Road Trip: Petrified Forest National Park

Welcome to a place where the only trees in sight are petrified! We first visited Petrified Forest National Park in 2008. At the time we were in a hurry to reach another destination and unfortunately did not make the most of our visit. This time we made the most of our visit by walking most of the trails, learning more, and hopefully making better photographs. We hope you enjoy touring the park with us.

Where is it?

Petrified Forest National Park is located between I-40 and Highway 180, near Holbrook, Arizona. Access the park’s website here.

The Painted Desert Inn, which is a National Historic Landmark, can be found on the portion of Historic Route 66 that traverses the park. The former inn now serves as a museum.

What you should know before you go:

  • Admission fees apply.
  • The 28-mile-long park road is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, as are the Rainbow Forest and Painted Desert Visitor Centers.
  • The Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm.
  • A park film can be viewed in either of the two visitor centers.

  • There are parking areas, trails, and/or overlooks at all the main attractions in the park.
  • Pets are allowed in the park as long as they are leashed. Horses are allowed in designated wilderness areas.
  • A diner and convenience store with gasoline are located next to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. There are also several picnic areas with restrooms throughout the park.

  • There are no campgrounds in the park. However, backcountry camping is allowed in designated wilderness areas of park, and a permit is required.
  • Park sponsored demonstrations, guided activities, and workshops take place throughout the year.
It’s hard to believe this was once a rainforest and riparian ecosystem.

Rainbow Forest Museum

Our first stop was at the Rainbow Forest Museum and visitor center where we learned about the prehistoric history of the park. Once part of the super continent called Pangea about 220 million years ago, what is now Petrified Forest National Park was about 10 degrees north of the equator. As a rainforest surrounded by rivers and swamplands, its inhabitants included intriguing pre-dinosaur age animals that roamed or swam in the area.

Placerias hesternus lived before and then with the dinosaurs.

Displays in the museum featured several interesting animals including the placerias hesternus. According to museum information: Placerias hesternus (plu-SAYR-ee-us hess- TERN-us) was a dicynodont therapsid. Therapsids were large “reptiles” that possessed many mammalian characteristics including a “cheek” bone, enlarged canine teeth, and a specialized attachment of the skull to the spine. This massive plant-eater was up to 9 feet (2.7 m) long and might have weighed as much as two tons. 

Artist’s rendition of what the animal might have looked like.

Interestingly, a large number of placerias hesternus fossils were found in a quarry in St. Johns, Arizona, a town southeast of the park.

Giant Logs Trail

Giant Logs Trail located behind the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center lives up to its name. Below are a few photos of the colorful petrified tree trunks along the trail.

Crystal Forest

Believe it or not, the logs in Crystal Forest had become crystalline quartz before T. rex arrived 135 million years later!

Crystal Forest

According to the park, this area was once on the edge of a river channel. Flooding over time caused the trees to become buried under silt which preserved them. Gradually the volcanic silica in the groundwater replaced the molecules in the wood and created a replica of the tree or log in quartz.

Littered with logs.
Spectacular colors.

Blue Mesa

The Blue Mesa area of the park was probably the most intriguing to us because of the incredible geology. We didn’t caption the photos below because words really can’t describe the beauty of the place. According to the park: The colorful bands of the Chinle Formation represent ancient soil horizons. While the red, blue, and green layers generally contain the same amount of iron and manganese, differences in color depend on the position of the groundwater table when the ancient soils were formed. In soils where the water table was high, a reducing environment existed due to a lack of oxygen in the sediments, giving the iron minerals in the soil a greenish or bluish hue, such as at Blue Mesa. The pink and reddish layers were formed where the water table fluctuated, allowing the iron mineral to oxidize (rust).

That’s a little bit of snow in the left foreground.

The Tepees

Blue Mesa isn’t the only area of the park with breathtaking terrain. Introducing the Tepees.

The Tepees

According to the park: The Tepees are located in the middle of the park, but expose one of the lowest, thus oldest, rock members within the park and the Painted Desert. 

View across the road from The Tepees. Oh, those colors, and we accidentally captured the moon!

