Riverside to Petrified Forest National Park Road Trip Guide


Riverside, CA is a city in the southeastern part of the greater Los Angeles metro area. All the great attractions of the area are available from this location. Visits to Hollywood, Los Angeles, the great beaches of the area, or even San Diego or Palm Springs are all easy day trips.

If you prefer to stay local there are several great attractions in the immediate area. One of the best if the California State Historic Park. This park provides an excellent look into the history and importance of the citrus industry in Southern California. In addition to a great visitor's center, there are acres of land with walking trails meandering through numerous citrus groves. It makes for a great family day out in the beautiful southern California weather.

The Riverside Festival of Lights is an annual holiday display that is lit up from late November through December 31st. During this time, three and a half million lights light up downtown Riverside in what many believe is the most beautiful holiday display in the USA. For a fun family day, consider heading over to Castle Park which is Riverside's premier amusement park. The park is located just off RT-91 and includes over 35 rides and attractions, a water park area and a modern game room. There is something fun here for everyone.

Rancho Jurpa Park has two campgrounds with a total of 131 sites right in the heart of Riverside. This park is located on the Santa Ana River and is a beautiful retreat nestled into this largely urban area.

The trip to Petrified Forest National Park is a fairly easy journey that will take you through the heart of the desert southwest. Out of Riverside, take I-215 to I-15. I-15 climbs a steep hill out of the valley so make sure your vehicle is in good working order. Once you crest the mountain, the land will flatten out as you enter the high desert. Continue on I-15 to Barstow, CA. In Barstow, switch to I-40 east. This highway will take you all the way to Petrified Forest National Park.

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Max RV length
Max trailer Length
Road trip length: 2-3 days
Recommend rig: any
audience: family

Point of Interest

Lake Havasu City

Lake Havasu City is located on Lake Havasu in Arizona. This city is known as a gateway to access Lake Havasu and the off-road desert trails surrounding the city. The lake is a reservoir oasis in the desert formed by the Parker Dam blocking the Colorado River. It is a popular boating and fishing destination for the people in the region. Fishing is great here for species including Black bass, striped bass, several species of catfish, carp, and sunfish. In addition to fishing, there are many water sports available on the lake including boating, jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding and more.

On the dry side, there are over 1800 miles of off-road trails carving their ways through the surrounding desert. These can be hiked, mountain biked or driven in an off-road vehicle. You can bring your own vehicles, or there are numerous places in the area where they can be rented like Wet Monkey Rentals or Arizona Water Sports. Many of the rental places also offer guided tours for those who don't want to venture out unguided; Sandbar Watersports is a good example.

For an overnight stay, the Lake Havasu State Park campground is is a good option. This quiet park has lakefront sites and lake access is available for all campers. The sites all offer 50 amp electrical service and potable water.

Historic Downtown Flagstaff

Historic Downtown Flagstaff is a section of downtown where the original railroad and then Route 66 passed through. It is made up mostly of early 1900s buildings which have been converted to stores, restaurants, and other local businesses. It is a very pedestrian-friendly area and makes for a great day (or evening) out with the family.

The surrounding areas of downtown Flagstaff offer many more shopping, dining and entertainment options. Just outside of downtown is the Lowell Observatory where you can dabble in astronomy and learn about the heavens. An interesting fact is that Pluto was discovered here and they allow you to scan the heavens with world-class equipment. They are open during the day until 10pm most nights and from 10pm to 5am on Sundays.

The Flagstaff KOA provides a good place to stay the night. It is a well-run park conveniently located just off I-40 a few minutes east of downtown.

Meteor Crater National Landmark

Meteor Crater National Landmark is a very interesting stop on the way to Petrified forest. It is located about seven miles south of I-40 near Winslow, AZ. Traveling down I-40 through the area, you are surrounded by flat desolate desert and you would have no idea such a significant scar in the earth's crust lies just out of sight. It was at this site about 50,000 years ago that a 150-foot wide meteor screamed from the heavens at eight miles per second and blasted a crater about three-quarters of a mile across and 500 feet deep.

The facilities here are excellent. The parking lot has a large section for RVs so visiting is easy. The visitor's center includes a movie theater that explains the history of the site and there are several excellent exhibits covering the site, space and meteor impacts around the world.

If you want to stay the night (the night skies here are amazing) then try the Meteor Crater RV Park. It is located on the road to the meteor crater just off of I-40


Petrified Forest National Park is divided into two sections by I-40. Both sections are connected by the park road which runs from RT-180 through the heart of the park and crosses I-40 before looping back through the North Unit to the I-40 entrance. The South Unit is where the bulk of the action is. This is where you'll find most of the petrified forest remnants and other historical landmarks.

There are two visitors centers in the park. The Painted Desert Visitor Center is just off the RT-40 exit to the park. The park entrance gates are just past the entrance to the visitor center so you can go there without actually entering the park. The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitors Center is located just north of the RT-180 entrance gates. The two visitor centers are separated by 26 miles of park road which will take at least 45 minutes to an hour to drive. Much longer if you stop to take in the sights along the way.

Some of those sites include the Puerco Pueblo, which is the ruins of large Native American pueblo circa 1300 AD. Newspaper Rock is a petroglyph site listed in the national register of historic places. It contains hundreds of Native American petroglyphs dating back to between 1000 and 1300 AD.

The bulk of the petrified wood can be found in the many “forest” sections of the park including the Jasper Forest and Crystal Forest. Short hikes with petrified wood can be found at the Long Logs, and Giant Logs trails.

For the more adventurous, backcountry hikes are allowed. These don't necessarily follow formal trails but do allow you to see the park in a very personal way. Some places do require a backcountry permit, so check for that before heading out.

The northern section is the smaller portion and includes the Painted Desert region and the Painted Desert Inn. Both are great stops with multiple hiking trails through the painted desert, and you can self-tour the Inn. This area is best visited on a sunny day when the sunshine brings out the bright colors of the rocks. On a cloudy day, the colors are still visible, but lack the vibrancy they are famous for.

The park allows backcountry camping but lacks any place for RV camping. At the RT-180 entrance to the park, there are two gift shops that allow overnight RV parking assuming your rig is self-contained. In Holbrook, where RT-180 splits off of I-40, there are two good private RV Campgrounds. Holbrook-Petrified Forest KOA and OK RV Park. Both are excellent parks with easy access to the Petrified Forest National Park

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