hikes in Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is what we’d confidently call an underrated gem in Arizona. While visitors flock to more renowned parks in the state, hikers and outdoor enthusiasts who find themselves here discover a landscape like no other, with the bonus of being easy to explore and never too busy. The park is known for its dramatic landscape, formed by the erosion of soft sedimentary earth, the layers of which light up in shades of blue and red. The park gets its name from the countless pieces of petrified wood within its borders that serve as the remains of 200 million+ year old trees and shine with colorful crystallization. Some of these pieces are so large that they form near-whole trees. With humans present in the park over 600 years ago, you can also discover petroglyphs, pueblos, and ruins.
Petrified Forest National Park is surprisingly easy to explore, with one central road running through its grounds, lots of easy hikes suitable for families and dogs, and helpful rangers on site. No matter where you go, as you stroll through this unspoilt marvel, you’ll realize just how much of an artist Mother Nature can be.
13 Top Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park
Ready to start exploring? We’re making it easy to get going with 13 of our favorite hikes in Petrified Forest National Park. Our list mostly includes short, easy trails, but there are some more rugged backcountry adventures here, too. Since most of these routes are nice and brief, you can combine several over a day in the park to get the most out of your time here. The park also enjoys a dog-friendly policy as long as pups are kept leashed.
Our top hikes in Petrified Forest National Park are chosen to show off the highlights of Petrified Forest National Park’s landscape, highlighting the fossilized wood forests, the badlands, and the ruins. Try a few trails to really get a sense of what makes this park so special!
- Blue Mesa Trail - Blue Mesa Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Petrified Forest National Park. With dazzling views of the neatly striped hills and mesas, giant fossils of petrified wood, and a convenient paved trail, this hike is a great pick for hikers of any skill level and age in the park. It’s a short loop, but it definitely packs in the scenery.
- Painted Desert Rim Trail - The Painted Desert Rim Trail is potentially the best available viewpoint of the Painted Desert, a unique geological feature that extends through the Petrified Forest National Park towards the Grand Canyon. The Painted Desert is an undulating desert of orange, green, and beige formed by the erosion of the sandstone deposits left by a prehistoric river system. This trail is flat, easy, and suitable for all.
- Crystal Forest Trail - The Crystal Forest Trail is a must-do hike in Petrified Forest National Park, especially if you’re really after the petrified wood fossils this park is known for. This route takes you past hundreds of massive fossils left from trees that lived over 200 million years ago. The petrified wood looks almost like gemstones, with gorgeous colors and patterns visible on the wood.
- Onyx Bridge Trail - Get a taste of everything that makes this park special on the Onyx Bridge Trail, a great hike to try if you want to see the ancient fossilized petrified wood that gives the park its name. In addition to the fossils, you’ll explore mesas, hoodoos, riverbeds, and the unusual desert landscape that makes this region so fascinating.
- Old Jasper Forest Road - Old Jasper Park Road is one of the more lightly traveled hikes in Petrified Forest National Park. It loosely follows an old park road built in the 1930s, although there isn’t much that remains of the road today. The hike shows you impressive fossils of petrified wood and ends at Eagle Nest Rock, the top part of which fell in 1941.
- Puerco Pueblo Trail - The Puerco Pueblo Trail leads you through the only ancestral pueblo village easily accessible by the public in the area. The hike is only about a third of a mile, taking you to each stone wall and petroglyph site in turn. There is also a mini museum halfway around the loop. This site was last occupied 650 years ago, and what remains is fascinating to see.
- Long Log and Agate House Loop - The Long Logs and Agate House Loop Trail is one of the best ways to see petrified wood in the park, with huge chunks and entire trees laying in pieces on this trail. There’s also a house made of agate built between 1100 and 1200, a one-of-a-kind historical find. This hike conveniently begins from the headquarters of the park.
- Devil’s Playground Loop - The Devil's Playground Loop is a fantastic hike that takes you to hoodoos, caves, a dry waterfall, and fields of petrified wood and crystals. This hike is a bit of everything that makes this park so unique. Enjoy being up close to the interesting geology of the park on this trail.
- Giant Logs Trail - The Giant Logs Trail is part of the Rainbow Forest. This area used to be a huge logjam in a Triassic river system, but as tectonic plate movement and sediment deposits changed the land, the trees were fossilized in place. Giant Logs was the heart of the original national monument designated in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt. This trail is home to some of the largest, most complete, and most colorful fossilized trees in the park.
