Where is Petrified Forest National Park
Located in the northeastern quadrant of the state, Petrified Forest National Park resides within Apache and Navajo counties in Arizona. The national park is located 208 miles, aka a three-hour drive west of Albuquerque, New Mexico. You can also get to the park from Phoenix, Arizona in a three hour and thirty-minute drive (212 miles). Grand Canyon National Park is also within a three-hour drive away.
Petrified Forest US National park is named for the deposits of petrified wood that are found across its landscape of badlands and semi-desert steppe. In addition to the endless array of petrified wood and fossils found in the park, visitors are also attracted to Petrified Forest National Park for its various hiking trails, backpacking trips, and informational and educational visitor centers. While there are no front country campgrounds in the national park, the visitor will issue backcountry camping permits for those looking to camp within the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area.
How Large is Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park covers a total area of around 221,391 acres. These acres are mostly dominated by bad badlands, desert grasslands, and a semi-arid steppe. These three distinct environments support a wide array of flora and fauna. More than 100 species of grasses can be found within the park, and other vegetation species present include evening primrose, sagebrush, mariposa lily, and blue garma. The most iconic animal species that reside within the park are pronghorn, coyotes, and Gunninson’s prairie dogs. These mammals and other fauna species are dispersed throughout the park and its various environments and elevations. The highest point within Petrified Forest National Park is Pilot Point; a rock outcropping that sits at an elevation of around 6,235 feet. The average elevation of the total park is around 5,436 feet above sea level.
Petrified Forest National Park Weather
Petrified Forest National Park operates within a cold semi-arid climate. Locations equipped with this particular climate normally experience hot summers and colder winters. The average summer temperatures in the park fluctuate between lows of high 50’s and highs in the high 70’s. Winter temperatures in the park can drop below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to temperature, the park is also frequently affected by devastating winds. In the winter, these winds can reach speeds of over 60 miles per hour and can cause frequent sandstorms and dust devils to form across the park’s landscape. Precipitation in the park is normally low to non-existent throughout the entire year. In fact, the average annual precipitation totals for Petrified Forest National Park normally measure less than 11 inches.
When Did Petrified Forest Become a National Park
Petrified Forest National Park received its national park designation in 1962. However, its first designation came 56 years before when the area was first protected as a national monument. The national monument was created by President Theodore Roosevelt under permission from the Antiquities Act. From the mid 1930’s to the 1940’s the Civilian Conservation Corps worked within the park creating roads, trails, and other structures. Over the years since its first designation, the federal government received several different land plots in the painted desert area which it added to the formation of Petrified Forest National Park. In 1964, a large portion of the national park was designated a national wilderness area under President Lyndon B. Johnson. George W. Bush, during his presidency, expanded the national park further adding a total of more than 125,000 acres.
Things to do in Petrified Forest National Park
Visitors traveling to and planning a trip at Petrified Forest National Park will find a variety of outdoor adventures and experiences. Backpacking and fossil walks are some of the most popular activities practiced in the park. Our National Park Visitors Guide highlights these adventures and others found in the park which are discussed further below:
Start at the Painted Desert Visitor Center
The best place to start every trip to Petrified Forest National Park is at the Painted Desert Visitor Center. The visitor center not only contains a variety of educational displays and exhibits that discuss a variety of topics including park history, ecology, geography, and geology, but the visitor center also contains an array of helpful literature. This literature includes park maps, backcountry guides, camping procedures, and other helpful pamphlets and brochures. In addition to the displays and literature, helpful stay working in the visitor center can also provide information and answer any particular questions you may have about your trip or the park in general.
Join in on an Interpretive Program with a Ranger
Before leaving the visitor center you should look for a schedule of interpretive programs that are being offered throughout the day or your trip. These programs are a great way to develop a first-hand knowledge of the area and take in additional information related to the park’s history, cultural ties, ecology, and geology. Each of the programs offered at Petrified Forest National Park are led by trained and experienced park rangers who really know the area and its characteristics. Popular programs offered in the park include ranger hikes, fossil viewing trips, and fauna explorations.
Hike a few Designated Trails
Traveling by foot is probably the best way to explore Petrified Forest National Park. The park’s designated trail system includes several shorter hikes and walks that will take visitors throughout the park. The Painted Desert Rim Trail and the Blue Mesa trail are two of the more popular hiking trails found in the park. The first takes visitors across a rim woodland where wildlife sightings are common. The trail also offers spectacular views of the painted desert. The Blue Mesa trail meanders throughout the park’s badlands and offers views of petrified wood and various fossils.