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock is not just one rock. Throughout the area are many rocks with petroglyphs and other writings. Visitors view the rocks through telescopes/binoculars at the viewpoint – or in our case by zooming in with the camera. Most of the rock below is covered with petroglyphs that are thought to date back 600 – 2,000 years.


Puerco Pueblo

Petrified Forest National Park protects the ruins of a village that was once a 100-room pueblo and home to about 200 people. Puerco Pueblo’s residents were farmers who grew beans, corn, and squash while utilizing the nearby Puerco River for irrigation. Scientists believe the site was abandoned by 1380 due to climate change and severe drought conditions.

Some of the pueblo ruins.
One of several kivas (underground ceremonial rooms) located on the site.

Painted Desert

Named by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the Painted Desert actually stretches about 150 miles from the eastern side of the Grand Canyon southeast to Petrified Forest National Park. Visitors traveling the portion of Historic Route 66 through Petrified Forest can see even more of the park’s breathtaking landscapes from several viewpoints along the way. Gorgeous desert vistas can also be seen from the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

Stunning vista.
Pretty in pink.

While we have barely scratched the surface of Petrified Forest National Park, we hope we have inspired some wanderlust. This is one of those parks that cannot be justified by photographs and words; it needs to be seen in person to be appreciated for its beauty and historic importance. We thank you so much for joining us on our road trip! Need more national park inspiration? Try these other great parks:

Happy, safe travels, y’all!

Mike and Kellye

As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.


61 thoughts on “Road Trip: Petrified Forest National Park

  1. It’s fascinating to see petrified trees in this part of the country, as the trees we have here are very much alive and well, haha! To also learn about the Earth’s history millions of years ago and the species back then really goes to show just how far the planet’s come!

  2. Thank you for the tour. It does look absolutely amazing. I hope to see it with my own eyes someday! Your photos are awesome and do make me want to visit.

  3. We thought about visiting the Petrified Forest when we were in the area. The logs would be really interesting to see and I love the colours in the landscape, especially the teepees. Maggie

  4. Thank you so much for this post! Not only was it informative, fascinating and full of great images of the sort of wild desert landscapes I love, it also filled in a few missing details about the old slides I have from our (also too brief) visit. For instance I’m sure I have one of the Painted Desert Inn but didn’t recall its name!

  5. Kellye, I can’t even tell how many times, while reading this post, I pestered Michaela, read her a sentence or two, showed her yet another photograph, etc etc. What an amazing place, we would be absolutely thrilled to visit this Park and see what you’ve seen here. Wonderful – pretty unique- scenery and histories which are beyond fascinating. Great post.

  6. Some of your photos, especially the first one, remind me of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It’s so interesting how two places so far apart can look so similar. This looks like a very cool place to visit!

  7. How fascinating to see an area like this. It shows just how old the world is. I agree with runningtotravel’s comments. I was reminded of South Dakota’s Badlands as well. Happy Thursday Kellye. Allan

  8. A friend of mine visited the Petrified Forest and brought me a piece of petrified wood. It’s fascinating to realize that wood can be transformed into quartz. Great post! Thanks for sharing!

  9. This is such an interesting place! It’s amazing to think that all those animals on display in the museum once lived in this area. The petrified tree trunks are incredible – it almost look like (colourful) rocks. And to see petroglyphs are always a highlight for me. A lovely tour, thanks for great photos!

  10. It’s so wild to think that this beautiful desert was once a lush prehistoric rainforest! I just love those layers of geological wonder through the park and to think of all the history that occurred in each layer. Great post about your day in the park 🙂

  11. We were to this park many years ago. It was so colorful and interesting! While on the logs trail, we happened upon a lizard, who suddenly ‘dropped’ his tail and ran away! It was the first time ever experiencing such a thing for us.

  12. You certainly have inspired some wanderlust with this marvellous post. What an incredible and curious place! I loved the museum exhibition portraying the zoological history of the area. The Blue Mesa colours are unbelievable and remind me of the Rainbow mountains in China which I sadly did not get to visit.

    1. Hi Leighton! So glad to hear from you, my friend. I hope everything is going well for you and Sladja. Thanks so much for checking out the post and for your lovely comment. This is definitely an interesting park.

Leave a Reply