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. The hike itself is very easy and straightforward, and it’s suitable for all skill levels and ages.
When you’re observing the fossils, remember that they’re meant to stay in the park. Theft of the fossils is prosecuted, and yes, removing any amount of petrified wood from the park is considered theft. Leave these fascinating fossils as you found them, resist the urge to touch them, and make sure they stay as they are for generations to come.
Join our newsletter
Get a weekly dose of discounts and inspiration for adventure lovers
Route Description for Crystal Forest Trail
Petrified Forest National Park comes to life on the Crystal Forest Trail, one of the best hikes in the park if you want to see the ancient fossilized petrified wood that gives the park its name.
For some background, this area was created by deposits of sediment from a huge Triassic river system over 200 million years ago. When the Colorado Plateau was thrust upwards by tectonic plate shift, the desert was exposed, and as the river receded, erosion began to work away at the layers of sediment.
The desert’s colors are created by different mineral contents in the sediment layers, and the wrinkled appearance of the badlands comes from the expansion of clay with water after rain, then the shrinkage of the clay as it dries out. Nature at work!
The fossils you find come from trees that lived hundreds of millions of years ago. They are true relics from another time when the world looked very different from how it does now. How cool is it to be able to observe these fossils?
200+ foot conifers used to grow here, but as the landscape changed, they were buried under mud and volcanic ash. As wood becomes petrified, it takes on a gemlike appearance. These chunks of wood can look more like geodes than trees in some ways, and they really are! Crystals form inside the trees, and these deposits become quartz and amethyst. Bring a camera to snap photos of these beautiful crystalline fossils.
As mentioned, it’s extremely important that you leave each and every fossil as it is. Moving, lifting, or taking petrified wood with you is illegal and you can be prosecuted for it. Should you see anyone attempting to take fossils, contact the park rangers at 928-524-6228.
From the trailhead, follow the paved path towards the shade shelter. This shelter could be very welcome if you’re here in the summertime. This shelter is an excellent viewpoint. From this viewpoint, head to your left around the loop. You’ll come up close to the petrified wood. Inspect them closely–each one is unique.
Many of the trees were scattered with geologic movement, but some lie in a near-perfect line just as they fell millions of years ago.
About a half-mile in, the loop turns to head back to the trailhead. Take your time and observe each fossil as you go. When you reach the shelter, retrace your steps to the trailhead.
Hiking Route Highlights
Petrified Forest Badlands
The unique landscape seen throughout Petrified Forest National Park is the result of changes over millions of years. Over 200 million years ago, a huge river system ran through this area, depositing sediment (the Chinle Formation). After the Colorado Plateau was pushed upwards by tectonic plate movement, erosion began to carve out the badlands you see today. Fossils of petrified wood are left from trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch, and over 600 archeological sites are left from the early inhabitants of the park area, who arrived in the area 8,000 years ago and abandoned it by 1400 CE.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you hike in Petrified Forest National Park?
Yes! This is one of several hiking trails in the park and one of the best if you want an up-close view of the fossils.
When was the Crystal Forest a forest?
This area was a tropical lowland some 225 million years ago.
Is the Petrified Forest worth the drive?
Definitely, the Petrified Forest is worth the trip. It’s a fascinating example of geological change and fossilization.
Insider Hints for Crystal Forest Trail
- This trail might be short, but bring water and sun protection if you’re here in the summer. It can get very hot!
- There is a fee required to access this park. Learn more with the NPS.
Getting to the Crystal Forest Trail Trailhead
The trailhead for the Crystal Forest Trail is off Petrified Forest Road.
Crystal Forest Trail Elevation Graph
Weather ForecastCheck Area Weather
Crystal Forest Trail Reviews
Add a comment
You must be logged in to post a comment.