- Blue Forest Trail - Blue Forest Trail is one of the most popular trails in Petrified Forest National Park, known for its colorful blue-striped badlands and big tree fossils from the Late Triassic Epoch, dating back 225 million years ago. The trail was originally built between 1934 and 1937 and was improved for hikers in 2013. It provides a close-up look at the petrified wood that this park is known for, in addition to the peculiar badlands.
- First Forest Point Hike - The First Forest hike leads you through an area that was originally called the First Forest because it was the first large accumulation of petrified wood reached when traveling from Adamana. This hike shows you the numerous petrified logs eroded from the Jasper Forest bed.
- Red Basin-Clam Beds Hike - The Red Basin-Clam Beds hike is one of the backcountry hikes in Petrified Forest National Park. This route, true to the name, leads you over an ancient clam bed. Yes, this area used to be completely covered by water if you can believe it! This hike offers interesting views of the badlands and it’s very, very quiet. You’ll probably have the place to yourself.
- Martha’s Butte - Martha’s Butte is a hike that reveals ancient petroglyphs and the moonlike landscape of this unique park. This region was inhabited about 650 years ago, and depictions of animals, people, and shapes are carefully preserved on rocks around Martha's Butte. The origin of the name, or who Martha was, is unknown.
When is the Best Time to Hike in Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park has four distinct seasons: a warm spring, a hot summer, a warm fall, and a cool winter. Hiking is possible year-round, but we prefer spring and fall for mild weather. Summers can reach very high temperatures, and there can be snow accumulation blocking the impressive color of the desert in the wintertime.
If you can, plan your hiking in Petrified Forest National Park for March-June or September-November when you’ll enjoy comfortably warm average daytime highs. If you want to hike in the summer, be sure to have lots of water and sun protection on hand. In the winter, prepare for the possibility of snowfall and cold temperatures, especially earlier or later in the day.
One constant in the park is the wind; this is a breezy area. Consider a windbreaker or extra layer if you’re here in the cooler months and make sure your caps are on tight in the summertime.
Other Outdoor Activities in Petrified Forest National Park
While the trails are excellent, hiking is certainly not the only way to explore Petrified Forest National Park! This region boasts plenty of space for other outdoor activities.
Adventurers on two wheels can cycle the park road. Those with four-legged friends can explore horse and dog-friendly trails. Backpackers can set up their tents in backcountry sites, and drivers can enjoy the scenic drive through the park. You can also geocache, take a guided tour, and visit the museums in the park
How to Plan a Trip to Petrified Forest National Park
Planning a trip to Petrified Forest National Park is easy. This park is a great day-use destination. Since it’s fairly compact and easy to navigate, most visitors can enjoy it in a day. Overnight stays in the park are best suited for campers because of the limited amenities, but nearby Holbrook can work as a base for multi-day adventures. Should you need food or refreshments while visiting, you can find them at park headquarters.
You’ll need a pass to use the park, which can be purchased online ahead of time with the National Park Service. Fees depend on your vehicle type, but standard passenger cars are $25 for a week of access (subject to change). The park is open daily from 8 AM until 5 PM except for December 25th and Thanksgiving Day.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Petrified Forest National Park
What is Petrified Forest National Park known for?
The park is known for its dramatic badlands, a type of landscape caused by erosion. The park is also known for its wealth of petrified wood and its ruins.
Does Petrified Forest National Park get snow?
Yes, but not much. The park only averages about 10 inches of precipitation in a year, some of which falls as snow.
Can you drive through Petrified Forest National Park?
Yes! The road that runs through the park (Petrified Forest Road) is a very scenic drive. You can make it through the park from north-south or vice versa in about 45 minutes, although we encourage stops along the way.
Is Painted Desert the same as the Petrified Forest?
The Painted Desert stretches beyond Petrified Forest National Park (some 150.0mi in total), but part of it does lie within the park.
Is it illegal to take petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park?
Yes, it is illegal to remove any specimens of wood or other artifacts from the park. Theft of fossils is treated very seriously and can result in hefty fines. It’s important to leave all the special parts of the park as you found them for future generations to enjoy.
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The best hikes in Petrified Forest National Park
Yes, there are more than 10
Petrified Forest National Park is so beautiful that we can not give you only 10 hikes. So here is a list of bonus hikes in Petrified Forest National Park that you should take a look at as well
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