On the edge of the crest of Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, you’ll find one of the oldest places to stay in the state. Mather Lodge has recently been renovated, but it still retains much of the original charm that’s been bringing people up the mountain for generations.
In 1921, Dr. T.H. Hardison, the company physician for the Fort Smith Lumber Company, pushed for Congress to
accept 80 acres of land in the Seven Hollows section of Petit Jean Mountain as Petit Jean National Park. Though the effort was unsuccessful, it did garner local interest, and in 1923 the state legislature named the donated area Petit Jean State Park.
After President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal
began in 1933, workers with the Civilian Conservation Corps were sent to Petit Jean to construct structures for overnight stays on the mountain. They worked on several cabins and a
lodge from 1933 to 1938. The lodge was named after the head of the national parks system, Stephen Mather, and thus Mather Lodge was born.
Little has changed in the appearance of the exterior of the accommodation wings. The L-shaped section features rooms
level with the restaurant and parking lot, and an additional set of rooms accessible by a downward staircase. Rooms are large and paneled with wood. Each comes with wooden furnishings such as desks and rocking chairs, and each has its own en suite bath complete with bathtub and shower.
The most recent renovation of the lodge has been to its restaurant and desk. An addition built in the 1970s was removed and the entire wing replaced with new construction that incorporated original stone along with heavy logs and lots of big windows that showcase the remarkable views over
the hollows below. The restaurant has been upgraded, and now you can dine at its heavy wooden tables for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The expansion also included a gift shop area, new conference room with audio visual equipment and a large lobby.
But for fans of the original stone structures, never fear – the original lobby and gift shop areas have been preserved within the overall structure, creating two comfortable rooms that feature original furnishings and fireplaces. In the evening and especially during the winter months, there are few places better to curl up and read a book.
For summer travelers, there’s a big pool on the ridge overlooking the hollows, just beyond the breezeway connecting guest rooms with the lobby and restaurant. This is also an excellent place to view sunsets.
I've enjoyed staying at Mather Lodge in its many incarnations. There were New Year's celebrations enjoyed in the old restaurant, and snowfalls experienced through the windows of an end corner room. It's a lovely place to escape to when you want to just stay one place - after all, someone can cook you breakfast, lunch and dinner while you relax in this authentic old lodge. Some of the items on the menu:
|Breakfasts at Mather Lodge include cooked-to-order egg breakfasts, waffles, pancakes, the Petit Jean Stack (eggs, hashbrowns, cheese, bacon and gravy on a split biscuit), cereal, grits, hashbrowns with onions and cheese, and ham, bacon or sausage. This is my usual go-to - a cheese or vegetable omelet with toast and a hearty bowl of oatmeal. My suggestion for a menu addition - add chicken, or do a veggie and cheese hash brown stack. Still, this does me fine,|
There's also usually a breakfast buffet available.
|There's always a soup of the day, and this vegetable beef soup is excellent.|
|A special Petit Jean Favorites menu includes a number of wraps, such as this chicken fajita wrap.|
|Hot water cornbread is gratis.|
|Chicken-fried chicken breast is on the menu, but if the specials include fried chicken, go for it. The bone-in version is better, juicier. A favorite of mine.|
|That being said, the chicken fried chicken is pretty good.|
|The chicken fried steak is, as you can imagine for a restaurant in the River Valley, pretty dang good.|
|Another Mather Lodge favorite is the Hot Roast Beef. Harking back to the days of early road travelers, this is a simple serving of fall-apart roast beef on white bread with mashed potatoes, swamped with brown gravy.|
|There's always pie at Mather Lodge, and it changes often. This is a slice of Millionaire Pie.|
|And you might remember this amazing slice of lemon icebox pie from Arkansas Pie.|
|These are the toiletry items offered by all Arkansas State Parks. And they're pretty excellent.|
|A bathroom in Mather Lodge.|
|Mather Lodge's gift shop offers a lot of Arkansas products and branded items.|
|While you're in the park, you need to make a special trip to Petit Jean's grave for one of the most magnificent views of the Arkansas River Valley.|
|Petit Jean's grave is right on the rim of the mountain.|
|A table for six in the dining room.|
|Space that was once a gift shop for the lodge is now a comfortable communal space for guests.|
For more information, check out the Petit Jean State Park website
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