Plan Your Backpacking Trip
Visitors looking for a more adventurous experience at Petrified Forest National Park can embark on a backpacking trip into the park’s backcountry. Venturing into the park’s designated wilderness area can be a rewarding activity that offers visitors a once in a lifetime experience. However, visitors planning to embark on such a trip should be knowledgeable with backcountry navigation and survival.
Camp Under the Stars
One of the most rewarding features of a backpacking trip in Petrified Forest National Park is the ability to camp under the stars. Any individual wishing to stay overnight in the park’s designated wilderness area will need to obtain a free wilderness permit. These permits can be obtained from the Painted Desert Visitor Center or from the Rainbow Forest Museum. These permits must be obtained on the first day of your overnight stay. Park rangers working in the visitor center can also provide information regarding navigation, popular backcountry sites, and camping procedures.
Keep an Eye Out for Wildlife
While hiking throughout the park’s front country and wilderness areas you should keep your eye out for wildlife. You never know what you are going to be lucky enough to spot on any given day. Popular animals spotted in the park include pronghorn, coyotes, prairie dogs, a variety of lizards, and a large array of avian species. The park also contains Western rattlesnakes. These are the only venomous snakes found in Petrified Forest National Park.
When to Visit Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is open throughout the entire year except for on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Visitors planning a trip to the park can do so throughout the entire year. However, the majority of visitors arrive at the park in the spring and summer. These months contain the warmest temperatures which are the most conducive to outdoor recreation. However, to avoid the crowds of the summer you can also plan your trip for fall or winter. It is important to know that these seasons generally contain stronger winds and colder temperatures that may make your trip less enjoyable.
Must Have Items to Bring to Petrified Forest National Park
Just like every other outdoor exploration, an adventure in Petrified Forest National Park requires a variety of packing and planning. The list included below contains some of the most essential items and gear you will need on your trip!
Water, Snacks, and Meals
List of Parks advises water, water, water! Petrified Forest National Park can become very warm and inhospitable to dehydrated hikers, especially during the summer months. Backpackers should also bring all of their snacks and meals with them to the park, for there are no services found in the park where hikers can stock up on supplies.
Layers of Clothing
The landscape of Petrified Forest National Park is quite diverse. Visitors arriving at the park should bring a variety of layers to combat the various temperatures and winds found at different elevations. Backpackers should also be prepared for nightly temperatures that drop significantly.
Comfortable & Sturdy Hiking Boots
Most of Petrified Forest National Park requires visitors to hike and walk. Therefore, every visitor arriving at the park should be equipped with a comfortable and sturdy pair of hiking boots. Individuals planning to hike extensively in the park and in the wilderness, area should especially bring a high-performance pair of boots. Visitors looking for added comfort and protection may wish to purchase a lightweight and waterproof pair.
Backcountry Supplies: Compass & First Aid Kit
A trip into the backcountry requires a list of specialized equipment. However, nothing on that list is more important than a compass and first aid kit. These two pieces of equipment will allow you to navigate the park's wilderness area and be prepared in the event of an injury.
Field Guides & Park Maps
Field guides are a great resource for identifying the various wildlife species found throughout Petrified Forest National Park. Visitors interested in vegetation and geology can also find field guides geared towards these subjects.
Where to Stay in Petrified Forest National Park
There are no front country campgrounds in Petrified Forest National Park. However, visitors can camp within the park’s wilderness area with a wilderness permit. These permits can be obtained from the park’s visitor center and museum. Visitors looking to stay outside of the park will either want to search for options in Apache and Navajo counties or drive to larger cities such as Albuquerque, Phoenix, or even Flagstaff.
Food Near Petrified Forest National Park
The closest food to Petrified Forest National Park can be found scattered throughout the two counties it resides in. However, visitors looking for specific options or a larger culinary scene will need to drive for a few hours to a larger city. Albuquerque and Phoenix contain a variety of regional themed restaurants and bars.
Airports Near Petrified Forest National Park
The closest airport to Petrified Forest National Park is located about three hours away in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Another international airport is also located about three hours away in Phoenix.