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TAKE A HIKE DOWN CEDAR FALLS TRAIL IN PETIT JEAN
Cedar Falls Trail is a strenuous hike that ends with a waterfall in Petit Jean State Park. What it’s like to hike this beautiful Arkansas trail.
Out of all the Arkansas State Parks, Petit Jean is one beautiful state park; and Cedar Falls is one heck of a waterfall to hike to in the Natural State.
We were a little apprehensive about this Arkansas hiking trail because we’d read a lot about it before ever embarking upon it. It was said to be a little crowded and popular; it was also said to be a very strenuous trail.
We couldn’t not hike down to the falls, though, especially once we’d seen them from the overlook.
After visiting Petit Jean and the many wonders of Petit Jean Mountain, I can easily see how this park and this trail have become one of the most popular places to visit in Arkansas.
HOW TO GET TO CEDAR FALLS TRAIL IN PETIT JEAN STATE PARK
Petit Jean State Park is close to both Morrilton, Arkansas, and Dardanelle, Arkansas.
Cedar Falls Trail is on Petit Jean Mountain and begins behind Mather Lodge in Petit Jean State Park.
You can leave your car parked in the Mather Lodge parking lot.
Walk through the breezeway to the left of the main lodge entrance, and you’ll be met with the most amazing view. Keep walking down the steps, and the trail starts to your left.
Follow the red trail markers; they’ll guide you all along the trail.
Cedar Falls Trail is the most popular trail in Petit Jean State Park, so it can get a little crowded. We found that to be the case the day we hiked it in mid October.
WHAT IT’S REALLY LIKE HIKING TO CEDAR FALLS
As you make your way down the trail from the Lodge, you’ll pass a couple of signs, including one that warns that this is a strenuous hike. It is a strenuous hike, mainly because of the very beginning and end of the trail.
Cedar Falls Trail is right around 2 miles roundtrip. It’s a steep climb down and a really huffing puffing climb back up when you return.
But really, the ascent on the way back up wasn’t near as bad as I expected it to be. As long as you take your time, stay hydrated, and give yourself a little fuel in terms of snacks, it can be done pretty quickly and easily.
Once you’re past the descent, the rest of the trail is pretty level and easy, besides a little rock hopping here and there.
The trail descends through a rock staircase between two boulders. Then it keeps climbing down and down, through several switchbacks, over rock steps, and down a very rocky trail.
If it’s been raining recently and water is flowing well, you can stop and take in a small waterfall on the descent.
Before you know it, you will have descended about 200 feet in elevation in the first 20 minutes or so.
AFTER THAT INITIAL DESCENT…
Once you get through the initial descent, the trail seems to flatten out just a bit with little climbs here and there.
You’ll cross a foot bridge (2 person max) over Cedar Creek. There was no 2 person max sign until we’d already crossed over the bridge, hence the photo above.
Anyway, cross over the footbridge; then take the trail to your right. Only 1/2 mile to go!
The trail winds along the edge of Cedar Creek at this point, with several opportunities for gorgeous photos and videos, especially if the creek is really flowing.
Don’t just rush to the falls, because there is so much to see as you saunter along beside the creek.
Trees with canopies of leaves overhead, massive boulders, Cedar Creek, bluffs… Give this trail the time and attention it deserves all along the way; drink it all in.
AND FINALLY, CEDAR FALLS…
You’ll hear it way before you ever see it. And if it’s really flowing, it’ll be kind of like a roar.
Then your heart will begin to race because adrenaline will hit and it’s all you can do to not run. Round another boulder in the trail, and there it will be.
It’s hard to put Cedar Falls into words, and pictures could never do it justice. There’s nothing like seeing it in person.
It was one thing to see this 95′ waterfall from the overlook, which was amazing in and of itself. But to be up close with the falls was a mesmerizing experience.
Grab a spot on a boulder and just take it all in for a little while, maybe grab a little fuel for the hike back up that crazy ascent.
There will likely be a lot of people taking it in with you. Some may even climb up close to the waterfall, which really puts its massive size into perspective.
The bluffs around the waterfall are layer upon layer of rock. If the trees are changing, add in vibrant fall colors to the beauty of this place.
Cedar Falls is one place I was a bit reluctant to leave, and not just because of the uphill climb we faced on the way back out. Much like Hawksbill Crag, I knew we’d stumbled on another Arkansas treasure, and I just wanted to stare at it a little while longer.
TAKE THE BEAUTY OF CEDAR FALLS HOME WITH YOU!
In fact, my friend Jeanetta, from Jeanetta Darley Art, has kicked off a new series. It’s called The Beauty of the Natural State.
She recently hiked the trail and created a beautiful print of Cedar Falls, just in case you’re like me and want to stare at it just a li’l longer, in your own home even! Be sure to check out her shop!
WILDLIFE YOU MAY ENCOUNTER HIKING CEDAR FALLS TRAIL
I’ll be honest, we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, and I think it’s because this is such a well traveled trail. We did see a dead raccoon just off the trail, not sure what had happened, but other than that we didn’t see much.
Come to think of it, we also had a family of coons visit us in the campground. So Petit Jean must be a haven for raccoons.
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 TO CEDAR FALLS
Especially if you’re hiking with kids, you’ll want to pack a few things for your trip to Cedar Falls.
- 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 up that steep ascent.
- 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 steep steps.
- A copy of Arkansas Waterfalls by Tim Ernst. This book gives you all the ins and outs of waterfalls in Arkansas and even mentions other falls in the area you may want to see on each journey you take.
SAFETY TIPS AND THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE HIKING CEDAR FALLS TRAIL
Cedar Falls Trail is right around 2 miles roundtrip. While it’s not a long hike, per sé, it’s still a moderate hike, and the last part of the trail back to Mather Lodge is a very steep climb.
It’s always a good idea to let someone know when and where you are going.
While the trail to the bottom of the falls is not accessible for wheelchairs, the trail to Cedar Falls Overlook is. And it’s a beauty of a view.
There are no bathrooms and no water along the trail. Mather Lodge does have restrooms, along with a restaurant; be sure to plan accordingly and pack plenty of water, so everyone will stay well hydrated.
Cedar Falls Trail can get very crowded, so you may want to consider hiking during the week, avoiding the weekend. Also, hike really early in the morning to avoid a crowded trail.
If you happen to get turned around, look for the small red trail markers here and there 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 cross muddy areas with water or climb around on boulders.
Swimming is not allowed, so don’t swim in the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.
If you’re making the hike with kids, watch your kids closely because there are very steep drop offs and boulders, not to mention the waterfall, 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 the trail can be very slippery and dangerous.
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.
The hike to Cedar Falls, Arkansas, even with that steep descent and ascent, is totally worth every step. It’s Arkansas hiking at its best and truly a treasure you’ll never forget.