Petit Jean State Park

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View from top of Petit Jean Mountain. Photo by Mark Senia.
Historic postcard of Cedar Falls.

Petit Jean State Park is a beautiful place for day trips and longer vacations. There are several cozy cabins including some that are big enough for a whole family. Whether guests stay for a day or for several days, the trails are a must for the vacation’s activities. There are trails leading down to Cedar Falls, trails leading into cave-like spaces, and trails near streams.

Guests who are staying overnight may enjoy the meals offered in the restaurant located in the Petit Jean's Mather Lodge. Near Mather Lodge there is a beautiful view. The lodge also includes a gift store, selling cute stuffed animals, Petit Jean shirts and sweatshirts, key chains, books, post cards, and other interesting items. The food in the restaurant is quality and the service is cheerful and well executed. There is a large fireplace in the lodge as one first enters. At Christmas time a grand Christmas tree is on display and a cute pair of Mr. and Mrs. Claus dolls add atmosphere. Some of the cabins (perhaps all) have fireplaces in them as well.

Depending on which cabin a guest stays in, he or she may want to bring a few food items to cook in the cabin's kitchen (if he or she stays in a cabin that includes a kitchen). Some cabins (or perhaps all) contain a kitchen table where families or groups can enjoy a meal together or set up a board game. A trip to Petit Jean offers the joys of walking in the woods, being a good distance from the city, and reveling in the peaceful, quiet, beauty of the natural surroundings so prevalent at Petit Jean state park. There are also other activities available at Petit Jean.

The atmosphere is very family friendly. Kids can enjoy Petit Jean as much as adults. Guests can read about the history of Petit Jean Mountain, and how the story involves a French girl who pretended to be a boy and was given the name "Petit Jean" and how this connects to the name of the park: Petit Jean. Any one who enjoys nature and a homey, camp-like environment will enjoy visiting Petit Jean. During the winter especially, Petit Jean is cozy and offers a great vacation experience. The vacation experience is stellar during the summer as well though, with the woods in full bloom and the weather being ripe for hiking and enjoying the outdoors.

Legend of Petit Jean

The Legend of Petit Jean starts with a French Nobleman who was named Chavet. This nobleman lived in the time where the French were beginning to explore the New World. Chavet ask the King of France if he could explore part of the Louisiana Purchase. The King agreed to Chavet's request and also allowed him to keep any part that he liked.

Unfortunately Chavet was engaged to a woman and she was devastated to learn that he would be leaving. She begged him that they get married before he left for the New World. He did not want to get married for fear that he might not return from the trip. He told her that if he found a good spot he would return and then they would marry. After they were married the newlyweds would return to the New World and live the rest of their lives together there.

His wife refused to accept this rejection. She disguised herself as a young boy and then became a cabin boy on the ship that Chavet was captaining. She took the name Jean, French for John, because if she went by her name it would be a little suspicious. Her disguise must have been great because here fiancé did not even recognize her. The other sailors gave her the nickname Petit Jean.

The boat went up the Mississippi River and then up the Arkansas River and came across a mountain now known as Petit Jean Mountain. Indians living at the top of the hill saw the boat and greeted the sailors. Chavet and the sailors spent an entire summer living on the top of the mountain with the Indians.

The night before that Chavet had planned to return to France, Petit Jean became ill. The trip was postponed when her conditioned became even worse. At this time her true identity was discovered. Petit Jean begged Chavet to forgive her for the deception. She then told him that she would not be able to make it back to France and wanted to spend what was left of her life on the top of the mountain. She died at sundown that day.

A small mound of rocks was found at the top of the mountain that appears to be a grave. It is assumed that this is the grave of Petit Jean. The mountain is of course named after this legend, Petit Jean Mountain.

History of Petit Jean State Park

At least nine buildings in Petit Jean State Park were constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers around 1935.


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