Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
Yes
Lodging
No
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Petrified Forest National Park Overview | Activities | Camping and Backpacking | Accessibility | Weather | Pets

Petrified Forest National Park Overview 

Petrified Forest National Park is located 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona, along Interstate 40. This often overlooked unit of the National Park System protects the largest concentration of petrified wood in the world. Around 225 million years ago, during the late Triassic era, this area was a humid subtropical forest located near the equator. Dead trees would fall into the water and were quickly buried in sediment, preserving them. The combination of a low-oxygen environment and the presence of mineralized groundwater led to the creation of this geologic oddity. As the ages wore on, groundwater rich with silica dioxide seeped into buried logs, gradually replacing their cells with colorful quartz. Today these petrified logs re-emerge from the eroding hills of the painted desert. Heavy and brittle, these logs tend to break across their shortest axis, creating the appearance of wood cut by crosscut saw.

While the petrified wood is certainly the main attraction, there is much more to this place than some rocks that look like trees. Approach any group of large boulders with darkened patina and you will likely find petroglyphs, signs of the park's former inhabitants. Archeological evidence suggests that this place has seen human occupation for about 8,000 years. Careful observers might find pot shards, arrowheads, or vertebrate fossils scattered about the landscape.

Whether you are just driving through, day-hiking, or backpacking, a wide variety of unique experiences await. Visiting Petrified Forest requires proper planning because the park has strict operating hours that prevent visitors from taking longer hikes in the evening, which might leave them stranded them behind closed gates.

Due to the continued theft of petrified wood, the park is closed at night, and gates at either end are locked. This means that, for most of the year, it is difficult if not impossible to watch sunrise or sunset in the park unless you have a backpacking permit. This is a shame because the early morning and late afternoon light create a spectacular show in the colorful painted desert. Colors ranging from coral pink, dark brown, and bright white to shades of lavender adorn the mesas and buttes here. Petrified Forest is incredibly photogenic, especially in the summer when monsoons bring towering cumulus clouds, dramatic skies, hanging curtains of virga, and lightning.

As is the case in all national parks, taking or disturbing park resources is prohibited. This is particularly important here where the park's main resource is valuable semi-precious stones and where every other rock outcrop shows signs of archeological significance. The sheer volume of petrified wood, artifacts, and fossils here can make it tempting to slip a rock or two into your pocket, but with between 600,000 and 1 million annual visitors, even these small thefts do not go unnoticed. Taking these priceless resources degrades the experience of future park users. This park has a history of tough law enforcement. In the past, rangers have been known to hide with binoculars watching park visitors and conducting searches. If the threat of a fine is not enough, it is also rumored that taking petrified wood from the park is bad luck. The park has a mountain of petrified wood that was sent back along with personal accounts of bad luck that followed the theft of petrified wood. So please, do not take any wood or artifacts from this park; let’s make sure this place remains the spot with the highest concentration of petrified wood in the world.

Operating Hours

  • January 1 to March: 4: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • March 5 to May 13: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • May 14 to August 5: 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • August 6 to September 2: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
  • September 3 to October 28: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • October 29 to December 31: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Activities

Scenic Drive

A major road traverses the entire park from north to south. This scenic 30-mile section of road links up Interstate 40 with U.S. 180 and takes visitors past several scenic vistas, a picnic area, and short day hikes ranging from 1 to 4 miles round trip. Begin at the north end of the park for the best route. A handful of pullouts provide sweeping views of the colorful painted desert to the north. Stop at the historic Painted Desert Inn for ice cream and marvel at the architectural genius of Mary Jane Coulter and Lyle E. Bennett. Hand-painted murals and original stained glass adorn this historic landmark built in the Pueblo Revival style. Pull over at any of the dozen or so roadside attractions. Take pictures on the remnants of the old Route 66, interpret the marking left at Puerco Ruins and Newspaper Rock. Examine the variety of colors and strange forms in the badlands of the Teepees and Blue Mesa. Wander past gardens of colorful petrified logs at the Jasper Forest and Crystal Forests. Then stop in at the Rainbow Forest museum and see an array of dinosaur bones and polished petrified wood pieces gathered from the park. Drive slow because the clays that provide the park with its signature views shrink and swell, causing large hummocks in the road.

Places to stop:

Day Hikes

Stop in at either of the visitor centers to get information on any of these great hiking adventures that require route finding.

  • Billings Gap: 3 miles round trip
  • Jasper Forest: 2.5 miles round trip
  • Martha’s Butte: 2 miles round trip
  • Red Basin/Clam Beds: 8.5 miles round trip
  • Onyx Bridge: 4 miles round trip
  • Blue Forest: 1.5 miles one-way
  • Devils Garden: Call in for a special permit 928.524.6228 x236

Camping and Backpacking

There are no campgrounds in Petrified National Forest, and overnight parking is prohibited. There are a number of privately owned campgrounds near the park. One campground is located near the south entrance of the park.

Petrified Forest National Park may have a conspicuous lack of campgrounds inside the park, but wilderness camping is allowed with a permit that can be obtained from either of the two visitors centers. Backpacking in Petrified requires preparation and a good understanding of orienteering and navigation. If you possess those skills, an unparalleled experience awaits. Without trails to guide you, wander aimlessly across the colorful clay hills discovering fossils, petroglyphs, and incredible vistas. Pitch a tent anywhere and get lost (actually, try not to) in the painted badlands adorned with ancient lithified wood. Stop in at either visitor centers an hour before the park closes to obtain a free permit for backcountry camping.

Accessibility

Most of the shorter day hikes in Petrified Forest contain trails free from major obstacles but have grades that exceed ADA requirements. Puerco Pueblo, Newspaper Rock, Crystal Forest, Blue Mesa and Giant Logs all contain trails that are paved or partially paved. ADA accessible bathrooms can be found at:

  • Painted Desert Visitor Center
  • Painted Desert Inn
  • Chinde Point picnic area
  • Puerco Pueblo
  • Rainbow Forest Museum
  • Rainbow Forest Shop

The Rainbow Forest visitor’s center contains a ADA accessible ramp and  hands-on exhibits, as well as an informational movie.

Weather

This park is known for erratic weather. At an average elevation of 5,400 feet, the park experiences 100 degree summer days, cool cloudless nights, and strong winds all year long. Snow is a rare occurrence here but does happen from time to time. Summer monsoons generally materialize in the afternoons from July through September and bring with them strong winds and short bursts of torrential rains and lightning. In the summer the park has brutal sun and very little shade, bring a hat and lots of water.

Pets

Petrified Forest National Park is one of the more pet-friendly parks in the National Park System. It is one of the few places where pets are allowed in the wilderness area. Pets are allowed on all trails unless otherwise specified. However, pets must be kept on a leash, are not allowed in government buildings, and must be cleaned up after. All pet waste must be carried out of the backcountry, and pets are not to interact with park wildlife.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Summer
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Pros

Flexible range of activities. Stunning views.

Cons

No campgrounds. Often closes before sunset.

Features

ADA accessible
Geologically significant
Backcountry camping
Flushing toilets
Picnic tables

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Adventures

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