Are you heading through the American Southwest? Whether you've got a few hours or a few days, stop by Petrified Forest National Park to get a glimpse into the rich, ecological history that this region has to offer.
With colorful rock mesas, petrified wood, and ancient Pueblo ruins, this park will redefine what your idea of "desert" can be. Here, you'll be able to completely customize your trip. No matter the time constraint, you'll be able to see the best of the park from a quick day trip along the main park road. If you've got a few extra days and an adventurous spirit, however, you might be tempted to take your pack, and maybe even your horse, into the designated wilderness areas to explore the park on your own.
While there are no campsites within the park, you'll have options to stay at the nearest city - Holbrook - or head north to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument to knock out two parks in the American southwest, all in one breathtaking trip.
Petrified Forest National Park is located along Highway 40, in between the cities of Holbrook and Chambers. If you're coming in from Holbrook, head east on Hwy 40 for 24 miles and take exit 311 left onto Park Rd. If heading in from Chambers, head west on Hwy 40 for 22 miles and take a right into the park. The road through the park is paved the whole way, so you won't have any problem seeing all the sights in your vehicle.
If the KOA isn't an option for you, the next closest campground is actually in the Canyon de Chelly National Monument - Cottonwood Campground. It's still about a two hour drive away, but in this deserted area, there aren't really many other options.
It doesn't have any hookups, but there are flushable toilets, potable water, and a dump station available. You'll be really close to the canyon and its many overlooks, so by staying here, you could knock out two beautiful attractions in a single trip.
If you're short on time - no worries! Petrified Forest is one of the smallest national parks, and many of its best sights can be seen from right off the road. The main park road will take you through 28 miles of stunning scenery and viewpoints, so even though the driving distance is short, you'll probably spend hours getting in and out of the car to photograph and take in the scenery.
If you've got more time for the park and brought your bicycle, follow the scenic drive at a slower pace and cycle through Petrified Forest. Cycling is allowed on all paved park roads and parking areas - however, take extra caution on the roads. Like you, everyone else will probably be staring in awe at the incredible views!
Additionally, you'll also have the option of going onto specific off-road or park trails. This may vary depending on conditions or changes to park rules, so check with the ranger before you head out. But just a hint: you might get to tell everyone that you cycled on the only section of the Old Route 66 left in a national park!
At Petrified Forest, you'll have the option of hiking either designated trails or exploring the wilderness on your own!
If you're choosing to stay on the trails, you'll have options for hikes shorter than two miles long. They'll take you through some of the classic sections of the park such as the Painted Desert, Crystal Forest, and preserved Pueblo ruins.
However, if you're looking for more of an adventure, you can hike throughout the park off trail! If you choose to do this, make sure you're parked at a designated parking area, have route-finding skills, and tell someone where you're going and when you plan to get back.
Do you want a chance to spend the night underneath a sky blanketed with stars, nestled between colorful rock formations, crystallized logs, and preserved ruins? Get a free backcountry camping permit from the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum, pack your bag, and head out to explore the designated wilderness!
Here in Petrified Forest, you can take your equestrian friends into the wilderness for rides that can last from a few hours to a few days!
Just as if you were backcountry hiking and camping, you'll need to obtain a permit from the Visitor Center. There, they'll give you directions on where to park your trailer, park regulations and rules, and any other resources you need.
Interested in learning more about the history of the Petrified Forest? Head to the Rainbow Forest Museum - specifically, the Blue Mesa Room. Here, you'll find murals, panels and displays explaining what the ecosystem looked like over 200 million years ago, and how scientists have examined the park and discovered so much about the rich history of this area.