Prepare for Petrified Forest National Park
Here is everything you need to know to Get Started on your trip to Petrified Forest National Park. Feel free to scroll down to the bottom for the video version.
The Park is located on I-40 between Flagstaff Arizona and Albuquerque, New Mexico. We drove through the park with our 35 ft RV towing a Ford F-150 and were told there were only two places we were unable to visit Pintado Point and Agate Bridge due to the small parking areas. So, when you enter the gates with a big rig ask for restrictions. The best way to travel the park is to follow the signs on the interstate and get off the highway when recommended. Then work your way to the park and travel through the park in one direction and get back on I-40 at the next on ramp. We worked this choice Eastbound and got off at Holbrook exit 285 or 286, traveled 180 to the park, traveled through the park and got back on I-40 at the other end. If you are traveling West the exit for the park is 311 and you will get back on at Holbrook.
If you are using the driving through method plan on 2-4-6 hours of time depending on the hikes you take and how much time you spend exploring. You will notice as you drive to the park the different layers of stone that create the badlands. Be prepared for a bumpy road. The main route through the park is paved but isn’t in the best condition. We bounced around pretty good. The purpose of the park is to protect the petrified wood, the badlands, petroglyphs, and early settlements inside the park. For this reason the park is only open daily from 8am-6pm. This is not a park you spend the night in so the most you should plan on doing is going on one or two hikes taking a day hiking pack and a cooler make sure you have enough food to get through the day.
Here are some facts about Petrified Forest that you should know:
The park is about 350 mi.²
this is the only national park that has route 66 go through it
Petrified Forest was created as a national monument in 1906 and as a national park in 1962
The park received roughly 650,000 visitors annually or about the population of Vermont.
There are over 600 archaeological sites including petroglyphs within the park
Fossils of plants, dinosaurs, and early sea life are also found throughout the park in addition to the petrified wood.
There are a few buildings in the park that could be worth your time.
There is a visitor center at the north entrance The south end of the park has a museum and store The painted Desert Inn located on the north end is a museum now We would recommend you spend time hiking the Crystal Forest Trail and the Blue Mesa Trail. The Crystal Forest Trail is less than a mile loop that is paved for easy accessibility and dog friendly. This is the best hike for getting many views of petrified wood. Depending on how much you want to hike and read signs and take pictures you could spend 10 minutes to an hour in the Crystal Forest
The Blue Mesa trail is a one mile paved loop that allows access into the Badlands and provides breathtaking views of the various elevations of the eroded geology. This hike is about 30 minutes. Plan more time for pictures. For those that don’t want to hike, the viewpoints at the trailhead are a must.
Another stop we would recommend is the Puerco Pueblo village. There you will find a ⅓ mile paved hiking loop that allows access to the site. Within the site you will see ruins from 650 years ago as well as many petroglyphs. Spiritually significant Kivas are also present at the site. John Muir actively excavated the site in 1905 and 1906. If you need to take a rest there are many benches. Restrooms and garbage cans are located at the parking lot.
The North end of the park has many viewpoints. Route 66 is marked by a rusted car and is a picture spot for many. Lacy, Whipple, Nizhoni, and Pintado point are also great places to get out and enjoy beautiful painted views of the stone landscape.
In summary, Petrified Forest National Park is a great park for a day trip. We enjoyed our brief visit and left wanting more. If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon or going to Utah from the South this park is a great roadtrip stop along the way. There is so much more here than just petrified wood. The badlands are a small version of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. The pueblo village was a step back in time. Finally, Route 66 provides a novelty that just adds to the significance of Petrified Forest National Park.