Cedar Falls

Petit Jean State Park / Little Rock / Morrilton / Russellville, Arkansas, USA

About Cedar Falls


Hiking Distance: 3 miles round trip (to base)
Suggested Time: 90 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-03-16
Date last visited: 2016-03-16

Waterfall Latitude: 35.12133
Waterfall Longitude: -92.93433

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_249_03162016 - Cedar Falls in Petit Jean State Park
Cedar Falls in Petit Jean State Park

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

Petit_Jean_SP_026_03162016 - The view of Cedar Falls from the Cedar Falls Overlook
The view of Cedar Falls from 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.

Petit_Jean_SP_033_03162016 - Partial view of Cedar Falls from an informal outcrop further downstream from the Cedar Falls Overlook
Partial view of Cedar Falls from an informal outcrop further downstream from the Cedar Falls Overlook

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).

Petit_Jean_SP_059_03162016 - This was the panoramic view between the Cedar Falls Trailhead and the back of the Mather Lodge
This was the panoramic view between the Cedar Falls Trailhead and the back of the Mather Lodge

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).

Petit_Jean_SP_123_03162016 - Julie and Tahia descending the busy switchbacks on the Cedar Falls Trail beneath the Mather Lodge
Julie and Tahia descending the busy switchbacks on the Cedar Falls Trail beneath the Mather Lodge

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_133_03162016 - Tahia and Julie crossing the narrow bridge over Cedar Creek, where the bridge's load could only support two people at a time
Tahia and Julie crossing the narrow bridge over Cedar Creek, where the bridge’s load could only support two people at a time

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_138_03162016 - Tahia and Julie going by some of the giant rocks along the Cedar Falls Trail as we went upstream along Cedar Creek towards the waterfall
Tahia and Julie going by some of the giant rocks along the Cedar Falls Trail as we went upstream along Cedar Creek towards the waterfall

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_139_03162016 - Julie and Tahia following the orange hashes or blazes on the way upstream to the base of the Cedar Falls
Julie and Tahia following the orange hashes or blazes on the way upstream to the base of the Cedar Falls

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_232_03162016 - Context of how steep and sketchy the scramble within the shady grotto to the backside of the Cedar Falls can be
Context of how steep and sketchy the scramble within the shady grotto to the backside of the Cedar Falls can be

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

Petit_Jean_SP_218_03162016 - Looking towards the Cedar Falls from within the shady grotto where some people were scrambling up from the backside of the waterfall
Looking towards the Cedar Falls from within the shady grotto where some people were scrambling up from the backside of the waterfall

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_312_03162016 - A tower near the road entrance to the Mather Lodge complex of Petit Jean State Park
A tower near the road entrance to the Mather Lodge complex of Petit Jean State Park

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_111_03162016 - Mather Lodge sat atop Petit Jean Mountain
Mather Lodge sat atop Petit Jean Mountain

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.

