With only 650,000 annual visitors, Petrified Forest National Park often flies under the radar when planning National Park trips. I hadn’t heard much about Petrified Forest when I decided to stop en route to Flagstaff from Albuquerque, but I was impressed to find a totally uncrowded National Park filled with fun hikes, colorful landscapes, detailed petroglyphs, historic Pueblo sites, and loads of 200 million-year-old crystallized logs. What a surprise!

Luckily this is a National Park that can easily be explored in one day or less. Only have an hour or two to spare? Just drive through the park and stop at some of the viewpoints. However you choose to spend your time in Petrified Forest National Park, you won’t be disappointed.

If you are driving on I-40 or looking for a weekend road trip destination in Arizona, Petrified Forest National Park is well worth a detour.

Important Reminder: As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage (including toilet paper), being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established rules.

Where is Petrified Forest National Park?

Petrified Forest National Park is minutes off of I-40 about 50 miles west of the New Mexico border. The closest major cities are Phoenix (3 hours 40 minutes) and Flagstaff (1 hour 40 minutes). The road through the Park is 28 miles long and travels north to south, connecting I-40 and Highway 180.

Best Time to Visit Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is a year-round destination, although the best time to visit is spring or fall. Spring is full of wildflower blooms, mild temperatures, and sunshine. Fall also offers mild temperatures, less precipitation, and smaller crowds. 

Summer is the most popular time of year to visit, but temperatures can be hot (above 90 degrees) and monsoon season brings frequent thunderstorms. Winter can be cold in Petrified Forest National Park and the park sometimes receives snow, so check the weather before you visit.

Petrified Forest National Park map

What is Petrified Wood?

Petrified Forest National Park gets its name from the fossilized, crystallized logs found scattered throughout the park that are over 225 million years old. Petrified wood was formed when Pangaea broke apart, burying trees in river channels. Over time, the minerals from the water slowly formed quartz crystals.

60 million years ago, tectonic movements caused these buried logs to be unearthed, leaving us with the petrified wood we see today in the park. When you look at these trees, you can still see the “bark” and tree rings, but they’re fully quartz crystals (mindblowing!).

As beautiful and unique as these pieces are, it is extremely important that you do not remove any petrified wood from the park (it is also illegal to do so).

What is petrified wood? Fossilized, crystallized logs over 225 million years old
Crystallized petrified wood

Map of the Best Petrified Forest Hikes

Best Petrified Forest National Park Hikes

Painted Desert Rim Trail

  • Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation Gain: flat
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Start: Tawa Point or Kachina Point
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

The Painted Desert is a desolate, pastel landscape full of rolling hills and rich colors, and the Painted Desert Rim Trail takes you along the edge of the canyon where you can look down into the desert.

If you are short on time or don’t feel like hiking, you can drive and stop at several panoramic vistas including Tiponi Point, Kachina Point, and Chinde Point.

Painted Desert Rim Trail // one of the best things to do in Petrified Forest National Park
Painted Desert Trail

Onyx Bridge Trail

  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 442ft
  • Time: 2-3 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Trailhead Start: Kachina Point
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

If you are looking for a longer Petrified Forest hike with solitude, Onyx Bridge is for you. When I hiked this trail in February, there wasn’t another soul in sight. The views as you head into the canyon are pretty amazing and you can see tons of petrified wood, rocks, and birds on the trail. 

Be sure to download an offline map using your favorite hiking app because this trail is not well marked and it’s easy to get lost. You can also get a paper map from the Visitor Center, but I found my offline map more useful.

Onyx Bridge Trail // Learn about the best Petrified Forest National Park hikes in Arizona
Onyx Bridge Trail

Historic Blue Forest Trail

  • Distance: 2.4 miles
  • Elevation Gain: 223ft
  • Time: 1-2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy/Moderate
  • Trailhead Start: Historic Blue Forest Trailhead
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

The Blue Forest Trail is one of the most epic hikes in the National Park. It was the highlight of my visit, and you’ll have the trail mostly to yourself. With lots of awesome rock formations, tons of petrified wood, and gorgeous painted hills, this is the hidden gem of the Park.

Historic Blue Forest Trail // Learn about the best Petrified Forest National Park hikes finding petroglyphs, Pueblo sites, and 200 million year old crystallized logs.
Blue Forest Trail

Blue Mesa Trail

  • Distance: 1 mile
  • Elevation Gain: 111ft
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Start: Blue Mesa Viewpoint
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

The Blue Mesa Trail is the most popular viewpoint and trail in the park – for good reason. This paved, short trail takes you down among huge layered badland hills of bluish bentonite clay and feels like you’re on another planet. This is another “must do” hike on your trip to Petrified Forest National Park.

Blue Mesa Trail // One of the best things to do in Petrified Forest National Park
Blue Mesa Trail

Crystal Forest Trail

  • Distance: .9 miles
  • Elevation Gain: flat
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Start: Crystal Forest Viewpoint
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

If you want to see the highest concentrated area of petrified wood (including one of the largest pieces in the park), head to the Crystal Forest Trail. This paved trail is an easy stop to stretch your legs, use the bathroom, and see petrified wood up close.

Crystal Forest Trail // Petrified wood is found scattered throughout this Petrified Forest hiking trail
Crystal Forest Trail

Puerco Pueblo

  • Distance: .3 miles
  • Elevation Gain: flat
  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Trailhead Start: Puerco Pueblo parking area
  • Dogs Allowed: Yes, on leash

Puerco Pueblo is the remains of a sandstone Pueblo village that was occupied around the year 1300. According to the Park Service, this area likely housed about 200 people in a total of 100-125 rooms. There are petroglyphs you can also view at the south end of the trail.

Puerco Pueblo // Find petroglyphs, Pueblo sites, and 200 million year old crystallized logs on your day trip to Petrified Forest National Park
Puerco Pueblo

Have you done any Petrified Forest National Park hikes or are you planning a trip there? Let us know in the comments!

Check out the best Petrified Forest National Park hikes for seeing views, petroglyphs, Pueblo sites, ancient petrified wood, and more.

Written by
Kristen Bor

Hey there! My name is Kristen, and this is my outdoor blog. I discovered the power of the outdoors in my 20s, at the time I needed it most. Now 15 years later, prioritizing that critical connection with nature continues to improve my life. My goal at Bearfoot Theory is to empower you with the tools and advice you need to responsibly get outside.

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