Petrified Forest National Park – Trails, Camping & What to See

Petr Novák

Petrified Forest is a national park located in the eastern part of the state of Arizona. The park gets its name from its primary feature: a petrified tree that’s over 200 million years old, found here in greater abundance than anywhere else in the world.

NP Petrified Forest | © Andrew Kearns

Table of Contents
  1. Information About Petrified Forest National Park
  2. What to See and Do in Petrified Forest National Park
  3. When to Visit Petrified Forest National Park
  4. Entrance Fees for Petrified Forest National Park
  5. Getting to Petrified Forest National Park
  6. Accommodation Options in Petrified Forest National Park
  7. Advice and Tips Before Traveling to Petrified Forest National Park
  8. Photos of Petrified Forest National Park

Information About Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park spans 146 mi2 of land where coniferous trees once flourished 200 million years ago. Over time, the remnants of these trees were gradually swept away and buried beneath a thick layer of mud, cut off from oxygen. The result was a slow decay process. Powerful volcanic eruptions later devastated the landscape, killing all living organisms. This was followed by earthquakes that caused the landscape to submerge, giving rise to lakes. The entire cycle of transformation concluded during a mountain-building phase, when the already petrified wood surfaced again.

The petrified wood within the park was initially discovered by Lieutenant Amiel Whipple’s military unit in 1853. So captivated by the site, he christened it Stone Tree Creek. Several decades afterward, the Atlantic and Pacific railroad crossed the area, leading to the establishment of the towns of Holbrook and Adamana. The increase in tourism and frequent thefts of petrified wood led to the area being designated a national monument in 1906. In December 1962, Petrified Forest was upgraded to a national park.

The park saw 590,334 visitors in 2021. The highest point in Petrified Forest National Park is Pilot Rock Peak at 6,234 ft, while the lowest point is a section of the BNSF railroad sitting 5,249 ft above sea level.

The park is home to a variety of larger animals including coyotes, foxes, red-tailed hawks, dark-tailed jackrabbits, Gunnison’s prairie dogs, and bobcats. The largest of the 216 bird species found in the park is the golden eagle, boasting a wingspan of up to 6.56 ft, while the largest amphibian is the Woodhouse’s toad.

The park nurtures 447 different plant species, over 100 of which are various species of grasses. Petrified Forest is not just renowned for its petrified trees but also for being one of the most expansive grassy plains in Arizona. The green grasses are enlivened by colorful wildflowers such as evening primroses, lilies, and blue flax. The shrub population is dominated by prairie sagebrush and goldenrod.

What to See and Do in Petrified Forest National Park

First and foremost, I suggest visitors to the park take a drive along the 28 mi long Petrified Forest Road that traverses the park. There are several overlooks along the way where you can pause to appreciate the beauty of the rocks.

For hikers, the park offers seven trails:

Painted Desert Rim Trail

This 0.99 mi trail follows an unpaved road and provides excellent views of the Painted Desert.

Puerco Pueblo

This brief 1,640 ft loop takes you past a 600-year-old Native American dwelling. At the southern end of the trail, you can see several petroglyphs – figures etched into the rock.

Blue Mesa

This diverse 0.99 mi trail winds through bluestone rocks and offers sights of petrified wood.

Crystal Forest

Named after the beautiful crystals discovered in this area, this 0.75 mi trail is a sight to behold.

Giant Logs

Despite being just 1,969 ft long, this trail showcases some of the most vibrantly colored petrified logs. The widest ones measure over 9.84 ft across!

Long Logs

At 1.55 mi, this trail leads you through the areas with the highest concentration of petrified wood in the park.

Agate House

The longest trail in the park at 1.99 mi, it passes by the 700-year-old Native American dwelling known as the Agate House.

Also noteworthy are the Painted Desert Inn National Monument and the Rainbow Forest Museum. The Painted Desert Inn functioned as an inn when the area was part of the famous Route 66. The site is situated at Kachina Point, approximately 1.99 mi from the park’s northern entrance.

The Rainbow Forest Museum features displays of petrified wood, fossils, and prehistoric animal remains. It also offers souvenirs, refreshments, and restroom facilities.

When to Visit Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is open all year round except for December 25. The access road’s operating hours vary throughout the year; however, it is always open from 8 am to 5 pm. During the high season, which runs from June through the end of July, the road remains open until 8 pm.

