Petit Jean State Park is a wonderful place to spend a few days enjoying the natural beauty of the Arkansas Ozark Mountains. If you’re planning on visiting Cedar Falls and Petit Jean State Park, make sure to look into staying at Mather Lodge or the nearby cabins. Mather Lodge was just remodeled about four years ago.
The centerpiece of the park is Cedar Falls, which is approximately 95 feet tall. The falls are best viewed by hiking the trail to the bottom of Cedar Creek Canyon. This trail is about 1.5 miles long and starts directly behind Mather Lodge, winding down the canyon to cross Cedar Creek. It then turns right and follows Cedar Creek upstream to the falls. As you start down the trail, you follow a small feeder creek that features many small waterfalls to photograph. After the crossing, the hike up to the falls is especially pretty, as it winds through rock falls and stands of dogwood. Petit Jean State Park also offers many other hiking trails. I strongly recommend the Seven Hollows trail after you finish with Cedar Falls.
Weather At Petit Jean State Park
The best weather conditions for shooting Cedar Falls are in the winter and springtime. In the winter, expect ice along the trail and very possibly an impressive icefall display at the falls, with large icicles. Springtime offers both the best water conditions and the overall best weather. Expect cool days with partial cloud cover and moderate flows in Cedar Creek that can become an overnight torrent if a spring storm delivers a large amount of rain.
In the summer, expect long, hot days with very low water unless a storm has moved through. Autumn days tend to be cooler, and the foliage display at the base of the falls can be spectacular, as the falls are surrounded by a large number of sweet gum and maple trees. The sweet gum trees will offer a tricolor leaf display of green, yellow and red.
Ideally, you want to photograph Cedar Falls two days after a good rain. This shot was taken on the third of April, when the water level was perfect and the redbud was in full bloom. Earlier this day, the sun had been covered with low clouds, allowing for very flat light. Around 9:45 a.m., the sun came out and the scene totally changed. The entire area around the falls was illuminated, and the light was playing beautifully on the creek. It’s always nice to see the right combination of light and water come together.
For the image in this article, I used a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens at 48mm. I also used a circular polarizer and three-stop neutral density filter. The polarizer mainly helped to cut the glare on the rocks and leaves. The neutral density filter allowed for a slower shutter speed to add blur to the water. The shot was taken in one exposure of about two seconds. I captured the image as a RAW file and used Adobe Lightroom with Topaz Clarity for the final image.
Best Times To Visit
One of the best times to consider a trip to Cedar Falls is the early springtime, when the redbuds along the creek are in full bloom. There’s one redbud that has always caught my eye. This tree is on the left side of the falls and hangs out over the creek. The issue has always been finding this tree in bloom combined with sunlight.
Due to the large number of people who visit Cedar Falls daily, I like to get an early start. Try to pick a weekday to minimize the crowds. Since Cedar Creek Canyon is quite narrow, there’s only a brief timeline where the sun will hit both the falls and the redbud. Optimum illumination of this scene will be between 9 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Contact: Petit Jean State Park, petitjeanstatepark.com.
See more of Paul Caldwell’s work at photosofarkansas.com.