The Petrified Forest National Park, stretching across 150 square miles of gorgeous high desert landscape near Holbrook, AZ, is a unique and fascinating destination for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike.
It is divided into two main parts, each with distinctive geology and activities for visitors: the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. The Painted Desert is a colorful badland area, known for its stunning red and purple rock formations, while the Petrified Forest is home to the largest and most colorful concentration of petrified wood in the world. In this post, we’re focusing primarily on the Petrified Forest and its attractions and amenities, and helping you plan a fulfilling and instantly memorable trip.
Hours and Location
The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm every day, including all federal holidays except Christmas and Thanksgiving.
It’s located 2 miles off of Exit 311 on Interstate 40, close to the town of Holbrook and the larger Navajo Nation.
Entrance fees are standard to most National Parks. $25 will get most single-vehicle groups into the park for a full 7 days, and with the nearby accommodations to fill your evenings and rest up, you can explore the park for multiple days with just one fee.
An America the Beautiful pass would work here too, Senior America the Beautiful lifetime passes are $80. Grab one today to prep for your trip to this park, and hundreds of others across the country.
Park History and Natural Wonders
The area was once a large forest of huge trees and plenty of water, both of which are perfect conditions for the creation and preserving of petrified wood.
When trees in the forest fell into the rivers or were washed into the nearby floodplains, they were buried by sediment and covered by volcanic ash. This protected the wood from erosion and decay and allowed for the slow process of petrification to begin.
Over millions of years, minerals such as silica, calcite, and pyrite replaced the original wood, preserving the tree’s structure and creating the colorful petrified logs that can be seen today!
The park’s natural wonder is now protected by the Wilderness Protection Act, which takes an extra step in recognizing the special nature of the area by declaring it official wilderness, defined by the act as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”. The Petrified Forest was one of the first two pieces of National Park System land that were officially declared wilderness in 1970.
Photo: Caleb Jack
Once you arrive at the park, you have countless options to explore, learn from, and enjoy.
There are many scenic trails to choose from, ranging in length and difficulty so you can decide for yourself how relaxing or challenging you to want your stroll to be. Some of the most popular trails include:
All trails are well-marked, have brochures available at the trailhead and some have informative signboards along the way. It is important to bring enough water and to wear appropriate footwear, as some trails can be rocky and uneven.
Hiking Off The Beaten Path
You can also drive deeper into the park and hike in more isolated spots, from the stunning views and stark topography of the 5-mile Billings Gap to the fossil-rich and challenging 8.5 miles that make up the Red Basin Clam Beds.
The Devil’s Playground is a special permit-only trail where giant otherworldly formations seem to sprout from the ground. The permits are free but can only be obtained through the Petrified Forest Visitor Center (first-come, first-serve, check on the status at 928 524-6228 x236)
While You’re Here
Take an enlightening cultural demonstration and learn about the area’s rich and diverse history!
Then walk through the Painted Desert Inn for a glimpse of century-old hospitality. Once a hotel crafted from the very petrified wood of the forest it stands in, and now exists as a museum for the area’s history and artists.
Or, hitch up your trusty horse and go horseback riding or camping! You need a permit for these activities, but the permits are free alongside the standard entry.
Pets are allowed! In fact, get your dog his Bark Ranger certification while you’re here!
As with any wild area, be kind and observe Pack In, Pack Out mentality.
Finally, a word about loose petrified wood. There are pieces of all sizes in the forest, from huge logs to handheld jasper, but please note all of them belong in the forest, not in your pocket! It is absolutely not okay to take any piece of wood with you from any forest land (though the countless legends of unshakeable bad luck that have followed those who have chosen to take pieces from the land will have to be tracked in another blog…).
If you want a souvenir of your trip, there are plenty of shops and private vendors in the area and surrounding Holbrook that can help you find the perfect piece, while you support their local business!