left onto Hwy 154 and follow this road for about another 15 miles to the parking lot for the Mather Lodge (inside Petit Jean State Park).
The trailhead for Cedar Falls is behind the Mather Lodge.
We actually did this drive in reverse and it took us a little over an hour (including all the traffic lights within Russellville).
Note that the separate parking lot for the Cedar Falls Overlook was another 1/4-mile east of the turnoff for the Mather Lodge along Hwy 154.
Driving from Little Rock to Mather Lodge
Then go south (left) on Hwy 9 for about 7.5 miles to its junction with Hwy 154 in the town of Oppelo.
Turn right onto Hwy 154 and follow this road for about 20 miles to get to the turnoff for the Cedar Falls Overlook or an additional 1/4-mile to get to the turnoff for the Mather Lodge.
Driving from Texarkana to Mather Lodge
Towards the north end of town, we took exit 99 to get onto the US 270.
Turning right to go southeast onto the US 270, we then drove for about 3 miles to the Cr-196.
Turning left onto Cr-196, we then turned left onto the US 67 about 0.6 miles later, and then we followed the US 67 north for 8 miles before turning left onto Old Military Road (going across the I-30 in the process).
Shortly after crossing the I-30, we then kept right onto Fairplay Rd and followed it for a little over 5 miles to US 70.
Turning left onto US 70, we then drove a little over a mile before turning right onto Narrows Rd.
We then followed Narrows Rd for just under 7 miles before it junctioned with Hwy 5.
Next, we went across Hwy 5 to go onto Hwy 9.
We then proceeded on Hwy 9 for about 38 miles before turning left onto Hwy 154 in the town of Oppelo.
Once on the Hwy 154, follow the road as directed above for the Little Rock directions.
To give you some context, Clarksville, Arkansas was 103 miles (90 minutes drive) northwest of Little Rock, Arkansas, 239 miles (3.5 hours drive) east of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and 335 miles (5 hours drive) northeast of Dallas, Texas.
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