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Where will you find rainbow colors, giant crystals, 200 million-year-old deposits, the famous Painted Desert Inn, and the historic Route 66? The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, of course.
Offering a unique landscape, the Petrified Forest National Park is a stop you’ll want to make if you’re taking a trip to the western United States. Read on to learn more about this beautiful and historic national park.
How to Plan Your Perfect Trip to Petrified Forest National Park
Whether you’re taking a cross-country trip or just a trip across state lines, you’ll want to plan ahead. What time of year will you visit? How long will you stay? What will you do? Read the tips below to help you prepare for your visit.
About Petrified Forest National Park
Designated as a national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, the Petrified Forest didn’t earn national park status until 1962.
Although it’s widely known for its unique Chilne Formation, the park also offers thousands of years of human history. You can take in the history of Native American tribes, Spanish explorers, and early homesteaders. With so much to explore and discover, the forest is an educational adventure through history.
When Should You Visit Petrified Forest National Park?
The park is open every day except Christmas Day from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm MST. (Remember, Arizona doesn’t observe daylight saving time.) As long as you enter the park by 5:00 pm, you can visit that day. By 6:30 pm, you must be in your vehicle driving to an exit.
With average temperatures hanging around 70-80 degrees in the spring and fall, these months offer the best hiking, camping, and sightseeing opportunities. Summers might be the worst time to visit since temperatures can reach over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also, arrive early. Whether traveling alone or with children, avoiding traffic and crowds makes visiting the Petrified Forest National Park more enjoyable.
Can You Do Petrified Forest National Park in One Day?
It only takes a few hours to drive through the park; however, if you want to learn more about history or the geological formations, plan on spending a whole day exploring the park. Unlike larger national parks–Yellowstone, for example–you could see the entire park in one day.
If you only have a couple of hours, check out either the south end or north end of the park rather than trying to explore it all. If you have half a day, drive the 28 miles through the entire park and make a few stops at the views and exhibits along the way.
For travelers who want to spend an entire day or two exploring the park, you’d have time to hike a few trails or attend a ranger program. Check the calendar to participate in any special events during your visit. We found the paleontology lab demonstration especially intriguing.
What Is a Petrified Forest, Anyway?
The petrified wood in the forest is composed of quartz, which formed hundreds of millions of years ago when logs washed into rivers and were buried in the sediment over time. Because the water cut the wood off from its oxygen supply, it decayed very slowly. Over hundreds (maybe thousands) of years, the wood absorbed minerals, thus producing solid quartz.
You can read more about the petrifying process on the National Park Service website, which also has a Frequently Asked Questions page. Scroll down about halfway to learn even more about the petrified wood you’ll see in the park.
What to Do in Petrified Forest National Park
Although much smaller than other national parks, the Petrified Forest National Park still offers a lot. Whether you’re spending an hour or a day exploring the area, here are some stops you’ll want to make.
Visit Painted Desert Inn
Originally called the “Stone Tree House,” the Painted Desert Inn is now only a museum. Inside, you can learn about the architecture and reconstruction of the building. You can also visit the Trading Post Room that features Mexican-style chandeliers or view the original murals of Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.
You get access to the inn with your entrance fee to the park. The inn isn’t open as long as the park, so check the hours when planning your visit.
Take a Picture with the Old Studebaker
In 2006, the Petrified Forest National Park became home to a new exhibit showcasing the old Route 66 with a line of historic telephone poles. Frank and Rhonda Dobell donated a 1932 Studebaker that now sits adjacent to the display. Even if you’re not a car enthusiast, you’ll want to stop here for a quick photo and enjoy this Route 66 Monument.
Drive to Newspaper Rock
This site is home to over 650 petroglyphs created by the ancient Pueblan nation. They created petroglyphs by removing the top layer of rock with a chisel. Don’t confuse this with pictographs, which are rock art paintings. Petroglyphs last longer, and some of the carvings at Newspaper Rock are 2,000 years old.
Hikes Not to Miss in Petrified Forest National Park
Even if you don’t consider yourself a hiker, you’ll want to park the car and venture out on these trails in the Petrified Forest National Park. Depending on the length of your visit, you may have to choose only one. But if you have time, consider trekking across several of these trails.
You’re welcome to bring your furry friends along if you keep them leashed at all times and clean up after them. Bicycles, however, are not permitted.
Blue Mesa Trail
This one-mile loop begins at the Blue Mesa sun shelter. It’s one of the most heavily trafficked trails in the Petrified Forest National Park because of the stunning views. The blue and purple hues offer a beautiful contrast to the red and orange desert landscape of Arizona. Although there’s a steep grade at the beginning of the trail, it’s considered an easy hike.
Giant Logs Trail
The Giant Logs Trail is only a half-mile loop but features some of the largest logs in the Petrified Forest National Park. Easy and short, this trail might be best for families with younger children or travelers who don’t have time to hike the longer trails in the park.
Probably the best path to see the petrified logs, the Crystal Forest Trail is a little less than one mile, making it a fun family adventure. Imagine the wonder in a child’s eyes upon seeing the glittering quartz inside the wood.
This trail also has signs to educate hikers about the petrifying process. As a reminder, please don’t take any petrified wood pieces.
Blue Forest Hike
Connecting the main road at the Tepees area to the Blue Mesa Loop Road, the Blue Forest trail is the longest of the four hikes at about three miles. Keep this in mind if you’re only visiting the Petrified Forest National Park for a couple of hours. Along the Blue Forest Trail, you’ll see the hoodoo formations as well as the blue and purple hues I mentioned before. Be aware that the path is not paved and has no markers.
Where to Stay Near Petrified Forest National Park
The Petrified Forest National Park does not offer RV camping or places for boondocking. You can tent camp in the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area. Here are some campgrounds close to the park.
Petrified Forest KOA
The Petrified Forest KOA is the closest full-service campground to the Petrified Forest National Park. Drive time is about 20 minutes. If your family needs amenities to be comfortable, this campground might be the best option.
Address: 102 Hermosa Drive Holbrook, AZ 86025
Amenities: Wi-Fi, Cable TV, pool, snack bar, pavilion, basketball court, dog park, playground, volleyball court, camp store, tetherball
Homolovi State Park Campground
The Homolovi State Park has a Visitor Center offering information about northern Arizona’s ancient history and a gift shop filled with books and artwork celebrating the Hopi and Navajo people. The campground offers sites with electric and water hook-ups. A dump station is on-site. If you’re interested in learning about the ancient people of the area, this campground may be the best choice!
Address: HCR 63 Winslow, AZ 86047 (I-40 exit 257, 1.5 miles north on Hwy 87)
Amenities: picnic shelters, dump station, back-in, and pull-thru sites
Is Petrified Forest National Park Worth Visiting?
Yes! The landscape of this U.S. treasure is unlike other national parks. Even though it’s smaller and doesn’t require days to explore, it’s worth visiting for at least a couple of hours. However, the 200 million-year-old rock formations, glittering petrified wood, and beautiful hues of blue and purple in the Blue Forest aren’t the only reasons to visit. The exploration of the ancient people who lived here makes this area an educational experience for all ages.
With so much beauty and history in one place, the Petrified Forest National Park is a must-see along Route 66. If you go, tell us about your experience.