By Randy Parker
Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas
Photo by Greg Disch
$80 per night for two in Mather Lodge, $115 for a one-bedroom cabin
GETTING THERE Drive 75 miles northwest from Little Rock, where Petit Jean Mountain rises 1,100 feet out of Arkansas River Valley farmland. Take steep hairpin road to top as acrophobic spouse grips car door handle. Follow confused GPS past too-subtle signage. Recalculate. Turn around. Stop at Palisades Overlook to take in dizzying views of Cedar Creek Canyon before visiting historic log-and-stone Mather Lodge to check in to our cabin.
BEST MOMENT After a long day of hiking, returning to a cozy 80-year-old cabin perched on the canyon rim, replete with kitchen, massive stone fireplace, porch swing, and bright milky spill of stars above.
WORST MOMENT Discovering that Lake Bailey's boathouse, which rents kayaks and canoes, was already closed for the season. There would be no relaxing in the stern, pretending to paddle while my wife pulled me around the lake.
FAVORITE CHARACTERS Fellow guests Jim and Judy from East Texas. As we admired 95-foot Cedar Falls, its deep plunge pool, and the canyon's rocky ledges, they revealed that they used to bring their kids here in the 1970s. Then, wistfully, Judy told us that Jim just wanted to see the place one last time.
Map by Peter and Maria Hoey
LOCAL LORE According to legend, an 18th-century French explorer named Chavet intended to leave his fiancee behind when he set sail to explore the Louisiana Territory. But she disguised herself and secured the position of cabin boy on Chavet's ship, where she became known as Petit Jean (Little John). It was only after she fell ill and died mid-voyage that her true identity was discovered. Her grave is high on the mountaintop overlooking the Arkansas River.
WHAT'S GREEN Conservation of 2,715 acres of wilderness, much of it formerly owned by a logging company. Regular environmental educational programs led by park rangers. More than 21 miles of rugged natural trails built with hand tools and mules.
WHAT'S NOT GREEN Some of the most spectacular vista points, like Petit Jean's grave site (a.k.a. Stout's Point) and the Richter Overlook—with its panoramic view of distant Mt. Magazine and Mt. Nebo—are only accessible by car.
PLANET SAVING OPPORTUNITIES
Join the Great Arkansas Cleanup in September and pick up litter. Volunteer to help with trail maintenance.