Petrified Forest National Park Arizona in One Day

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Petrified Forest National Park is one of three national parks in Arizona (Grand Canyon and Saguaro are the other two) and it should be on your bucket list.

When I saw photographs of petrified wood at the park, I thought the photos were heavily edited to make them look more beautiful.

But when I finally got to visit the Petrified Forest in Arizona, I saw the petrified wood comes in brilliant colors.

You should get an early start though, get up early and have breakfast in Flagstaff then head out to the forest for an amazing experience.

This is a guide to visiting Petrified Forest National Park in one day.

Petrified Forest National Park Arizona

Petrified Forest National Park Map

When you arrive at the Petrified Forest make sure you get a copy of the Trip Planner from the visitor center or the entrance station. There is a map of the Petrified Forest driving route, along with photos and a numbered list to guide you through the park.

The park map lists 12 stops and the entire drive is 28 miles (45 km) along the main road.

Get a Petrified Forest map from National Parks Service in advance – you can click on the print icon in the top left corner of the map to print a copy.

Colorful rock formations at Painted Desert United States

Rock formations show off the palette of colors at Painted Desert

Petrified Forest Visitor Centers

There are two visitor centers at Petrified Forest National Park.

The north entrance is where the Painted Desert Visitor Center is located. This side of the park features panoramic views from the Painted Desert Overlooks, the historic Painted Desert Inn (museum), the old Studebaker car near the famous Route 66.

Near the south entrance you will find the Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center. And this side of the park features the Giant Logs Trail, Agate House, and Long Logs.

There are several developed hiking trails in the park and some “off the beaten path hikes” that are no longer maintained and may require some map reading skills to find them.

Inquire at either of the visitor centers to obtain maps and more info about these off the beaten path trails at Petrified Forest.

Painted Desert Inn Route 66

Painted Desert Inn on the old Route 66 is unique stop at Petrified Forest

 

Route 66 Petrified Forest 1932 Studebaker

1932 Studebaker sits along the old Route 66 highway

Where is the Petrified Forest?

Petrified Forest National Park is in northern Arizona, about 100 miles east of Flagstaff, and 50 west of the New Mexico border.

Driving from Flagstaff to the Petrified Forest will take about 1 hour 45 minutes to either the north or south entrance. Petrified Forest is an excellent day trip from Flagstaff – get more info on other great day trips from Flagstaff here.

Painted Desert Road Trip including the Teepees rock formations

A road trip through the Painted Desert of Arizona

Flagstaff to South Entrance

The south entrance is near Holbrook Arizona. On Google Maps you can select “entrance station Holbrook AZ” for the destination.

  • From Flagstaff take Hwy I-40 east and continue for 86 miles (138 km)
  • Take exit 285 US Hwy 180 east towards AZ-77 South and Petrified Forest
  • Turn right on US Hwy 180 east/W Hopi Drive
  • Turn right on Navajo Blvd and continue onto Apache Ave
  • Turn left onto US Hwy 180 east and continue for 17.5 miles (28 km)
  • Turn left onto Petrified Forest Road to the entrance station

Flagstaff to North Entrance

  • From Flagstaff take Hwy I-40 east and continue for 113 miles (182 km)
  • Take exit 311 to Petrified Forest National Park
  • Turn left onto Park Road and continue to the entrance station
Painted Desert Arizona

Panoramic views at Painted Desert of Northern Arizona

 

Petrified Forest Blue Mesa Badlands

The Badlands of Blue Mesa at the Petrified Forest National Park

Fees and Hours

  • Open every day except December 25 Christmas Day
  • 8 am – 5 pm (visitor centers and park road)
  • 9 am – 4 pm Painted Desert Inn (museum)

Arizona is on Mountain Standard Time year round.

  • $25 automobile (valid for 7 days)
  • $20 motorcycle (flat fee – more than one person okay)
  • $15 bike (per person)
Puerco Pueblo Trail petroglyphs

Puerco Pueblo Trail petroglyphs and a solstice marker

Is it worth it? YES! A visit to Petrified Forest National Park is money and time well spent. Enjoy nature, fascinating historical sites, geological wonders, hiking, and scenic views of the beautiful Arizona landscape.

Although petrified wood exists in many places, the largest concentration of petrified wood in the world is at Petrified Forest National Park.

Giant logs Petrified Forest

Walk the Trail of Giant Logs at Petrified Forest National Park

What is Petrified Wood?

Basically, it is wood that has turned to stone. The word “petrified” is derived from the Latin root petro which means stone.

How is Petrified Wood Made?

A tree dies and eventually loses its branches and bark, falls into the water, and gets covered by sediment over time. Minerals from the ground bring silica which gets absorbed by the wood, eventually replacing all the wood and turning it to stone.

