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EXPLORE BEAR CAVE TRAIL IN PETIT JEAN STATE PARK
Bear Cave Trail in Petit Jean State Park is a quarter mile Arkansas hiking trail filled with beautiful rock formations and narrow passageways.
While camping at Petit Jean State Park, we spent time exploring and hiking quite a few trails, including Seven Hollows Trail and Cedar Falls Trail. Bear Cave Trail was actually one of the first hikes we did after setting up camp, sort of a warmup to what was to come.
This Petit Jean hiking trail was just a warm up to what was to come. It’s only a quarter of a mile long and a pretty easy trail.
The thing about this trail… There are so many nooks and crannies to explore. Our boys had the best time climbing on all the magnificent rocks, exploring, and making their way through the narrowest of passageways and crevices.
Besides two other families, we pretty much had the trail to ourselves. It was a natural playground, as well as a peaceful place to just be in the moment.
This little spot in Petit Jean is a great way to start your adventures in the park. It’s so beautiful, it will get you excited about all of the other trails you plan to hike in one of our family’s favorite places to visit in Arkansas.
HOW TO GET TO BEAR CAVE TRAIL IN PETIT JEAN STATE PARK
Petit Jean State Park is close to both Morrilton, Arkansas, and Dardanelle, Arkansas, pretty much in the heart of the Natural State.
Bear Cave Trail is west of Mather Lodge on Highway 154, the main road that runs through Petit Jean Mountain. About a mile past the lodge, the entrance to the trail parking lot will be on your right.
The parking lot provides ample parking, as well as signs with information about the trail. Walk past the signs right onto the trail, following the green trail markers as you make your way down the trail.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE HIKING BEAR CAVE TRAIL
Arkansas State Parks brochures and maps say that this trail ends with backtracking back to the parking lot, but we actually did a whole loop. As long as you follow the green trail markers, you’ll be golden.
Walking past all of the signs, you’ll find yourself walking on a slight incline down toward Bear Cave. Similar to Hawksbill Crag, the trail tends to follow the bluff line, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to enjoy amazing views along the way.
There are quite a few steps along the trail, all made with railroad ties. Even though there are small inclines, the trail is an easy trail, so much so that even Zeke at 2 years old was able to walk most of it with us.
Speaking of hiking with kids, they’ll find plenty of rock shelters and narrow passageways to explore. They can climb in, around, over, and through all the huge boulders and stone monoliths.
Get Jaden’s “Bigfoot Doesn’t Believe in You Either” T-shirt.
Not really a cave but more of a rock shelter, Bear Cave is along the way before you get even halfway through the trail.
One of my favorite spots is the Eye of the Needle, a really narrow passageway through gigantic sheer walls of rock. It reminded me of pictures I’ve seen from places like Zion National Park and other places out west.
You can walk through and stand right in the middle of that passageway and look up to see a sliver of sky above. It’s just incredible and pictures don’t do it justice.
TOWARD THE END OF THE TRAIL…
You can pass through Eye of the Needle and explore and climb around. I believe you can even find just the right passageway to take you back to the parking lot at this point.
Or you can keep going around the corner where you’ll climb up and around the trail, with boulders to your right.
Keep in mind at this point, you can continue onto the Boy Scout Trail if you want. But veer to your right, and you can find your way back to the parking lot, as you wrangle your kids from their natural playground heaven.
This is the part of the trail where you’ll find all sorts of narrow passageways through the rocks. Some will lead to a dead end, and others will lead you through.
It’s kinda like a maze or labyrinth. A really fun maze that you’ll hate to leave when you catch a glimpse of the parking lot ahead.
WILDLIFE YOU MAY ENCOUNTER HIKING BEAR CAVE TRAIL
We really didn’t see any wildlife on the trail, besides a bird here and there. That’s not to say there isn’t any wildlife because Petit Jean is full of critters.
It’s said that the last bear that was killed on Petit Jean Mountain, years ago, was in this area. Hence the name Bear Cave.
That said, you may see a few birds and animals in Petit Jean State Park, including the following:
- Black Bears, etc.
Anytime you get out into nature, especially in the Natural State, you’re sure to see some sort of wildlife if you just take the time to look and observe.
WHAT TO PACK FOR HIKING BEAR CAVE TRAIL
So I’ll be honest, I’m not sure we packed a single thing because this is such a short trail. Well, I take that back, we may have carried camera gear and water.
Get Jaden’s “Bigfoot Doesn’t Believe in You Either” T-shirt.
But especially if you’re hiking with kids, you may want to pack a few things for your short trip through the most wondrous of nature’s playgrounds.
- Water – Pack plenty of water for everyone to stay well hydrated.
- Backpacks with snacks and other necessary items – Snacks and water can make all the difference in fueling your body back up before heading back out onto the trail.
- Hiking Carrier – This is hands down the BEST thing we could have ever gotten for our baby/now toddler. We’ve used it so many times. Read our review of our favorite baby carrier backpack.
- Shoes – While you’ll be wearing these and not necessarily packing them, I still think it’s worth mentioning wearing the proper footwear for this hike. You need good shoes for this trail, especially with all the rocks and boulders. If you plan to stay on the main trail and not climb around, you’re likely good with regular sneakers.
- A copy of Arkansas Hiking Trails (I also recommend Arkansas Waterfalls) by Tim Ernst. These books give you all the ins and outs of waterfalls and hiking trails in Arkansas; Arkansas Waterfalls even mentions other falls in the area you may want to see on each journey you take.
Learn more about the park, including sights to see, food options, lodging information, and more.
SAFETY TIPS AND THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE HITTING THIS ARKANSAS HIKING TRAIL
Again, this is an easy trail to hike, but safety should always be number one whenever you head out on any trail. And if you’re planning to explore and climb around, it’s definitely important.
It’s always a good idea to let someone know when and where you are going.
The trail is not accessible for wheelchairs.
There are no bathrooms and no water along the trail. Mather Lodge is just up the road and does have restrooms, along with a restaurant. Be sure to plan accordingly and pack plenty of water, so everyone will stay well hydrated.
If you happen to get turned around, look for the small green trail markers here and there on trees along the trail. This trail is really well traveled, though, and pretty easy to navigate.
Watch your step and wear good shoes. Especially watch for rocks sticking up out of the ground, and watch your step as you walk along the bluff line and climb around on boulders.
If you’re making the hike with kids, watch your kids closely because of the bluffs and steep areas on this trail. Keep little ones closer, maybe even using a hiking carrier like the one we mentioned above.
Check the weather before you head out hiking in Arkansas. Avoid hiking in thunderstorms and other inclement weather. If you decide to hike in rainy or drizzly conditions, be very careful as parts of the trail could be very slippery, especially the tops of cliffs and boulders.
LEAVE NO TRACE
Finally, our motto: Leave no trace. Pack out what you pack in. The more you practice this, the safer and more enjoyable hiking will be for everyone, including hikers who come after you.
This is one hike you and your kids will never forget. In fact, they’ll likely be begging you to go back because not only is it beautiful and fun, but it’s Arkansas hiking at its best, chock full of natural wonders.