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 Triassic river system. This trail is flat, easy, and suitable for all. Expect heavy traffic.
This route follows part of the rim of a mesa that juts out into the desert. The rugged landscape changes a bit with the seasons; you’ll see more greenery after heavy rain, potential snow in the wintertime, and a hot, dry expanse in the summertime. One constant out here is the wind! Bring a windbreaker and keep your hats in the car or you just might lose them in the desert’s near-constant wind.
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Route Description for Painted Desert Rim Trail
The Painted Desert looks like it could be from another planet. This desert 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!
This route is super easy. The trail along the ridge is flat and simple to follow, so you can stroll while focusing on the view. The route is easiest enough for little kids, elderly hikers, and everyone in between. Dogs are permitted with you but must be kept on a leash at all times in the park.
Once you’re done hiking, take some time to check out some of the amenities in this part of the park: the Painted Desert Inn, which is actually a museum, the Painted Desert Diner, and the smattering of viewpoints you can reach by foot or by car.
From the main road, you’ll drive in and pass the historic Route 66 on Petrified Forest Road. Pass the diner on the right and continue past Tiponi Point to Tawa Point, where you’ll park and start your hike.
You’ll probably want to take a second to appreciate the view before you start walking, but it gets even better. You’ll hike northwest along the rim trail. The entire route is only about a mile total, so take your time as you go.
At Kachina Point, your outbound hike ends at the viewpoint in front of the inn, which was built in the 1920s. Marvel at the peculiar landscape stretched out before you. The view is truly unobscured and quite impressive!
The reddened earth you see is the result of high iron contents in the clay that makes up the ground here. Iron-rich earth makes for poor growth since it’s normally deficient in nitrogen, magnesium, and other minerals needed for healthy plant growth. The few shrubs you see here are adapted to living in dry, iron-rich soils.
As you go, look for Pilot Rock, the tallest point in the park at 1,900 m.
From Kachina Point, turn around and follow your steps back to Tawa Point. The trail that descends from this point is the Onyx Bridge Trail, a beautiful adventure if you want to add on another trail.
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 the Painted Desert?
Yes! This is one of several hiking trails in the desert.
Where is the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest?
The Painted Desert lies partly in Petrified Forest National Park, which is in northeastern Arizona about 26 miles east of Holbrook.
Can you drive through the Petrified Forest?
There are 45.1 km of paved road in the park, and you can drive through from either the north entrance or the south entrance.
Insider Hints for Painted Desert Rim Trail
- You’ll drive past the Painted Desert Diner on the way in if you’re hungry.
- Stop into the museum in the inn to learn more about the badland’s history.
- There is a fee required to access this park. Learn more with the NPS.
Getting to the Painted Desert Rim Trail Trailhead
The trailhead for the Painted Desert Rim Trail is off Petrified Forest Road.
Painted Desert Rim Trail Elevation Graph
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Painted Desert Rim Trail Reviews
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