The Petrified Forest National Park is located in Arizona, about 90 minutes east of Flagstaff. It’s an overlooked and underappreciated national park, but it offers a surprising array of sights. With over 52,000 acres its home to beautiful desert vistas, thousands of years of history, and of course, more petrified trees than you’ve ever seen. It’s directly off I-40, making for the perfect roadtrip thru Petrified Forest National Park.
Easily enter one side of the park and exit through the other with just a short detour. We entered westbound at exit 311 thorugh the Painted Desert gate and drove the 28 miles to the south gate. From there, it’s about 18 miles to the I-40 entrance at Holbook. The road is easy to navigate, even for RVs. We traversed the park while towing our 35-foot travel trailer on a Saturday, and still had space and parking along the way.
Points of Interest
The park is neatly divided by 1-40, with the northern half dominated by the Painted Desert. South of the interstate, discover ancient pueblos and petroglyphs, along with the majority of the petrified trees. We entered through the Painted Desert and were starting to wonder how the park got its name, until the trees began to appear around the Blue Mesa. Follow this itinerary for park highlights, listed in order from the northern entrance.
Painted Desert Visitor Center
There are two visitor centers in the park, one at each entrance. The Painted Desert center has RV parking available. Stop in for a map and trail guide, grab lunch, and pick up a souvenir at the giftshop. If you didn’t bring water, now is the time to get some! Temperaratures easily exceed 90 degrees in the summer, and you’ll see heat warnings posted throughout the park.
Painted Desert Viewpoints
Shortly down the road from the visitor center, you’ll reach Tiponi Point, the first of eight viewing areas. This was my first glimpse of a real desert, and it was quite a sight. The Painted Desert, as it names suggests, presents a colorful scene of reds, oranges and browns.
Tawa Point is the second viewing area, not unlike Tiponi. In the my opinion the views are bit a better here. It’s also the starting point for the Painted Desert Rim Trail, a 1-mile oundtrip hike. As you continue down the road, you’ll come to the other six viewpoints, Kachina, Chinde, Pintado, Nizhoni, Whipple and Lacey. Plenty of opportunities for photos!
Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark
Don’t be fooled like I was, this is not an inn and it does not serve food! The Painted Desert Inn is a historic, pueblo style building from the 1920s. It was built from petrified wood, although the walls were redone in the 1930s, hiding any evidence of the wood.
Today, it houses a small museum. There’s also a lookout point behind the inn, Kachina Point. Prior to COVID, cultural demonstations and craft markets were held here, but had not been reinstated during our 2022 visit.
Yes, it’s another viewpoint, but it also a great picnic area. Chinde has shaded picnic tables, water, restrooms and a RV dump station. I asked the park if boondocking (overnight RVing without hookups) was allowed, but at this point it is not.
Chindre is the Navajo word for ‘ghost’, but don’t be alarmed. The spot earned it’s name thanks to the many fossils that were discovered here.
Past the last of the desert viewpoints sits the Route 66 Alignment, marking where the original Route 66 intersected the park. A 1932 Studebaker marks the spot, making it easy to find.
Don’t pass this stop! It’s a short 0.3 mile trail past pueblo ruins from the 13th century. Additionally, find petroglyphs carved into the rocks on the far side. If you’re in a hurry, this is a two-for-one stop, with both the pubelos and petroglpyhs. There are also restrooms here.
For more petroglyphs, stop at Newpaper Rock. It’s covered in over 650! Be sure to bring binoculars and a good camera zoom to fully see the petroglyphs. It has been damaged through the years, so you can no longer walk up to the rock, but must view it at a distance.
The Blue Mesa is accessible via a 3.5 mile loop road, off the main route through the park. This was the tighest spot with our RV, but we made it! The vistas are beautiful and colorful, blue tinted as its name suggests. This is also where you’ll find your first grouping of petrified wood.
The Blue Mesa Trailhead starts here, a 1-mile loop that winds between the hoodoos and hills. It reminded us so much of the Badlands National Park. Very similiar scenery, aside from the petrified trees.
The Agate Bridge is a quick stop to see a petrified tree, one of the longest single log you’ll find. It spans 110 feet across a small chasm below. In the early 1900s, the log was reinforced with concrete to prevent it cracking. It’s a short walk from the parking lot.
Jasper and Crystal Forests
The Jasper Forest is a viewpoint of many petrified logs, while the Crystal Forest is 0.75 mile hiking trail through another grouping of logs. The Crystal Forest trail is also reminescent of the Badlands.
From this point on, many petrified logs are viewable from the road.
Long Logs & Agate House
To be honest, by the time we reached this point, we were hot and running short on time. On a sunny 95 degree day, this 2.6 mile combo trail sounded terrible, but the sights are incredible (so we’re told).
The trail to Long Logs is 1.6 miles roundtrip. It passes through a petrified logjam, with the largest logs in the park. Continuing on to the Agate House Trail, you’ll find a pueblo constructed entirely of petrified wood.
Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center
This last stop before exiting the park has a museum, vistor center and some of the most colorful petrified logs in the park. The complex was begun in the 1920s and carried on by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 30s.
A short trail behind the museum leads past numerous logs, offering a last chance for photos.
There are no hotels or campgrounds within the park, although back country permits can be obtained. The park can be seen in a day, but could easily be extended to 2-3 days with all the trails.
There, are, however, two RV options right outside the Rainbow Forest entrance on 180. The Crystal Forest Gift Shop & Campground has free RV parking with picnic tables. It doesn’t have working hookups, but it’s free!
Directly acess the street is The Petrified Forest Gift Shop with $25 a night RV spots, with power.
Further into Holbrook, you’ll also find a KOA and a few hotels.
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