A Guide to Visiting the Petrified Forest National Park

By Emily Leikam on October 04, 2023

The Petrified Forest National Park situated in the northeastern region of Arizona, is a marvel like no other in the country. Crimson-colored mounds of ancient rocks and colorful stumps of petrified wood adorn this landscape and present a unique setting to learn from and explore within. The park is well known for its fossils that date back over 225 million years, to a time where, instead of a dry, barren scrubland, it was once a flourishing green jungle filled with dinosaurs. This 218,553-acre park is now a hot spot for geologists and adventure-seekers alike who wish to unearth these interesting sites. Here’s a guide to visiting the Petrified Forest National Park.

How to Get to the Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park is located in northeastern Arizona. It sits about 50 miles from the New Mexico border, along Interstate 40. 

  • From north and west Phoenix, take Interstates 17 North and 40 East for 256 miles.
  • From east Phoenix, take Highways 87 North to Payson, 260 East to Heber, 377 North to Holbrook, and 180 South for 215 miles.
  • From Albuquerque, take Interstate 40 for 204 miles to Exit 311.
Ancient Carvings in Petrified Forest National Park
Petroglyphs of Newspaper Rock is a group of rockfaces with over 650 ancient carvings. Photo by: dhayes.

Where to Stay in the Petrified Forest National Park

There is no RV or car camping allowed within this National Park, so if you’re looking for an exciting adventure you may be interested in an overnight backpacking experience. The backpacking wilderness permit is free and can be obtained at either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum.

If you would rather stay outside Petrified Forest National Park, visit the nearby community of Holbrook, AZ for a variety of lodging, restaurants, and plenty of entertainment. 

What to Do in the Petrified Forest National Park

The first stop on your visit to this fascinating national park will be either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum. At both, you’ll uncover the interesting history of the park and all the scientific discoveries that have been made throughout the years. You’ll learn about the amazing process of how petrified wood transformed from organic material into stone, how more than 650 petroglyphs cover several sacred sites and how this was a land that dinosaurs used to roam long ago. 

One of the best ways to explore this land is by hiking one of many different trails. The Jasper Forest hike on Old Jasper Forest Road is a great place to start. This 3.7-mile, out and back trail, takes you along large rows of petrified wood and ends at Eagle Nest Rock. This is an ideal hike to take during the sunset, as great slabs of blue-gray petrified wood transition into deep ruby-red and orange, creating a magical ambiance. 

Another great hike to check out is the Painted Desert Rim Trail. This is an easy 1.2-mile out and back hike taking you along the edge of a canyon that looks down upon a desert full of rich colors. 

Or travel along the Blue Mesa Trail for incredible views of the multi-colored badland hills, the Puerco Pueblo loop to visit a sandstone village that was occupied thousands of years ago, or the Crystal Forest Trail for an up-close look at some beautiful petrified wood. 

Other fun activities enjoyed in the park include biking along the paved roads while soaking in the gorgeous scenery, riding a horse through the vast landscape, or taking a guided backcountry tour with a field expert to gain some valuable knowledge about this unique location. 

large deposits of petrified wood
Large deposits of colorful petrified wood. Photo by: robnaw.

Best Time to Visit the Petrified Forest National Park

The two best seasons to visit the Petrified Forest National Park are Autumn and Springtime. The fall weather provides visitors with mild temperatures and smaller crowds. Spring offers up beautiful wildflower blooms and plenty of sunshine. Summer is the most popular time of the year for many people to visit, but temperatures can be extreme (above 90 degrees). Winter is usually cold and it may snow, so always check the weather forecast before your visit. The park is open year-round so feel free to plan a trip any time of the year. Expect to spend at least three to four hours, if not more, exploring this beautiful area, but keep in mind that park hours are 8 am to 5 pm MST.

Is the Petrified Forest Worth Visiting?

Even if you’re not geology or history buff, the Petrified Forest is full of unique and vibrant natural colors that won’t be found anywhere else. There’s plenty of space to explore and enjoy a hike out in nature. There’s very little light pollution, so if you stay overnight you’ll be able to experience a night sky full of glowing stars. This is an ideal location to visit if you’re a photographer as well, with plenty of vantage points to capture colorful hills, ancient petroglyphs carved into rocks, and a variety of animals such as collared lizards, bobcats, jackrabbits, coyotes, and over 200 species of birds. The Petrified Forest is without a doubt worth a visit. 

Overview of the Petrified Forest National Park
Blue Mesa View. Photo by: Andrew Kearns.

Fun Facts About the Petrified Forest National Park

  • The park contains one of the world’s largest and oldest collections of petrified wood.
  • It’s believed that people inhabited this land over 8,000-10,000 years ago.
  • This is the only national park in the U.S. that contains a portion of the historic Route 66.
  • The air is so clean that it is federally protected. 
  • There are thousands of archeological sites on the land. 
  • The petrified wood is mainly made up of pure quartz, which is rather fragile and falls apart over time. This is why you’ll see plenty of logs that look like they’ve been cut with a chainsaw. 
  • The park is one of the only National Parks to close at night.
  • There’s a house built from petrified wood that dates back to AD 1100-1150 known as the Agate House.
Rusting car at sunset
A rustic car on the side of the road at the Petrified Forest National Park marks the path of old Route 66. Photo by: George Schmiesing.

Important Tips for Visiting the Petrified Forest National Park

One of the biggest issues this area has is visitors taking petrified wood pieces from the land. It’s extremely tempting as these aren’t everyday items you see, and it may sound like a nice souvenir to take home. But please do not take anything from the land. The park estimates that over 12 tons of petrified wood is taken each year. This is depleting the natural beauty of the park and could drastically impact the way others see this location in the future. 

Even if you think one piece won’t hurt, there are over 800,000 people that visit the park each year, and they may have those same thoughts. So, resist temptation and simply enjoy the gifts of mother nature as they are without altering or removing anything. 

Take a Step Back in Time

Petrified Forest National Park is a uniquely beautiful place to add to your bucket list. There’s colorful petrified wood to observe, plenty of hiking trails to explore, a variety of wildlife to view, and an amazingly rich and long history to discover. The park is perfect for the whole family (including the family dog) as it is easy to explore and extremely educational. Remember to enjoy the view and leave any and all petrified wood where it is. This is protected land that needs your help. Enjoy your visit to the wonderful lands of Arizona. 

Featured image by: James Phelps JR.

Emily Leikam
Emily Leikam

Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!

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