Petrified Forest National Park is divided into two sections: north of Interstate 40 and south of Interstate 40. Both sections are worth spending time in, though the bulk of your time should be spent in the southern half where all the petrified wood is found. Be sure to check out our post on Kid Friendly Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park for full details on all the hikes.
The Painted Desert
The north section of the park has its own Visitor Center. This area is called the Painted Desert. There are many overlooks for the desert, which reminded us of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The pullouts don’t require much walking, but they do provide panoramic looks at the deep purples, gentle pinks, muted greens, and rusty reds of the desert. There is even a short trail called the Painted Desert Rim Trail that walks along the edge of the desert.
The north section of the park also crosses historic Route 66. Right before you cross the interstate, make sure to stop at the pullout. There is a 1934 Studebaker that has seen better days. The road bed is still visible, too, though the interstate has long since replaced it. Expect to spend a few hours in the northern half of the park.
The southern half of the park requires much more time. There are many simple hikes and a lot more to see. Petrified wood becomes plentiful around Blue Mesa and is strewn liberally about the park from there to the south gate. Every hike has mounds of the stuff piled along the trail, from tiny shards to massive hunks longer than semi-trucks.
Our must do stop in Petrified Forest National Park is Jasper Forest. This site is special because there is an overlook for a massive valley of petrified wood. Best of all, you can follow a short trail down into the valley. Once in the valley, you are surrounded by millions of shards of petrified wood, each prettier than the last. We walked into the valley only about a quarter mile and found chunks of the wood in red, purple, blue, green, bright yellow, and even black and white. Remember, you cannot take even one piece of petrified wood from a national park. If you must have some, please buy it at one of the shops in Holbrook. Never remove an artifact from the park.
There are many other wonderful stops in the southern section of Petrified Forest National Park. Giant Logs behind the Visitor Center is a short easy trail with huge pieces of petrified wood, and Blue Mesa is a great mix of the Painted Desert and petrified wood. We have written about all the hikes we went on on our Petrified Forest Kid Hikes post. There is also a stop at Puerco Pueblo for some ancient ruins and petroglyphs.
Petrified Forest National Park is another gem in the crown of the National Park System. It is worth going out of your way to visit. There are many easy hikes, much to see, and history to learn. We loved this national park!
Tips for Families
- We spent about 1/4 of our day exploring the North section of the park, including eating lunch.
- Plan on 3/4 of a day to explore the southern part of the park. We explored and hiked from lunch until 5:00 when the Visitor Center closed. We came back the next day and spent the morning doing two more trails because we didn’t arrive at Petrified Forest until about 10:30 am.
- You could easily do most things in Petrified Forest in one day.