Hiking the Blue Mesa trail at Petrified Forest National Park

A Drive through Petrified Forest National Park

The Petrified Forest National Park is a unique park in the American Southwest where you can hike beside fallen logs and tree trunks that were present when the dinosaurs were wandering the earth. While you may be imagining upright trees that were petrified the way they look today, if you set your expectations correctly, you will enjoy the colorful badlands with bands of red, orange, yellow, and blue rock formations.

Petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park

Geologists will love this park! For everyone else, it makes a nice road trip detour while on your way to a more exciting destination. But we wouldn’t necessarily see this one twice. Keep reading for some itinerary ideas that include the Petrified Forest.


Getting to Petrified Forest National Park

Located about halfway between Phoenix and Albuquerque, the Petrified Forest National Park is a bit out of the way. Fortunately, it is on the way to quite a few other major destinations, so it can be a great way to break up your drive and see something a little different.

Route Ideas From Phoenix (Our Chosen Itinerary)

If you are coming to/from Phoenix (see map), a good itinerary could include:

This itinerary features the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. Everything else was added to break up the drive and see a few more cool things. Note, that we did have an unexpected one-off closure at the Navajo Nation Museum, but everything else went very smoothly! While we flew in and out of Phoenix, if you are looking for alternative airports, consider Las Vegas, Albuquerque, Durango, and Flagstaff.

Open Jaw Route from Las Vegas to Albuquerque

There are many Southwest itineraries that may work best with an open jaw flight. If the Petrified Forest is high on your list of sites to visit, an itinerary that starts in Las Vegas and ends in Albuquerque (see map), could be a good choice:

This itinerary is about as short in duration as you can make a Southwest roadtrip and features the Grand Canyon, the Hoover Dam, and the Petrified Forest National Park. While the Grand Canyon is truly amazing, some people may find the rest of this itinerary to a little underwhelming. Do your research before you decide that this is the best itinerary for you.

Other Attraction Ideas

The itinerary ideas above work well for fairly short roadtrips lasting 4-7 days. If you have 2 week or longer, a more comprehensive Southwest itinerary may include (see map):

This itinerary features some of the best National Parks in the area and throws in a few other sites that may be on the way. Major airports that could support this itinerary include Las Vegas, Phoenix, and Albuquerque. There are smaller airports that could work as well: Durango, Grand Junction, Flagstaff, and Santa Fe are just a few.

Cost and Hours

There are a few different options for entrance fees to the Petrified Forest.

For $25, your car can gain entry to the park for 7 days. That said, if you’re visiting a few other national parks in the Southwest (e.g. Grand Canyon, Bryce, Zion, Mesa Verde…) as part of a longer road trip, consider the $80 annual National Parks pass that covers them all.

The Petrified Forest is typically open from 8am to 5pm, but you should check the current hours and keep in mind that Arizona does not follow daylight savings time. The park is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.


The Petrified Forest National Park website lists several itinerary ideas based on the length of time you will be in the park.

Our Experience

Our Itinerary

In the couple of hours that our family was at the park, we chose to:

  • Stop at various Painted Desert lookout points
  • See the 1932 Studebaker parked along old Route 66
  • Drive the Blue Mesa Scenic Road
  • Hike the Blue Mesa Trail (best hike of the day)
  • Stop at Newspaper Rock
  • Walk the Crystal Forest (skip if you have limited time)
  • Skipped the Jasper Forest, but should have stopped
  • See the Rainbow Forest Museum
  • Peek into the Giant Logs area (probably would have been better than the Crystal Forest)

Painted Desert Visitor Center

We were coming from Mesa Verde National Park, the Four Corners Monument, and the Navajo Nation, so we entered the Petrified Forest National Park from the northern entrance on Interstate 40 with plans to drive through the park and exit on Highway 180.

Immediately after entering, our first stop was the Painted Desert Visitor Center where we picked up a map and talked to a ranger about activity ideas for a quick drive through the park.

Lookout PointS

Shortly after the Visitor Center, there are several great lookout points and we were able to get some very colorful photos of the Painted Desert.

Viewing the painted desert at Petrified Forest National Park

We didn’t have time for this, but there is a 1 mile roundtrip trail at Tawa Point. A little further along, Chinde Point has picnic tables.

Route 66 Studebaker

Eventually, we came to the intersection of old Route 66, where we saw a 1932 Studebaker.

A 1932 Studebaker parked along old Route 66 in the Petrified Forest National Park

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock was less impressive than expected. After getting home, we finally figured out that you need to employ a zoom lens to get a decent photo of the writing on the rock. Here is our significantly cropped photo:

Newspaper Rock at the Petrified Forest National Park

Blue Mesa Trail and Scenic Drive

The best stop of the day was the Blue Mesa Trail, which is along the Blue Mesa Scenic Drive.

Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park

The trail is paved and as you descend into the vibrant badlands, you will be impressed with the colors and layering of the geological structures.

Hiking the Blue Mesa trail at Petrified Forest National Park

The trail is a pleasant one mile and if you hike one trail, this is a good choice. There is a little petrified wood along the trail, but not near as much as other trails. Still, the backdrop is very pretty.

Hiking the Blue Mesa Trail at the Petrified Forest National Park

Agate Bridge

I wanted to see one of the longest pieces of petrified wood in the park, so we stopped by the Agate Bridge. Jeremy and the boys were expecting something more impressive and were disappointed (they didn’t see the photo in the brochure), but I still thought it was a fun stop, even if they made fun of the stop for a while.

Agate Bridge at the Petrified Forest National Park

Jasper Forest

After the Newspaper Rock and Agate Bridge fails, I couldn’t talk the rest of the family into stopping at the Jasper Forest, which I think would have been a better stop than either of these. Sigh.

Crystal Forest

Our next stop was the Crystal Forest, which has a 3/4 mile paved path with lots of petrified logs.

Hiking the Crystal Forest at the Petrified Forest National Park

It sounds more impressive than it was, but when visiting the Petrified Forest, you can’t leave without seeing some petrified wood. At least the hike was fairly short. With limited time, we really should have drove back to the Jasper Forest or hiked on the Giant Logs Trail instead.

Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center

Just before leaving, we stopped by the Rainbow Forest Museum to learn a little more about the geology and reflect on the fact that these stone logs were living trees when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s really a quite interesting concept.

Dinosaur in the Rainbow Forest Museum at the Petrified Forest National Park

Giant Logs Trail

At this point we debated between walking the Giant Logs Trail and the Long Logs Trail. In the end, we did neither, but simply walked a few feet onto the Giant Logs Trail, snapped a few photos and decided to call it a day and head out of the park.

Petrified Wood at the Petrified Forest National Park


All-in-all, it was a fun way to break up our drive back to Phoenix, but the teenagers in the car probably would have been bored with more than a few hours in the park. Having come from Mesa Verde National Park and Grand Canyon National Park, this felt much less impressive. That said, if you set your expectations appropriately, you will still have fun!

Keep reading our travel blog and check out some of the other National Parks and hiking trails that we have visited!

More posts from this American Southwest trip:

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