Petit Jean State Park: A Historic Arkansas Park

stone bridge petit jean state park

Adrienne Dumont, a petit French woman without strong feminine features, fell in love with a nobleman named Chavet. When her beloved traveled to America in search of new lands for the king of France, Adrienne would not be left behind. She disguised herself as a boy and took sail with the rest of the ship’s crew, who nicknamed her “Petit Jean,” meaning little John.

stone bridge petit jean state park

A Park Worth Exploring

When Petit Jean and the rest of the ship’s inhabitants explored the interior of what would become Arkansas, Petit Jean became ill. It was then she was discovered to be a woman and Chavet learned of her identity.

Petit Jean asked to be buried atop the Arkansas mountain she came to love and the crew complied. That mountain about an hour outside of Little Rock is now called Petit Jean and visitors may look down upon the young Frenchwoman’s grave.

And so the story goes.

grave of Adrienne Dumont Arkansas
The grave of Adrienne Dumont, known as Petit Jean, exists on the mountaintop.

Spectacular Beauty

It’s a lovely tale, whether true or not, and it’s why the state park located high in the Ouachita Mountains of central Arkansas carries her name as well. Petit Jean State Park was chosen as Arkansas’ first state park for the area is home to ancient natural formations to dazzle any visitor — no wonder Petit Jean loved it here.

Hiking trails lead visitors to a dazzling waterfall inside an impressive canyon, Native American pictographs grace a cave wall and massive rocks that resemble turtles dot the mountainside. Plus, on our visit, during the conclusion of the spring migration of songbirds, we spotted numerous colorful birds to accent the fascinating rock outcrops.

hummingbirds at feeder

Historic Accommodations

Visitors can stay in the historic Adirondack-style Mather Lodge, built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or 33 fully equipped cabins (21 with kitchens) in a variety of styles. The park also features campsites, four Rent-A-Yurts and group camp areas perfect for family reunions. Mather Lodge includes a pool, dining hall with dramatic views of both the canyon and a steady stream of hummingbirds and plenty of atmospheric meeting spaces with fireplaces and comfy chairs.

And get this — the park also has an airport.

Mather Lodge petit jean state park bedroom
Mather Lodge of Petit Jean State Park was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Mather Lodge petit jean state park


The main attraction at Petit Jean is the numerous hiking paths, enough to keep visitors busy for several days. The most popular remains the Cedar Creek trail that descends from Mather Lodge into the canyon below where 95-foot Cedar Falls provides a stunning view; be sure to bring your camera or cell phone! Less strenuous trails offer overlooks of the falls for those who don’t want to make the return uphill climb.

The Rock House Cave trail winds through giant rocks resembling turtles to a rock shelter containing ancient pictographs. The Bear Cave Trail also features massive rock formations. Day-long trails exist, such as the 4-plus-mile Seven Hollows Trail, which passes through diverse hollows and a natural bridge, and the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail that connects all the park’s trails in a 12-mile loop.

Other Outdoor Activities

In addition to hiking, the park also contains Lake Bailey where visitors can rent boats, swim in the pool, play tennis, or enjoy the amphitheater and picnic areas. Park events include ranger-led hikes, scavenger hunts, lectures and sunset kayak tours. Themed weekends are held throughout the year, such as Eagle Awareness; Hikes, Hearts and Hugs for Valentine’s Day; Celebrating Trees for Arbor Day and more.

Petit Jean State Park exists off Interstate 40 at Morrilton, then nine miles south on Arkansas Hwy. 9. For a real treat, exit I-40 at Arkadelphia and take Arkansas Scenic Hwy. 7 up through the mountains to the park, stopping at Hot Springs for a soak in the delicious waters.

As for the real Petit Jean, visitors can drive a few miles outside of the park to a dramatic overlook of the Arkansas River Valley and it’s there, on the mountaintop, that Petit Jean Dumont rests today, her grave alongside the visitor’s path.

possum pie from petit jean state park

Pin This Post For Later!


This article was written by Cheré Coen.

Check out more by Cheré at: 

NOPSI Hotel of New Orleans

The Louisiana Holiday of Lights Trail 

Welcome to Travel the South!

Travel the South is run by Melody Pittman and Taylor Hardy. With the help of some fantastic travel writers, they help you plan your travels to the Southern states.

Explore some of the amazing things you can see and do in this unique part of the country!

Popular posts
Sign up via email to immediately receive our
99 Things to Do on Your Southern Travels
and stay up-to-date on new vacation ideas!
Affiliate Disclosure

Our posts may contain Amazon affiliate links. If you click through them, we may earn a fee on any purchases you make, which helps cover our travel expenses. We appreciate your support!

About the Author