The Petrified Forest Loop Trail is a 10.4-mile hike through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The loop trail uses the Maah Daah Hey Trail (MDHT) to connect the North and South Petrified Forest Trails, gives beautiful panoramic views of the badlands, and offers a variety of terrain. This report follows the South Trail connecting with the MDHT heading north to join with the North Petrified Forest Trail, completing the loop and bringing you back to the parking lot. The trail is very exposed with very little shade and no water sources, so make sure to bring plenty of water and use sun protection.
In addition to the landscape, you may have the opportunity to see wildlife, including deer, antelope, bison, and horses. The spring and summer months provide beautiful wildflowers including the prairie rose, North Dakota’s state flower, and many others.
With the trailhead parking located outside of the national park, there is no fee to enter the park by foot or horseback. The park trails are closed to motor vehicles and mountain bikes. A short hike from the parking area brings you to the park entrance, where there is a trail register just past the gated entrance.
The trail climbs for the first half-mile before reaching a plateau, where it splits for the South and North Petrified Forest routes. Follow the trail to the right for the South Petrified Forest Trail. After hiking on the plateau for another half-mile, you descend into the South Petrified Forest. The trail takes you atop another plateau for almost 2 miles before connecting with the MDHT. This plateau is a popular grazing area for herds of bison. If you see any, make sure to keep your distance and respect their space.
At the MDHT junction you will take a sharp left, almost making a U-turn. The MDHT here is a little faint to see, so keep an eye out for the trail posts to use as a guide if needed. The MDHT follows the plateau for another 3 miles providing multiple views of the badlands before joining with the North Petrified Forest Trail. Take a left at the trail junction to continue on to the North Petrified Forest.
This portion of the trail offers more challenging terrain with various steep descents and steady climbs. Two miles from the MDHT trail junction and 9 miles into the trip, you will find the North Petrified Forest. The trail again takes you through the heart of the forest. From the North Petrified Forest it is about 1 mile back to the trailhead and parking lot.