Petrified Forest Scenic Drive is a 28.9 mile moderately trafficked point-to-point trail located near Chambers, Arizona that offers scenic views and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, nature trips, and scenic driving and is accessible year-round.
Multiple hikes and wilderness trails. Maps are available at the Visitor Centers.
We drove the straight wide-open Interstate 40 east to Holbrook (you could smell the AZ forest fires off to the south even though you could not see them) and then 20 miles on Hwy 180 south to the southern entrance of Petrified Forest National Park, which is also connected to the Painted Desert and the Badlands along the 27 mile drive. Entering the park we drove past a giant gift store selling petrified wood and then got a picture at the park entrance sign. The park is a wide-open expanse of desert and steppe-like terrain. At the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor’s Center were many displays on the formation of petrified wood, fossilized bones and teeth of ancient animals, and a display of redemptive letters from people who stole wood from the park and later regretted it (it is bad luck). Because an estimated 25,000 pounds of petrified wood are stolen from the park every year, the NPS has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for visitors who remove even the smallest pieces.
Violators are subject to fines starting at $275 (it might be more now). If rangers suspect you of removing any wood or other resources, they may detain you and search your car. We were asked if we had removed anything as we departed the park, but were not checked (and we didn’t take any wood). Just outside the museum is the Giant Logs self-guided trail, an easy .4mi. stroll showing logs like Old Faithful (almost 10 feet long, 5 feet in diameter and 44 tons!)
Almost directly across the parking lot from the museum is another hike, the Long Logs trail, 0.6 mi. RT and has the largest concentration of wood in the park. This relatively flat, paved loop gives an idea of the immensity of the Araucarioxylon trees that grew in this area during the Triassic Period. Many of the longest logs, including one that measures 116 feet, lie alongside the trail on the north end of the loop. The different colored layers are caused by mineral deposits in the clay. Another hike, 1.5 mi. RT to 8-room Agate House, leads you to the ruins of a pueblo built from colorful agate, petrified wood; a pueblo that archaeologists believe was briefly occupied around a.d. 1100. Colorful bits of petrified wood dot the ground on the way to the pueblo, which sits atop a knoll overlooking a vast expanse of desert. Made from petrified wood and mortar, Agate House must have been one of the prettiest dwellings anywhere. We saw the unusual formations known as The Flattops, caused by the erosion of softer mineral deposits from beneath a harder and more erosion-resistant layer of sandstone. We walked the .75 mile Crystal Forest path, named for the beautiful amethyst and quartz crystals once found in the cracks of petrified logs. We also stopped at the Agate Bridge and saw a petrified log that forms a natural agate bridge. We drove by Jasper Forest Overlook, with logs having petrified roots, and descended the Blue Mesa to the floor beneath - some of the prettiest land in the park. The hillsides are streaked and blend where the clay has washed into drainages.
We next drove by the very interesting Teepees, eroded triangular sandstone and clay formations that look like sand paintings, colored by manganese, iron and other minerals in the soil. We skipped by Newspaper Rock, a dense concentration of petroglyphs left by generations of Native Americans, and also the nearby 100-room Puerco Pueblo, the park's largest archaeological site, containing the remains of homes built by the people who created the park's petroglyphs (This pueblo was probably built sometime around 1400 and has many petroglyphs on the backside). North of Puerco Pueblo, we crossed I-40 and entered the Painted Desert, named for vivid colors created by minerals dissolved in sandstone and clay soils that were deposited during different geologic periods. At Kachina Point, we ate peanut butter sandwiches and visited the Painted Desert Inn, a historic building that's currently being restored. The inn, built in 1924, is where you'll usually see Native American craftspeople giving demonstrations (we didn’t see any, but it was a nice gift store). The Painted Desert Rim Trail meanders along the Painted Desert rim between Kachina and Tawa points, with stunning views of the desert, where gray, pink, and red badlands stand out against the green grasses at their bases and a more interesting route leads down into the Painted Desert from behind the Painted Desert Inn, the Painted Desert Wilderness Trail, about 0.5 mi. one-way. After a brief visit at the PD VC, we got back on I-40 and headed east to Chambers and took a left on Hwy 191 north to Canyon de Chelley at Chinle.
As far as scenic drives go, this is a solid outing. Terrain is variable constantly and the painted deserts are gorgeous.
Very beautiful Park, so many nice formations and colors
Beautiful red sandstone features and desolate isolation leaves the entire wilderness to you most of the time during the hike. A must experience for the intrepid traveller.
This is a great for an exploration into the past. You can see lots of petrified trees and views of the painted desert.
Nice park, take your time and get into it a little. Excellent exhibits and good short hikes
Really fun to explore the wilderness area behind the Painted Desert Inn. My daughter loved climbing the hills. The hike out is a little challenging, but short.
Great! One of the best parks I've been to
Would recommend as a stop on a Grand Canyon trip
Very cool area. Loved it as a kid.
We visited around Nov 1, 2014. We started at the north end at the visitor's center and then drove south stopping at a few overlooks and scenic views. See the painted desert, but save time for the petrified forest. There are trails in and around trees that now is rock/quartz. Taking petrified wood from the National Park is forbidden. However, just outside the park, you can get pieces of the petrified wood VERY cheap as people own land around the park and have access to petrified wood. There seems to be an overabundance people are willing to sell cheaply. This was primarily a driving experience with many stops along the way. Views are worth it!
Multiple trails at the park, many identified and reviewed on this site. Highly recommend the backpack trails.
Returned this year and hiked a few more trails. This is a unique park. highly recommend to all.
As a little girl traveling with my family, I remember seeing the park from the car. Now that I've grown up, I have had the chance to enjoy the beauty of the park along the Rim Trail from the Desert Inn. Spectacular views abound if you will take the time to look around. Also take time to visit the ruins and see the petroglyphs in the park. With all the beauty of the north and south ends, don't miss the locomotive rumbling across the desert. Somehow I could see a band of mounted bandits racing the train. Sometimes, my imagination gets the best of me!
Decent if you're going to drive through it, but not worth getting out of the car and walking around. So many better parks and hikes.
Very nice scenic drive with great scenic overlooks on the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest. Several small walking trails along the way. Good photography points all along.
I have done it a couple times and loved it. There are places just outside where you can buy petrified wood.
An easy drive through the desert, that I would recommend to all
We were on our way back from Moab UT and traveling to Phoenix AZ. Since this was on our way, we did the scenic drive as well as stopped at the Visitor Center. Worth the time.