Petit Jean Loop Trail – A shorter alternative to the BSA trail

Petit Jean Loop Trail – A shorter alternative to the BSA trail
The view from Mather Lodge and the trailhead

As Cedar Creek carves its way through Petit Jean Mountain in Central Arkansas it forms a deep canyon. This canyon is one of the main features that make Petit Jean State Park such a beautiful and unique place. And there are many great trails to explore in this park. The best way to see the canyon is to combine parts of the Cedar Falls Trail, Canyon Trail, and Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail with a little slice of the Cedar Creek Trail for a five-mile loop. Since this isn’t an official trail, I’ll just call it the Petit Jean loop trail. It hits on many of the famous features of the park.

Petit Jean Loop Trail a great way to see the park

Flowers are shown at Petit Jean State Park along the Canyon Trail

Begin the trail at the trailhead for Cedar Falls Trail at Mather Lodge. You immediately descend fairly steeply into the canyon. There are many switchbacks here, which makes the descent a little bit easier. And what goes down, must come up, or …er… something like that. But don’t worry; the hike up is more gradual.

Canyon Trail to Boy Scout Trail

At mile 0.3, you come to a bridge and cross Cedar Creek. Here you have the choice to go to the right and see the bottom of Cedar Falls. However, if you choose to do this, it will add a mile to your hike. Because I have been to the bottom numerous times and it was a crowded day, I chose to not take this spur. So it is not included on the map below. But it is truly amazing, so I do suggest if you are up for the extra mile to go see the falls from below.

If you choose not to go to the falls, take a left after the bridge. If you do choose to go to the falls, you will double back to this intersection. In that case, you will want to go straight.

Cedar Creek is shown along the Canyon Trail
Cedar Creek is shown along the Canyon Trail

Here, you are now on the Canyon Trail, which follows Cedar Creek for about a mile. There are many beautiful spots to take a break and enjoy the creek. It’s also neat to be at the bottom of the canyon.

The Canyon Trail is marked by yellow blazes.

Boy Scout Trail to the Turtle Rocks

At mile 1.35 the Canyon Trail ends and intersects with the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail. This trail is a larger Petit Jean loop that makes a 12-mile circle of the park. At this intersection, go right, on the Boy Scout Trail, which is marked with white blazes.

Park of the Boy Scout Trail follows an old road on the Petit Jean Loop Trail
A stone wall is shown along the Boy Scout Trail

This part of the Boy Scout Trail follows an old road bed. A stone wall still holds the terrain at bay. This is where you start climbing back up to the top. But like I said, it is a little more gradual than that first immediate drop.

Keep a lookout for glimpses of the vistas to the west and north through the trees as you climb. The trail heads pretty much due north here. At mile 2.25 it turns and begins to head back to the east.

At mile 2.7, you are pretty much at the top, and the trail crosses Red Bluff Drive, a dirt road that takes visitors in vehicles to two overlooks.

Another great loop at Petit Jean State Park is the Seven Hollows Trail

Once on the top, it’s easy hiking. Cutting across the flat top of Petit Jean Mountain, the trail heads to the southeast and back toward Cedar Creek on this Petit Jean loop trail.

A the top of Petit Jean Mountain its pretty flat along this loop at Petit Jean State Park
At the top, the trail is flat

The Petit Jean loop trail crosses Red Bluff Drive again at mile 3.25 and then turns northeast as it follows the contours of the canyon below. There are some great vistas of the canyon on this part of the trial.

The view of the canyon from the Boy Scout Trail
The view up the canyon toward Cedar Falls

Take a short spur to the Rock House Cave at mile 3.75. The Rock House Cave is pretty large and open and goes deep into the mountain.

Petit Jean Loop Trail – A shorter alternative to the 12-mile BSA Trail
The trail around the falls can get narrow and steep in places

Continue along the Boy Scout Trail over the “turtle rocks,” which is a large rock formation that resembles the shell of a turtle. This is really a cool natural feature that Petit Jean State Park has to show off.

Turtle Rocks are shown at Petit Jean State Park
The “turtle rocks”

Turtle Rocks to Cedar Creek Crossing

The trail snakes around the canyon and can get quite narrow at times. Around mile 4, you are above the falls, so be on the lookout for them. Once above the falls, the trail continues to follow Cedar Creek and you get some nice views of the creek.

There are some really neat rock features along this trail at Petit Jean State Park

At mile 4.35 the Boy Scout Trail intersects with the Cedar Creek Trail, which is marked with red blazes. You want to follow the Cedar Creek Trail and cross the creek, via the bridge. This part of the creek is very beautiful.

Cedar Creek to Mather Lodge

Cedar Creek is really a beautiful area

After you cross the creek the Cedar Creek Trail intersects with the Boy Scout Trail again. Here you will want to stay to the right and follow the white blazes.

The Petit Jean loop trail follows the other side of Cedar Creek, going southwest this time. At mile 4.6, you come to the raised platform that allows visitors to see Cedar Falls from above. Hike all the way to the end for a great view of the falls. This is at mile 4.75.

Cedar Falls is shown from the viewing platform
Cedar Falls is shown from the viewing platform

From the platform, you continue to the right going back toward the parking lot of Mather Lodge. You finish this Petit Jean loop trail right at 5 miles.

Customize the Petit Jean Loop Trail

I chose to customize this Petit Jean loop to what suited me. However, you can add a few extra miles by hiking to the bottom of the falls or including the Cedar Creek Trail loop. For a full trail map of Petit Jean State Park, click here.

Pin it! Petit Jean Loop Trail

Trail facts:

  • 5-mile loop
  • Elevation gain 635 feet
  • No backcountry camping
A map is shown of the trail

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