Petit Jean State Park – Cedar Falls Trail
When we visited: May 1, 2014
Where we stayed: This visit was on a day trip from home.
Tip #1: The trail drops 200 feet at the very beginning and, returning over the same route, the climb out of the canyon is strenuous.
Tip #2: This trail is very popular. Unless you come early, on weekends and holidays, parking may be difficult to find near the trailhead at the lodge.
Petit Jean State Park has been one of our favorite places to visit since we moved to Arkansas almost 34 years ago. We’ve made the trek to Cedar Falls numerous times. This time, we went in the middle of the week with our oldest daughter, Mel.
The trail to the falls begins at Mather Lodge. Before you travel very far, there are prominent signs, one emphasizing trail rules and the other, shown here, warning of the difficult nature of the trail.
The trail is 2 miles round trip. Soon after leaving the lodge, the trail descends sharply with switchbacks and many steps, some formed from large stones and others cut into the rock. It follows a small side stream with several opportunities for pictures.
After the long, cold winter, trees and other vegetation are now lush and green along the trail. Unfortunately, that includes plenty of poison ivy, quite common in the forests and wetlands of Arkansas.
Every part of the poison ivy contains an oil called urushiol that inflames the skin and results in painfully itchy blisters and rash. While it’s been a long while, I can say that, from experience, it’s best avoided, if possible. Rule of thumb: “Leaves of three, let it be.”
After the descent from the lodge, the rest of the trail is fairly level, through a forested flood plain that has never been logged.
Cedar Creek is crossed on a narrow foot bridge, elevated to protect from flooding. High flow resulting from extreme rains in December, 1982, washed away a previous bridge. Numerous bridges on roads in the surrounding counties shared the same fate.
The trail follows the north side of the Cedar Creek to the falls.
While the trail to the falls from the bridge has very little change in elevation, it crosses several rock falls of varying ages.
Cedar Falls has a drop of about 95 feet. During the wettest periods, the flow can be very spectacular. It often dwindles to little more than trickle during the hottest and driest times. With this year’s rains, close to average for this time of the year, we knew there would be a decent flow over the falls and we got about what we expected, pretty respectable considering the limited watershed that feeds Cedar Creek.
The approach to the falls is over a jumble of large rocks that have fallen from the cliffs over the years. Care should be taken crossing the rocks.
On this trip, I misjudged a step, my stride was short, and I fell, sprawled across the large rock I was stepping to. Nothing obviously hurt, other than my pride, I scrambled up quickly, looking around to see if anyone had noticed – and, of course, there were witnesses. Much later I noticed a scrape on my right arm and a contusion on the front of my left leg, neither serious or painful.
Mel, though, also fell, apparently spraining an ankle, along with other less serious bumps and bruises. She was able to walk out without assistance.
At 62 years old, I’ve determined I need to be in better shape and I need to be more careful scrambling over big rocks.