Explore the quiet and uncrowded Petrified Forest National Park in Northern Arizona, with thousands of petrified logs decorating the landscape.
Over 225 million years ago, before dinosaurs walked the earth, this area was a lush forest, today it’s a dry hot desert landscape with colorful vistas and some of those thousands of trees mineralized into petrified trees you will see today scattered over the landscape in specific areas of the park.
The northern half of the park’s landscape is more colorful, part of the Arizona-painted desert, while the southern part has a larger concentration of petrified trees.
This is one of the few National Parks that is dog friendly and allows you to take your dogs anywhere but the buildings.
Exploring the park involves driving on Petrified Forest Road, the main road running through the park from north to south for 28 miles, while stopping at different parking areas. There are also short walks on a variety of trails, some of which are fully paved.
Dogs are okay on leash anywhere in the park except in buildings
If coming from Flagstaff, use the south entrance and drive north to the north exit
Stop at the Painted Desert Inn on the way out of the north entrance for ice cream
Binoculars for Newspaper Rock and other petroglyphs atPuerco Pueblo
Hiking poles for some of the hikes
Crystal Forest is the most photogenic spot for a combination of a large number of petrified logs, in a variety of colors, with the most quartz and in the most photogenic backgrounds
How did the petrified trees form?
Approximately 225 million years ago this area was a lush forest with rivers and streams. To become the petrified logs you see today, when a tree died, it lost its leaves and branches and fell into a stream where it eventually snags and gets buried under the silt of sand and mud.
This deep burial seals it off from oxygen which prevents it from decaying. Over a couple of million years, silica-enriched groundwater peculated through the logs slowly replacing the organic material with quartz crystals and the log becomes petrified.
Erosion eventually re-exposes the petrified log, further erosion undercuts the log and the weight of it breaks it into segments.
The role of the CCC Civilian Conservation Corps
In the 1930s young men could work for the CCC to support their families by doing public works projects throughout the country mostly in the west. They were typically 18-25 years old, unmarried, and started as unskilled workers paid $30 per month, $25 of which was sent back home to support the family.
Prior to the CCC’s involvement in park improvements, this was a National Monument with just dirt roads and no bridges over the washes, and tar paper shacks for park buildings.
The CCC paved the roads, built bridges, created trails, and build the Rainbow Forrest Museum building as the park’s headquarters building.
They also brought water to the park through the construction of a pipeline. Some of their talents were amazing. The glass skylight panels of the Painted Dessert Inn were created by CCC workers which you can see today.
Rainbow Forest Museum
Located near the southern entrance to the park, off US-180, it holds paleontology exhibits with skeleton displays of prehistoric animals, access to the Giant Logs Trail, and Agate House Trails, the park movie, and the gift shop. The building was built by the CCC as the original park headquarters.
Giant Logs Trail
Distance: 0.5 mile loop
Location: Behind Rainbow Forest Museum
There is a trail guide available at Rainbow Forest Museum.
This very short loop takes you to some of the largest petrified trees in the park. “Old Faithful”, at the top of the trail, is almost ten feet wide at the base. The walking trail was once an original park road that weaved through the petrified logs.
Long Logs Trail
Trailhead: 600 feet east of the Rainbow Forest Museum parking area along Petrified Forest Road
Distance: A 1.6-mile loop
Note This can be hiked together with the Agate House Trail for a roughly 3.25-mile walk.
You will see one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park including an ancient log jam at the base of gray badlands and long logs, hence the name.
Agate House hike
Distance : 2 miles round trip.
Note This can be hiked together with the Long Logs Trail for a roughly 3.25-mile walk.
The Agate House is an interesting 8-room pueblo house that was built 700 years ago out of petrified wood, which unfortunately requires a long, hot boring walk to get to. You can only look at the building from the outside.
Length: 0.75 mile loop
Trailhead: Crystal Forest parking area
Many of the petrified trees in this area have really nice quartz showing, hence the name “Crystal Forest”. This trail offers one of the best places to see the petrified wood deposits in large quantities in a photogenic landscape.
This is really an overlook even though it isn’t signed as such. The area you are overlooking was originally called “First Forest” because it was the first collection of petrified wood that early tourists to the park encountered when they came by wagon from the Adamana train station.
Jasper Forest Hike
Distance: 2.5-mile out and back (no defined trail to follow)
Leave from the north end of the parking area on a hike down from the Jasper Forest overlook that takes you along the path of the old 1930s wagon road made by the CCC through the first section of petrified wood visitors would come to when visiting the park.
