The Petrified Forest National Park, located in northeastern Arizona, is home to several archeological and geological marvels. A visit here means taking a step back in time and witnessing nature’s beauty in various forms, starting with the mysterious Painted Desert, continuing on to the many displays of well-preserved plant and animal fossils, and ending with one of the world’s largest (and most colorful) concentrations of petrified wood. Open year round from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, the Petrified Forest is sure to fascinate visitors who are interested in taking in its historical sights and learning a little more about what the world was like millions of years ago.
Museums and Tours
The Petrified Forest includes several facilities of interest, beginning with the Painted Desert Visitor Center, which provides park information, literature, exhibits, and restrooms. Next is the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark, which is ideal for touring and sight-seeing. At the south end of the park lies the Rainbow Forest Museum, where visitors can enjoy exhibits of fossils, prehistoric animals, and petrified wood, or simply relax at the gift shop and snack bar area. There is also a Science and Education Center where lectures are held on topics such as geology, paleontology, archeology, and biology, along with guided tours with ranger-led activities that include sight-seeing, photography, and trail walks.
Without a doubt, the best way to enjoy a day at the Petrified Forest National Park is by trekking along one (or many) of its designated hiking trails, which range in length from less than half a mile to about three miles. Popular trail locations include the Painted Desert Rim (which winds through woodland and gives visitors a clear view of the Painted Desert), Puerco Pueblo (which allows visitors to walk through the remains of an ancient village), Blue Mesa (which loops along petrified wood deposits and offers several plant fossil displays), and the Crystal Forest (which is made up of many beautiful displays of petrified crystals). For those interested in a more adventurous experience, wilderness hiking is also an option and gives visitors a chance to explore sites that lie outside of the park’s developed trails.
While the Petrified Forest does not offer campgrounds or lodging facilities, it is possible for visitors to enjoy wilderness area backpacking if they should choose to. Permits for backcountry camping may be obtained free of charge from one of three park locations (the Painted Desert Visitor Center, the Painted Desert Inn, or the Rainbow Forest Museum) and allow for a maximum of 8 people to camp in any one group. Backcountry camping permits are good for a maximum of 14 consecutive days, with campers encouraged to relocate every three days to minimize the human impact on wilderness resources.
Horses and other pack animals are allowed in the Petrified Forest’s wilderness area (though they are prohibited from entering paved trails, roads, and other visitor-use areas). While there are no maintained trails in the wilderness areas, the ground is ideal for smooth, easy riding. Animal feed must be packed and provided by the owner, although water for horses is available at the Painted Desert Visitor Center’s service station. A maximum of 6 horses and/or pack animals is allowed in the wilderness area per every group.
Staying safe is an important part of enjoying your experience at the Petrified Forest National Park. As such, here are a few special precautions that should be taken to ensure a pleasant visit for everyone involved:
• Obey speed limits at all times, and park in designated areas only.
• Animals and plant life are easily disturbed, so please stay on the trails while hiking.
• Do not feed or approach wildlife, for the protection of both the people and the animals involved.
• The removal of petrified wood or other natural objects from the park is prohibited by law and carries a minimum fine of $325.
• Avoid cliff edges, sharp slopes, and unstable rock surfaces.
• Be prepared for sudden changes in weather. Summers are very hot with possible thunderstorms, while winters can be cold enough for snow to accumulate. Bring sunglasses and hats, and take appropriate measures (including wearing sunscreen) to protect against UV rays.
• Because of its high elevation, park areas may cause symptoms of altitude sickness in visitors. Rest as needed, and increase fluid intake to lessen the severity of these symptoms.
• Be sure to bring enough water for all members of your visiting party. One gallon per person is recommended for a day-long stay at the park.
The Petrified Forest National Park spans a north-south area between Interstate 40 and Highway 180, with the closest towns being Holbrook and Navajo. Entrance fees for the park are as follows:
• Individual Entry: $5.00 (7-day pass)
• Private Vehicles: $10.00 (7-day pass)
• Annual Pass: $20.00
For further information, please contact the Visitor Information Center at (928) 524-3567.