Petrified Forest National Park is a remarkable place where visitors make new discoveries at every turn. World-famous for its plentiful and beautiful petrified wood, the park is in northeast Arizona in the spectacular Painted Desert. The park is split by Interstate 40 which makes it very easy to access. Interstate travelers can have an amazing visit in an hour while those who have more time will find many interesting experiences.
- Directions to Petrified Forest National Park
- Visitor Information
- Introduction to Petrified Forest National Park
- What to See and Do in Petrified Forest National Park
- Human History in Petrified Forest National Park
- Other Petrified Forests
- Frequently Asked Questions
Directions to Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park sits east of Holbrook, AZ. Two major highways meet in Holbrook and each cuts a path through the park. Interstate 40 crosses the north end of the park and the visitor center is at Exit 311. The park is the only thing here so just follow the signs.
The southern entrance to the park is on US 180 about 18 miles southeast of Holbrook. The park entrance is right on the highway and is very well signed.
Petrified Forest is in northeastern Arizona about 200 miles from Grand Canyon National Park. It sits about 200 miles west of Albuquerque, NM, and about 225 miles northeast of Phoenix, AZ.
There are entrances at both the north and south end of the park. A single road connects the two entrances. This road runs 28 miles crossing the heart of the park. It takes you past spectacular vistas, ancient ruins, and incredible amounts of petrified wood.
The park is open from 8 am to 5 pm every day of the year except Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s possible that they will be open extended hours in the busy season but they only advertise 8 – 5. There is an entrance fee of $25.00 for a private vehicle. This fee is good for 7 days. Here is complete fee information
Drinking water, gasoline, food service, and restrooms are available at both entrances. There is no camping allowed in the park except for backcountry wilderness camping.
Introduction to Petrified Forest National Park
When you visit Petrified Forest today, it’s hard to imagine the desert landscape as a wet, swampy, and lush environment. However, 225 million years ago that’s exactly what was here. Tropical forests that were home to dinosaurs, fish, clams, reptiles, and many other life forms. Over time these forests were buried by layers of mud, sand, and sediment. Continents shifted, sediments were compressed into rock, dinosaur skeletons were preserved, trees became petrified, wind and water eroded the landscape, and the environment we have today was created.
Petrified Forest National Park shows visitors how to explore the geology, archeology, paleontology, and ecology of the area. Exhibits and information signs teach about all aspects of the park. Even a short visit will expose you to many wonders.
Petrified Forest National Park is the best place in the world to see petrified wood. It’s also one of the best places to explore the fossils of the Triassic Period. These attractions alone are enough to make a park. However, the beauty of the Painted Desert and the fascinating human history add to this special place.
What to See and Do in Petrified Forest National Park
A visit to the park will bring you to hauntingly beautiful vistas, ancient Indian ruins, fields of petrified logs, and a closer view of a unique desert environment. Depending on the amount of time you have you can visit the attractions close to either entrance or drive the park road to experience all there is.
There is a visitor center/museum at both the north and south entrances. In addition to screening a park film, they have exhibits, a gift shop, restrooms, and drinking water. There are great places to visit that are close to each entrance.
North End of the Park
The Painted Desert Visitor Center offers information, a film, exhibits, a book store, a gift shop, a restaurant, and a gas station. Stop here for maps, hiking information, and backcountry camping permits. From here it’s about 1 3/4 mile to the historic Painted Desert Inn. Petrified wood was used for its initial construction and it was called “Stone Tree House”. With a fascinating history behind it, today it’s used as a museum and education center.
Painted Desert Overlooks
The visitor center and the Painted Desert Inn sit right on the edge of the Painted Desert and the park road travels through a spectacular multi-hued landscape. Beginning at the visitor center there are a number of scenic overlooks that provide world-class views into the Painted Desert Wilderness Area.
Historic Route 66
5 1/4 miles from the visitor center, within sight of I 40, the road crosses the historic Route 66 roadway that once cut through the park. The crossing is marked by the remains of a 1932 Studebaker.