Authorities

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_004_03162016 - Julie and Tahia on the pretty straightforward walk leading to the Cedar Falls overlook
Petit_Jean_SP_010_03162016 - Julie turning onto a spur leading down to the Cedar Falls Overlook
Petit_Jean_SP_014_03162016 - This was the wheelchair accessible overlook for Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_023_03162016 - Looking downstream in the direction of the Mather Lodge from the Cedar Falls Overlook
Petit_Jean_SP_025_03162016 - Looking right down at the top of Cedar Falls from its overlook
Petit_Jean_SP_028_03162016 - Tahia taking the steps below the overlook in pursuit of an alternate view from the tops of the cliffs overlooking Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_029_03162016 - Following the white diamonds along the short trail to an alternate view of Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_032_03162016 - Tahia approaching the end of the protrusion in the cliff with a more direct view of Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_043_03162016 - This series of walls and railings was designed to keep people from getting too close to the cliff edge around the Cedar Falls Overlook and other alternate viewpoints
Petit_Jean_SP_052_03162016 - Going back up the well-developed walkway for the Cedar Falls Overlook, which flanked some interesting rock formations
Petit_Jean_SP_054_03162016 - Another look at some of the rock formations on the short walk to the Cedar Falls Overlook
Petit_Jean_SP_072_03162016 - Enjoying the panorama behind the Mather Lodge before getting started on the hike down to the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_067_03162016 - Context of the Mather Lodge and the panorama behind it
Petit_Jean_SP_101_03162016 - Another look over the trees towards the scenery of the panorama as seen from behind the Mather Lodge
Petit_Jean_SP_113_03162016 - Starting the three-mile round trip hike to the base of Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_118_03162016 - Julie and Tahia following the orange hashes on the initial switchbacks descending into Cedar Creek Canyon beneath the Mather Lodge
Petit_Jean_SP_121_03162016 - The Cedar Falls Trail continuing to descend several switchbacks to get into the base of the canyon
Petit_Jean_SP_128_03162016 - Julie and Tahia continuing to follow the orange hashes and descend the trail leading down into the base of the Cedar Creek Canyon en route to the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_130_03162016 - Approaching the bridge across Cedar Creek, where only two people can go on at a time
Petit_Jean_SP_134_03162016 - Julie and Tahia crossing the narrow bridge over Cedar Creek en route to the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_135_03162016 - Julie and Tahia now hiking the Cedar Falls Trail as it followed the creek upstream after having crossed the bridge
Petit_Jean_SP_140_03162016 - The Cedar Falls Trail continued following alongside the north side of Cedar Creek en route to the base of Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_143_03162016 - Julie and Tahia continuing to go past some more interesting rocks that have managed to tumble to the base of Cedar Creek Canyon at some time in the past
Petit_Jean_SP_147_03162016 - Julie and Tahia going across some minor stream over some boulder hops to continue towards the base of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_149_03162016 - Julie and Tahia continuing along the fairly easy and popular trail to the bottom of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_150_03162016 - Julie and Tahia continuing to follow this family as it was quite the popular trail to get to the base of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_153_03162016 - An interesting boulder slope besides the Cedar Falls Trail as we were getting close to the end
Petit_Jean_SP_156_03162016 - Julie and Tahia finally approaching the base of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_163_03162016 - Looking across the wide plunge pool towards the impressive Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_166_03162016 - Contextual broad look across the rock-fringed plunge pool towards Cedar Falls. Note that there are some people that managed to get behind that waterfall in the distance
Petit_Jean_SP_176_03162016 - It was a beautiful day when we finally arrived at the base of Cedar Falls as you can see in the cloudless blue skies
Petit_Jean_SP_247_03162016 - Someone sitting in solitude relaxed while staring at Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_281_03162016 - Looking up at the steps leading to the grotto besides the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_199_03162016 - Looking back at the trail and scramble from within the grotto en route to the backside of Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_184_03162016 - Profile view of Cedar Falls from within the large and shady grotto. This was about as far as I scrambled to, but you can clearly see people went behind this waterfall and beyond
Petit_Jean_SP_222_03162016 - Angled look at the Cedar Falls from within the grotto
Petit_Jean_SP_226_03162016 - Contextual angled look at the Cedar Falls from within the grotto
Petit_Jean_SP_235_03162016 - Closer look at someone doing the narrow scramble on her way out of the grotto after having gone behind the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_241_03162016 - When I was on my way back out of the grotto, I started to notice a rainbow showing up at the base of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_243_03162016 - Another look at the Cedar Falls and rainbow
Petit_Jean_SP_251_03162016 - Another look across the plunge pool at the Cedar Falls with rainbow appearing at its base
Petit_Jean_SP_255_03162016 - As it was getting later in the afternoon, it seemed like the rainbow at the bottom of Cedar Falls started to appear higher up its drop
Petit_Jean_SP_259_03162016 - Broad look across the plunge pool at the Cedar Falls with rainbow seemingly more pronounced than earlier on
Petit_Jean_SP_270_03162016 - Last look at the context of the Cedar Falls with rainbow before it was time to finally leave and head back up to the Mather Lodge
Petit_Jean_SP_284_03162016 - Hiking back along the trail following Cedar Creek downstream as I was leaving Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_286_03162016 - During the hike back from Cedar Falls, I noticed people taking people shots using the rocks alongside the trail as subjects or props
Petit_Jean_SP_290_03162016 - Continuing to follow the orange hashes and the Cedar Falls Trail on my return hike to the Mather Lodge
Petit_Jean_SP_292_03162016 - Waiting at the queue back at the two-person bridge over Cedar Creek
Petit_Jean_SP_295_03162016 - Catching up to Julie and Tahia as they were making the final uphill hike back to the Mather Lodge
Petit_Jean_SP_301_03162016 - We took our time going back up the final switchbacking trail to return to the Mather Lodge after having had our fill of the Cedar Falls
Petit_Jean_SP_303_03162016 - Finally back at the Mather Lodge area to end off our Cedar Falls hike
Petit_Jean_SP_307_03162016 - One last look at the beautiful view from the Mather Lodge area before returning to the car

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We visited Cedar Falls as part of a detour while making the long drive between ShreveportBossier City (Louisiana).

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

From Clarksville, drive east on the I-40 for about 25-26 miles to Route 7 (N Arkansas Ave) at exit 81 in the town of Russellville.

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.

Petit_Jean_SP_057_03162016 - Julie and Tahia approaching the Mather Lodge, which was where the trail to the bottom of Cedar Falls started from
Julie and Tahia approaching the Mather Lodge, which was where the trail to the bottom of Cedar Falls started from

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

From Little Rock, it’s probably most straightforward to drive west on the I-40 (from the I-40/I-30 interchange) for about 45 miles to the I-40 interchange with Hwy 9 in the town of Morrilton.

Petit_Jean_SP_002_03162016 - The start of the wheelchair-accessible walk to the Cedar Falls Overlook, which began from a separate parking area as that of the Mather Lodge
The start of the wheelchair-accessible walk to the Cedar Falls Overlook, which began from a separate parking area as that of the 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

Finally, while driving northeast on the I-30 from Texarkana, we eventually reached the town of Benton.

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.

Short sweep showing the large amphitheater and plunge pool at Cedar Falls


Long movie showing the front of the falls then entering the steep and slippery amphitheater where many different perspectives were revealed from within the shadows of the overhang


Long movie showing the trail at the Cedar Falls Overlook, where it was difficult to get a clean view no matter where along the overlook we were

Tagged with: petit jean, state park, morrilton, little rock, arkansas, waterfall, conway county, russellville, mather lodge, cedar creek



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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