You can go as far as the old Eagle Nest Rock which has a high concentration of petrified logs. The pinnacle formation fell in the 1940s.
Note you can hike out and back and wander around as much or little as you like, there is no defined trail.
Blue Mesa Scenic Road
The scenic 3.5-mile paved drive is worth it, there are at least three good viewpoints, however for whatever reason, most people stop at the first, and second, but few stop at the third which is probably the best view on the whole drive.
The first viewpoint
Blue Mesa Trail
Distance: 1 mile loop
Trailhead: Blue Mesa sun shelter
Similar scenery to the Blue Forest Trail but 1/3 as long, paved, and easy to follow. The trail descends from the mesa for a short hike among the badland hills of bluish bentonite clay and some petrified wood.
Blue Forest Trail
Trailhead ( 34.943139, -109.777750 )
Distance : 3 mile out and back
Very similar to the Blue Mesa Trail but longer.
The park classifies this as one of their off-the-beaten-path hikes in the park. It takes you through colorful blue and white badland hills.
The trail is easy to moderate, however, the trail is not well-marked so route-finding skills are necessary. The trail climbs and wanders through these hills and the views constantly change. Along the way, you can see quite a bit of petrified wood scattered over the hills.
As you continue down Petrified Forest Road you will pass through this interesting section of the park where the road twists and turns through these zebra-striped mountains.
Follow the short spur road on the left to the parking area. Over 650 petroglyphs made by the Puebloan people between 650 and 2000 years ago cover the rocks in the area. You can only see the petroglyphs from an overlook and you are not permitted to leave the trail here for a closer look so binoculars are helpful.
A river, the Rio Puerco runs through the southern half of the park, even though you might not be aware of it since it is not obvious as today it is seasonal.
Long ago and between the years 1250-1380 the river was running year-round, and a native population of more than 200 people lived in a pueblo of more than 100 rooms.
They thrived and traveled the Rio Puerco corridor, trading with other settlements. You can see the remains of the pueblo, much of it was one story with entry into buildings through the roofs via ladders. When drought came to the region and the river dried up by 1380 the site was abandoned.
A 0.3 mile paved loop takes you past the various ruins and specific views of petroglyphs left by these people. There is one that is regarded as a solar marker. For about two weeks around June 21, an interaction of light and shadow passes across the rings of this small, circular design as the sun rises. The village was large, the excavations of the walled ruins you will see are just the northeast corner of the pueblo.
The building that houses the museum and information about this area was originally the north welcome entrance to the park before the park was expanded.
Route 66 and the Old Studebaker ( 35.051246, -109.805207 )
Just on the north side of Highway 40 is a pull-out, look for the old Studebaker and some of the old roadbed of Route 66. This is the only National Park where a portion of Historic Route 66 is within its boundaries.
The road ran adjacent to the line of telephone poles and was open from 1926-1958. Behind this spot there used to be a tourist attraction of a lion zoo and a wooden tower called the Painted Desert Tower that you could climb up for better views.
A parking area and a short walk to a marked viewpoint with up to 100 miles of visibility. The San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff are 108 miles away
Chinde Point Picnic Area
Head north on this short spur road to a picnic area with a good overlook over the painted desert in the north area of the park
Note : the view is better at Kachina Point coming up
Painted Desert Inn / Kachina Point / Painted Desert Rim Trail
This national historic landmark dates back over 100 years. It was once a hotel and restaurant. Now, it is a museum about Route 66, and a gift shop with ice cream downstairs, served from 10am-3pm
Behind the Painted Desert Inn, it is a short walk out to a point overlooking view of the painted desert in the north area of the park
Painted Desert Rim Trail
Distance: 1-mile round trip
This short trail starts at the Painted Desert Inn and Kachina Point and goes to Tawa Point. It gives you some nice views over the painted desert.The trail follow mostly along the road so just driving to Tawa Point and Kachina Points gives you almost the same views.
A short 2-minute walk to a vista that gives you some nice views over the painted desert similar to Kachina Point.
Petrified Forest National Park Visitor Center
Large parking area, bathrooms, rangers, book store, restaurant and information about the park. Wed-Sun from 9am-3pm you can observe the Museum Demonstration Lab where scientists work on projects from Petrified Forest National Park’s museum collection, such as fossils and artifacts.
One of 3 issued permits per week is required, obtained in person at the park visitor center. Requires a 4×4 to access the area. Takes you to an area of unusual hoodoos in a remote northern section of the park. You may call the visitor center at 928 524-6228 x236 to find out the status of these permits. Permits cannot be set aside or saved.