Ancient Indian Ruins
Crossing I 40 you travel into the interior of the park. About 10 1/2 miles from the entrance you can visit a couple of ancient Puebloan (Anasazi) ruins. The Puerco Pueblo Ruin once held at least 100 rooms and was home to as many as 200 people. Just a bit further down the road, the famed “Newspaper Rock” is covered with extensive petroglyphs carved many hundreds of years ago.
South End of the Park
Visitor Center and Museum
The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center provide information about the park, screenings of a park film, displays and exhibits, a gift shop, a limited assortment of snack foods, restrooms, and drinking water. This is the place to see dinosaurs in paleontological exhibits that include skeleton displays.
Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House
Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. The loop trail which is less than 1/2 mile total starts from the ranger station.
Long Logs is where a number of trees were buried in a log jam. As the name suggests some of these are very long. The trailhead is just 1/4 mile from the visitor center with plenty of signed parking. The hike is a 1.6-mile loop trail.
Agate House is a seven-room pueblo constructed from petrified wood. The trail begins at the Long Logs trailhead and is 2 miles round trip. Combine it with Long Logs for a 2.6-mile total trip.
Human History in Petrified Forest National Park
Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloan) History
The Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) were the first residents on the lands in and around Petrified Forest National Park. They first visited the area thousands of years ago as temporary residents living in camps. As the years passed and agriculture became part of their lives, they began to make more permanent structures. These were mostly pit houses – rock-lined pits that were covered with a roof of logs, branches, and sticks.
After about the year 900 they began constructing villages that grew in size and number. Puerco Pueblo Ruin is a great example of a large village. This 100 room ruin was occupied between about 1250 and 1380 and was abandoned at a time when the Puebloans were leaving the entire area. You can visit the ruin which is on the Mainline Road toward the north end of the park.
Although none of these early natives are gone from the park, they’ve left behind over 1,000 documented archeological sites. If you have time check out Newspaper Rock which is just 1/2 mile south of Puerco Pueblo Ruin.
Early Settlers & Explorers
After the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) abandoned the area in the late 1300s there is little record of visitors for several hundred years. It’s almost certain that Spanish explorers visited the area in the 1500s – 1700s but there is no formal record. It is said that it was a Spanish explorer who named the region El Desierto Pintado – The Painted Desert.
In 1853 the US government set a party to survey the 35th parallel across the western USA and Army Lt. Amiel Whipple was the first to document the petrified wood in the area. Beginning in 1857 the government constructed a wagon road following the 35th parallel. This road, parts of which can still be seen, opened the area for more use. A homestead boom in the late 1880s saw much of the land claimed and settled. However, the grasslands that were here were quickly overgrazed resulting in many abandoned homesteads.
By the late 1880s, there was growing recognition that this special place deserved protection. In 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt signed legislation that created Petrified Forest National Monument which became a national park in 1962.
Historic Route 66
In the 1920s things were very different than today and cross-country motor traffic was mostly a dream. However, the government got behind the effort to create Route 66 which was one of the first roads in the US Highway System. Running from Chicago to Los Angles, a trip on Route 66 was an exploration of America.
The road traveled through rarely visited lands including the Painted Desert which became a popular attraction because of its remote location and spectacular setting. Several businesses sprang up to serve travelers including the now-abandoned Painted Desert Trading Post.
In 1958 the main road was moved to the newly constructed Interstate 40 and Route 66 was abandoned. Today Petrified Forest is the only national park that preserves a section of the road.
Other Petrified Forests
There are many other petrified forests in the western USA. Here are a few of the most popular destinations:
- Yellowstone National Park, WY
- Gallatin Petrified Forest, MT
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park, ND
- Zion National Park, UT
- Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, WA
Frequently Asked Questions
No, it is illegal to take even the smallest piece of petrified wood from the park. There are rock shops in the area where you can purchase wood collected from private land.
There is no camping in the park except for wilderness backpacking. There are a number of camping options in the area
The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is about 200 miles from Petrified Forest. Allow at least 3 hours to make the drive.