Campground Review: Petit Jean SP, AR

Dates: September 22-24, 2015

Campsite: 46 (Area B)

Overall Score: 3.96 (out of 5)

View from the Lodge
View from the Lodge

Summary: This beautiful wooded park in central Arkansas features great hiking, spacious campsites, incredible rock formations, and rustic stone and log structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. 

Canyon Falls
Cedar Creek Canyon Falls

History: Petit Jean, according to legend, was a young 18th century French woman. When she learned that her fiancé planned to explore the Louisiana Territory, she cut her hair, disguised herself as a boy, and found a position as a cabin boy. When the expedition reached this area, Petit Jean (or “Little John” as she was known on ship), became seriously ill. On her deathbed, she revealed herself to her fiancé who, channeling his inner Usher, said, “Lil Jon!” (I added that to the legend.) She died and was buried on the mountain under the name “Little John”, as she had been known by on the ship.

Name the State

Recreation/Amenities: 4.6

The park features a variety of lodging options for its visitors:

  • RV or tent camping at 127 campsites;
  • The 24-room historic Mather Lodge on the edge of a bluff of a deep, forested canyon;
  • 32 rustic cabins, some with fireplaces and some lakeside


The park offers great hiking options, including the somewhat challenging Cedar Creek Canyon hike that leads to a 95-foot waterfall. Due to the lack of rain, the waterfall was more of a trickle, but still beautiful. Rock climbers and geology lovers should check out Bear Cave, Rock House Cave, the Grotto, Turtle Rocks, Carpet Rocks, and Natural Bridge.

Lil Jan, Big Rock
Lil Jan, Big Rock

Other recreation options include a lodge swimming pool, canoeing and fishing on the 100-acre Lake Bailey, picnicking, bike trails, tennis and basketball courts, and playgrounds. There is also a restaurant at the lodge, a visitor’s center, and a gift shop.

Poor Technique
Poor Technique

Hookups & Connectivity: 3.5 – electric and water, with dump station.  No sewer or Wi-Fi at site.

Local Vicinity Things to Do: 3

The Museum of Automobiles is less than a mile away.

Cleanliness: 4.3 – Solid. No major issues.

Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout
Cedar Creek Canyon Lookout

Intangibles: 4.4

Pros – The campsites are some of the best we’ve seen, with lots of mature trees and good spacing. For those not able to hike down into the canyon to see the waterfall, there is a handicap-accessible observation tower on the bluff. A giant stick insect was hanging out on our RV when we returned from hiking.

Stick Bug Looking for an Outlet
Had He Plugged Into the Outlet…Civilization Would’ve Been Doomed

Cons – Two bees in Cedar Creek Canyon stung me. Be careful out there. Also, the park is named after a French transgender cabin boy, the thought of which may be upsetting to younger campers.

Big Steve

We named it "Cairn Larsen"
We named it “Cairn Larsen”
Name the Indian Artifact
Name the Indian Artifact

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