Arkansas' Petit Jean Mountain State Park

Boy Scouts paved an excellent trail in this Ozark gem.
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Boy Scouts paved an excellent trail in this Ozark gem.

ARKANSAS

If you were planning a journey to the center of the earth, it would be tempting to start at Petit Jean Mountain State Park, a yawning chasm clawed from the hillsides of Ozark National Forest. There's no need to dig your way down, though, because the excellent trail system stemming from the extensive Boy Scout Main Loop plunges into a vast slice of rugged Ozark valleys, ridges, and waterfalls. Peer into the shadows of ancient Indian cave shelters and breathe air scented by old-growth pine groves. Test your fear of heights by hiking side routes like the Seven Hollows or Cedar Creek Trails along streams that tumble hundreds of feet down stair-step rocks.

You may not reach the earth's core, but one afternoon can take you from canyon rim vistas that sweep across the broad Arkansas River Valley to dark, hemmed-in hollows where red oaks stretch upward, searching desperately for more sunlight. Not deep enough for you? Come back in an eon or two. It took tiny Cedar Creek only a few million years to dig this far, and even as you read this, a waterfall as tall as an office building is boring it even deeper.

Where: 57 miles northwest of Little Rock and 375 miles northeast of Dallas. The trailhead is 22 miles west of Morrilton on AR 154.

Maps: Trail maps and information are available from the state park (see below).

Trail Info: Petit Jean State Park, (501) 727-5441 and Arkansas State Trails Coordinator, (501) 682-1301.