PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK
PETRIFIED FOREST NATIONAL PARK
P.O. Box 2217
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona 86028
Petrified Forest is a surprising land of scenic wonders and fascinating science. The park is located in northeast Arizona and features one of the world's largest and most colorful concentrations of petrified wood. Also included in the park's 93,533 acres are the multi-hued badlands of the Chinle Formation known as the Painted Desert, historic structures, archeological sites and displays of 225 million-year-old fossils.
Petrified Forest National Park contains the petrified remains of 225 million-year-old trees from the Late Triassic Period. Surrounding the petrified wood are millions of years of deposition, uplift, and erosion, creating the Chinle Formation. This rock formation creates the red hues of the Painted Desert and the blue tones of the Blue Mesa region. Petrified Forest is situated near the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau with elevations ranging from 5300 feet to 6235 feet. It was the uplift of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 60 million years ago, and the erosion that followed and continues today, which carved the present landscape.
The colorful mudstones and clays of the Painted Desert badlands are composed of bentonite, a product of altered volcanic ash. The clay minerals in the bentonite can absorb water to as much as seven times their dry volume. The expansion and contraction properties of the bentonite cause rapid erosion by preventing much vegetation from growing on the slopes of the hills.
Other prominent features created by erosion are mesas and buttes. Both have flat tops of more erosion-resistant sandstone over softer clays. Mesas are quite broad but not very tall, while buttes are taller and more narrow. In the above picture you see the edge of a mesa on the right and a butte that has formed on the left. The Bidahochi Formation is more erosion resistant than the Chinle Formation. Eventually the harder rock will erode away, leaving the softer claystone underneath exposed to the elements. This will then become another rolling bentonite hill within the badland landscape.
Wilderness area backpacking only
Details: No campgrounds or lodging are available in the park, but nearby communities offer full service accommodations. Overnight backpacking is available in the Petrified Forest Wilderness. A free permit is required and can be obtained at the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum. Permits must be procured at least 1 hour before closing.
Bicycles are only allowed on paved park roads. They are not allowed on or off trails.
The Blue Mesa Loop Road offers cyclists a chance to get out of their vehicles and stretch their legs as they drive through the park. Park at the pullout adjacent to the Blue Mesa Loop Road turn off. The ride in and back out is approximately 3.5 miles and offers panoramic views from the edge of Blue Mesa with glimpses of petrified wood eroding from the landscape.
Much of the backcountry at Petrified Forest National Park is within designated Wilderness, one of the first two designated Wilderness Areas within the National Park System. Wilderness was designated within Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve at the same time as Petrified Forest National Park.
What is Wilderness? The concept is different for everyone. Artists may see shapes and color; backpackers anticipate an adventure; legislators define it in legal terms. In general, wilderness is a place where the human imprint is minimal.
In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, restricting grazing, mining, timber cutting and mechanized vehicles in these areas. Wilderness Areas are protected and valued for their ecological, historical, scientific and experiential resources. The Petrified Forest Wilderness Area consists of over 50,000 acres of mesas, buttes, badlands, and scattered areas of grasslands.
Access to the Painted Desert Wilderness is near Kachina Point, in the northern section of the park. The Wilderness Access trailhead is on the northwest side of Painted Desert Inn. This one-mile trail leads into the Wilderness Area as it crosses Lithodendron Wash.*Painted Desert Inn is currently closed for a rehabilitation project. The nearest services are at the Painted Desert Visitor Center complex.
For those who wish to stay overnight in the Wilderness Area, a free permit must be obtained at least one hour before the park closes. Permits are issued from either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum. Hikers must park their cars in the Painted Desert Inn parking area and use the access trail on the northwest side of the building. Backpackers must hike to a designated zone north of Lithodendron Wash before setting up camp. No campsites are maintained in the Wilderness Area.
Group camping is limited to 8. Because of the slow rate of decomposition and the fragile desert environment, minimum impact camping is very important. This includes limiting the number of people within an area.
Horses are allowed in the Wilderness Areas. No permits are required for day trips. Go to the Horseback Riding page for more information.
The best way to enjoy and experience Petrified Forest National Park is on foot. Maintained trails range in length from less than a half-mile to almost three miles.
Stay on designated trails in developed hiking areas. Off-trail hiking damages the fragile grassland environment and disturbs wildlife habitat, creating unsightly "social" trails. Leaving the designated trail can also be hazardous for hikers due to loose rock and dangerous cliffs.
Pets must be kept on leash and are allowed on maintained trails. Pets are not permitted in the park buildings or in Wilderness Areas.
If you are interested in hiking in the Wilderness Area, where there are no trails, as a day hike or on an overnight backpacking trip, go to the Backcountry page for more information.
Triassic Park: 10:00 am, 1:00 pm (August 10-13 ONLY)
How did these living trees turn to stone? Meet in the Rainbow Forest Museum sunroom. Find out on this easy 20-minute Ranger talk or guided walk (weather depending) along the Giant Logs Trail. Some stairs along the trail.
Puerco Pueblo: 10:00 am (August 10-13 ONLY), 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm (August 10-13 ONLY)
Discover an early Puebloan Indian culture that lived along the Puerco River until about 700 years ago. Meet at the Puerco Pueblo parking lot trailhead for a 20- minute Ranger-guided walk. Path is paved, though steep in some places.
Crystal Forest: 10:00 am.
Learn about the geologic stories of this ever-changing Triassic landscape. Meet at the Crystal Forest parking lot sunshelter for a 20-minute Ranger talk or guided walk. Easy paved trail.
Newspaper Rock: 2:00 pm.
See petroglyphs carved into sandstone hundreds of years ago. Meet at the Newspaper Rock overlook for a 20-minute Ranger program. Short walk from parking lot.
Rainbow Forest: 3:00 pm.
Discover the landscape of long ago in the age of the Triassic. Meet in the Rainbow Forest Museum sunroom for a 20-minute Ranger talk or guided walk (weather dependent) along the Giant Logs Trail. Some stairs along the trail.
Canyon De Chelly National Monument, 97 miles.
Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site 59 miles.
Walnut Canyon National Monument, 110 miles.
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, 132 miles.
Wupatki National Monument, 151 miles
Car - Petrified Forest stretches between Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 180. Visitors traveling west on Interstate 40 should exit at milepost 311, drive through the park and connect with U.S. Highway 180 at the south end. Take U.S. Highway 180 to Holbrook to continue west on Interstate 40. Eastbound visitors exit Interstate 40 at Holbrook and take U.S. Highway 180 to the park's south entrance. Drive north through the park to return to Interstate 40.