This national park has been adding many new elements recently in efforts to grow attendance and have a broader range of activities. In the past it has been more of a drive-through park and hasn’t had much history of backpacking or long hikes, and this is what the park service is working to change. Overall, the Petrified Forest National Park is mainly known for just that, a petrified forest.
What does this mean? Well, petrified wood is a fossilized plant, usually tree or tree-like vegetation, and this is done by permineralization. What this really means is that a tree has turned to stone by being buried under ground/ash and having no oxygen.
This national park also overlaps with the Painted Desert, and honestly, the Painted Desert is my favorite part of this park.
Things to do
Grab some maps at the Painted Desert or Rainbow Forest Visitor Center: Depending on which end of the park you enter, stop at either of the visitor centers and grab some information. I always enjoy talking to the rangers and hearing what they recommend and their favorite parts of the park.
Drive through the park: This is a lot more exciting than it sounds. There is one main road through the entire park and you can take it north to south or vice versa. Along the drive you will run into many side activities and vistas. If you have a full day then you should drive the park’s main road and have hikes and points of interest planned ahead so you don’t miss anything. (NPS have great maps for this)
This list will be in order as if you are going from north to south.
Stop at the Tawa Point: This vista itself is magnificent, especically if you arrive in the early hours of the morning. We were the first ones into the park that day, which not only gave us beautiful and intimate views of the park, but we also got free gifts from the ranger station.
Hike the Painted Desert Rim Trail: 1 mile, out and back.
This hike has two trailheads, one is Tawa point and the other is Kachina Point. It is .5 mile both ways and this easy and flat trail provides gorgeous views with minimal effort.
Check out the cozy Painted Desert Inn: Built in the 1920s, this inn is located right off Route 66 which made it the perfect stop for tourists to refuel and rest. This historical building is now a museum with history and stories you don’t want to miss.
Read the news at the Newspaper Rock: This exhibit has over 650 petroglyphs covering multiple rocks and there is educational signage explaining them and pointing them out. These petroglyphs were left by Puebloan people from 650 to 2,000 years ago.
Take the trail through the Blue Mesa Loop: 1 mile, easy loop.
This begins at the parking lot for the Blue Mesa and winds through the Blue Forest. This area is vastly different in coloration and should absolutely be a stop on your itinerary. You will be blown away by the layering of colors, and will also begin to see petrified wood.
Admire mother nature’s work of the Agate Bridge: Hundreds of years of flooding created this bridge by washing out the gully beneath it. This is another example of petrified wood, as the stone-like log was strong enough to withstand the erosion as the rest of the dirt washed away.
Hike the Crystal Forest Loop: .75 mile easy loop.
This trail has is dense with petrified wood and is one of the best ways to see many examples and different pieces.
View the Giant Logs: A short .4 mile walk which is nestled right behind the visitor center is a great way to see some of the largest and longest petrified logs in the park.
Hike the Long Logs and Agate House trail: 2.6 mile loop, easy
This route has the largest concentration of petrified wood and a small pueblo that is estimated to be around 700 years old. This trail is relatively flat and has history along with mother natures artwork.
This park is perfect for a long distance road trip and is also a great option for those who aren’t as mobile to see some of the desert wonders.
Check out NPS site for backcountry information and routes. This is an area of the park that they are working to expand and invest more in, so check it out if you are interested!