In northeastern Arizona is the Petrified Forest National Park which is named for the large deposits of petrified wood.
Much of northeastern Arizona 225 million years ago was covered by trees and vegetation. Volcanic lava and ash destroyed the forest and what remains are the fossils of fallen trees that lived in the Late Triassic Epoch about 225 million years ago.
The park is huge and you probably will need to make a decision on what is important for you to see. We started on the North end of the park where the Painted Desert is. There was a bunch of vistas you can stop at and take pictures of the Painted Desert. We then took the Petrified Forest road to the South of the park and visited different stops.
On the Southside of the park is the Rainbow Forest Museum which has a walking trail through pieces of the petrified wood to look at. You can get close to the pieces and even touch a bunch of them.
In between these two points are a bunch of areas with trails you can hike to see more sights. It just depends on how much time you have to explore the park.
Painted Desert Visitor Center
This is where we started our Petrified Forest day. There are many buildings here (including a restroom which was helpful). There is also a gift shop and we spoke with the ranger here that gave us great tips. They also enrolled our dogs as Bark Rangers and my dog really enjoyed the treats they got from the ranger.
Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark
The building used to be made of petrified wood, but today it is made out of adobe. You can’t stay in the inn or eat food, but you can come inside and see the displays about Route 66, and the building history. The site also has a great view of the Painted Desert so another great place for photos.
Painted Desert Overlooks
At different places along the Petrified Forest Road are little areas you can pull into and see the painted desert. We stopped at a bunch of these as you can see from the pictures. We finally had to start skipping some because we wanted to drive the entire Petrified Forest road.
A 1932 Studebaker site where famed Route 66 once cut through the park. This is a nice picture spot with a cool looking bench also. It is just before the road goes over I-40.
The Village on the Rio Puerco (or Puerco Pueblo, for short) is a 100+ room pueblo site. There are a large parking lot and restrooms at this site. There is a short loop trail (about .3 mile) that leads you to the partially excavated pueblo and you can view the petroglyphs.
Look down from an overlook to see 650 petroglyphs, some as old as 2000 years. This was a great spot to stop at and I highly recommend it. There are signs that point you to the petroglyphs along a short trail from the parking lot. Even when you arrive at the spot and the sign tells you exactly where the petroglyph is, it took all of us searching the rocks to find them. A fun experience for the whole family trying to find these petroglyphs.
To me, the Blue Mesa looks like a bunch of piles of dirt but is interesting to see. The “piles of dirt” are bentonite clay and petrified wood. They are full of plant and animal fossils that have been found by scientists. This is another trail you go on that is about one mile long. We skipped this trail so we would have time to see other sights.
This is another area that has a nice parking lot and a short trail to the 110 ft petrified log spanning a gully. The information signs said this petrified log was on the ground and after centuries of water and erosion washed out the area underneath the log. This created a bridge across a small gully, but in 1911 concrete was installed under the tree so it wouldn’t collapse.
This is actually a very impressive area if you’re into seeing the petrified wood. There is a 2.5 mile round trip trail that winds through an area with a high concentration of petrified wood. You don’t have to hike the entire trail, but you should visit this place and get out and see the petrified wood pieces.
The fossilized trees in this area have a high concentration of quartz and amethyst crystal. During the morning and late afternoon, the sun will make these pieces give off more color for better pictures.
This trail lets you see the many petrified logs glimmer with quartz crystals. This is an easy paved 0.75-mile loop trail.
Study paleontological exhibits in the museum and walk a 0.4-mile loop trail with many massive, colorful petrified logs. If you want to see petrified wood, this is the place to go. There are trails that wander through some of the pieces around the area. You can also go inside the museum and have a look at the exhibits that show the history of the area and human history. Inside you will also find visitor information, maps, and backcountry permits.
A 2.1-mile trail showcasing some of the longest, most colorful petrified logs in the park and a partial reconstruction pueblo originally built of petrified wood. If you have time, this would be worth your time to see this structure. It is an easy hike and good for any skill level, but remember to take water.
The park is very large and there are a ton of things to see and experience. From the Painted Desert on the northside to the petrified wood on the southside and everything in between. If you have time, see it all. Or prioritize what is important for your group to see either way the Petrified Forest National Park should be on your list of places to see in Arizona.
Fun Fact: The petrified wood is the official fossil of Arizona. Now you can win at trivia when that question comes up.