Petrified tree trunk at Petrified Forest National Park

Bright colors of purple, gold, and terracotta make the petrified wood even more amazing

Can I Buy Petrified Wood at the Park?

No, the park does not sell petrified wood. Shops near the park do sell petrified wood, but none of it is from the park. The petrified wood sold in shops is collected from private lands outside of the park.

Petrified Forest in One Day

One day at Petrified Forest is enough to see the park but I suggest you get an early start to maximize your time, especially If you plan to stop in Winslow Arizona on the way.

One Day Itinerary

Get a copy of the Trip Planner brochure when you enter the park. It includes a map and you’ll notice there are 12 numbered stops on the map plus several overlooks for spectacular views of the painted desert.

The numbering sequence begins from the north entrance, with Painted Desert Visitor Center marked as Number 1 stop. But I suggest you start from the south entrance.

Why start from the south entrance of Petrified Forest? That’s where you can see the colorful petrified wood right away.

There are beautiful vistas and cool stuff at the north side of the park too. But when I go to the Petrified Forest, I want to see the main attraction right away, I don’t want to wait until halfway through the day.

Giant log Petified Forest AZ

Giant petrified logs

Scenic Road Tour Stops at Petrified Forest

  1. Painted Desert Visitor Center (Park Headquarters)
  2. Painted Desert Inn (museum)
  3. Painted Desert Overlooks (8 scenic viewing points in total)
  4. Route 66 (1932 Studebaker)
  5. Puerco Pueblo (Puebloan ruins and petroglyphs)
  6. Newspaper Rock (petroglyphs)
  7. Blue Mesa (3.5 drive and 1 mile trail – scenic)
  8. Agate Bridge (petrified log – skip if you are short on time)
  9. Jasper Forest (lots of petrified wood)
  10. Crystal Forest (quartz crystals and petrified logs)
  11. Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center, Giant Logs Trail
  12. Long Logs Trail and continue to Agate House Trail

Allow 15 – 30 minutes at each stop and extra time for hikes.

Tourists at Painted Desert

Tourists enjoy stunning view of the Painted Desert

If you go with my plan, you’ll start with number 11 Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center and Giant Logs Trail. Then you can walk to the Long Logs and Agate House (stop number 12) if you want to do those hikes, both start from same trailhead.

Afterwards, you’ll follow the 28 mile scenic drive through the park to the other stops, finishing at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to watch the film, visit the gift shop, get gas and snacks before you hit the road again.

The whole drive will take several hours, including stops, hikes, photos, selfies, picnic lunch, etc.

Allow 6 to 8 hours at the park plus 3.5 hours driving time to/from the park from Flagstaff.

Petrified Forest trail

Hiking the trails at Petrified Forest National Park should be on your bucket list

One Hour at Petrified Forest

If you are short on time but still want to visit the Petrified Forest park, I suggest you take Hwy 180 to the south entrance and park at the visitor center.

You can walk the Giant Logs loop trail, it’s less than a half mile (.6 km) in total so you can walk this in less than an hour’s time.

This way you can at least see the bright colors of the petrified wood and it should only take an extra hour or so on your road trip.

If you are road tripping with kids, Petrified Forest could be the perfect stop to let them get outdoors, do something fun, and learn something new.

Placerias dinosaur fossil

Dinosaurs once roamed these lands. A Placerias fossil is on display at the visitor center at Petrified Forest

Other Things to Do in Arizona

Best Day Trips from Flagstaff

Saguaro National Park Tucson Arizona

Horseshoe Bend in Page Arizona

Grand Canyon North Rim

Wave Cave Hike Superstition Mountains

More National Parks Near Arizona

Easy Hikes at Zion National Park Utah

Bryce National Park in One Day

Best Hikes at Arches National Park Utah

Capitol Reef National Park Utah

White Sands National Park New Mexico

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Petrified Forest National Park Arizona Day Trip

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About the Author

Susan Moore spent 7 months traveling solo around Southeast Asia back in the 90's. Returning to Canada she found a job working on rotation in Siberia Russia. She later moved to Austin Texas where she started a bookkeeping business, allowing her to work remotely. Currently Susan is in year 5 of a solo road trip around the USA and Canada, living a nomadic life, and writing about her experiences with a focus on hiking and cultural encounters. Read all about Susan » You can reach Susan Moore at Facebook or Twitter or Instagram

2 Replies

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  1. Thanks so much for the informative article. I’ve never heard of how petrified trees become so this was quite enlightening. The photography is equally stunning. Thanks for sharing!

    • Susan Moore says:

      Kaylini, Thank you! Petrified Forest is an intriguing place to visit. It was on my national parks bucket list for years so I’m thrilled that I was able to visit more than once now.
      Cheers,
      Susan

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