Daytime summer temperatures in the park typically range from 77°F–86°F, dropping to 52°F–59°F at night. In winter, daytime temperatures rarely exceed 50°F, dropping to around 23.00°F at night. Snowfall may cover the park’s landscape during the winter months.

Average Temperatures and Visitor Numbers in Petrified Forest National Park

Average temperatures in Petrified Forest National Park. Visitor numbers are based on the 2017-2021 average, with data sourced from the National Park Service.

Max Temp Min Temp Precipitation Days Visitors Popularity
January 48°F 23.00°F 3.0 21 708 🟩
February 55°F 28°F 3.0 23 308 🟩
March 63°F 34°F 3.3 54 471 🟨🟨
April 70°F 39°F 1.8 49 517 🟨🟨
May 79°F 48°F 1.6 66 168 🟧🟧🟧
June 90°F 55°F 1.5 91 383 🟧🟧🟧
July 90°F 63°F 7.1 87 653 🟧🟧🟧
August 88°F 61°F 8.0 66 137 🟧🟧🟧
September 82°F 54°F 4.7 52 935 🟨🟨
October 72°F 41°F 3.3 57 014 🟨🟨
November 59°F 30°F 3.0 31 927 🟨🟨
December 48°F 24.80°F 3.5 27 755 🟩

Entrance Fees for Petrified Forest National Park

The entrance fee for Petrified Forest National Park is $25. This fee allows a passenger car access for a period of 7 days. For entry by motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot, a charge of $15.00 per person is applied.

If you plan to visit multiple national parks in the USA within one year, consider acquiring the America the Beautiful pass. It costs $80 and provides free admission to all national parks.

Getting to Petrified Forest National Park

Public transportation such as buses or trains do not serve the national park; thus, you will need to rely on a private vehicle. Petrified Forest National Park is conveniently accessible via Interstate I-40 from the north and Interstate 180 from the south. You can find driving maps and routes from several nearby towns here:

From / To Distance Driving Time Route
Albuquerque 210 mi 3 hours View Route
Las Vegas 359 mi 5 hours 20 minutes View Route
Phoenix 201 mi 3 hours 30 minutes View Route

Your car will also serve as your primary mode of transport within the park. You can leave it at the visitor center parking lot or along various trails. Please be aware, the park closes at night. Ensure you don’t get stranded inside the park with your car after closing hours. If necessary, you can refuel at the gas station next to the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

Alternatively, you can explore the park by bicycle, but remember, riding on walking trails or open terrain is not allowed. Cyclists can use the old section of the legendary Route 66 or the old Highway 180, among other routes.

Accommodation Options in Petrified Forest National Park

🏨 Hotels

I recommend booking accommodations in the nearby town of Holbrook. You’ll find recognized motel chains such as Travelodge, Super 8, and Motel 6, along with Best Western and Days Inn hotels. Another lodging option worth considering is the Globetrotter Lodge, which offers a Route 66 highway style facility.

⛺ Campsites

Please note, there are no campsites directly within Petrified Forest National Park, and wild camping overnight is prohibited.

Advice and Tips Before Traveling to Petrified Forest National Park

ℹ️ Visitor Center

When visiting the park, I recommend starting at the Painted Desert Visitor Center. There, you can watch a documentary about the park and the origins of petrified wood, purchase souvenirs, or seek any additional information. The center is located off Exit 311 of I-40. There is also a gas station, a restaurant, and a small convenience store nearby.

👍 Good to Know

Here you can purchase snacks and water. It’s particularly important during the hot summer months to stay hydrated.

Plan to spend about half a day exploring the park, as a longer stay isn’t necessary. Remember, collecting petrified wood is strictly prohibited. If you are interested, you can purchase it at the visitor center.

Before your trip, download brochures published by the park service onto your phone. They are free, provide additional information about the park, and can be a source of entertainment during long car journeys.

Photos of Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park | © Park Ranger
Petrified Forest NP | © Park Ranger
National Park Petrified Forest | © Park Ranger
Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Park | © Petrified Forest
Chinle Formation, Petrified Forest National Park | © Petrified Forest
Tepees, Petrified Forest National Park | © Akash Simha
Desert Rabbit, Petrified Forest National Park | © Park Ranger

US National Parks

  1. List of US National Parks
  2. America the Beautiful Annual Pass
  3. Timed-Entry Reservation for US National Parks

Travel Guides to USA National Parks

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