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15 ABSOLUTE Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park for 2022

Post Summary: Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located in Arizona and covers an area of 346 square miles (900 km2). As the name suggests the National Park is most famous for its petrified wood which can be found all throughout the park. This wood is essentially fossilized remains of trees dating back to 200 million years ago, that went through just the right conditions to become petrified. If the trees fell into the river during that time, it’s very often that they would get saturated with water containing lots of minerals. These minerals would slowly form quartz crystals to replace the organic matter, leading them to be fossilized.

Although the Petrified Forest may not be as popular as other National Parks in the United States, it still attracts around 800,000 visitors per year. It is a much smaller park than some of the big hitters but that means it also takes a lot less time to explore. This post is going to go through the 15 best hikes in Petrified Forest National Park, so you can put them on your list. The majority of the hikes in this National Park are pretty easy, so it’s a great place to start your hiking journey. Some of the hikes are relatively short whilst some take several hours, so it’s important to decide how much time you have to spare before deciding which ones to choose.

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Quick Guide to Best Petrified Forest Hikes

Trail NameRegionDifficultyDistanceElevation
Billing GapEast2.1 miles82 ft
Blue Forest TrailModerate2.4 miles223 ft
Blue MesaEasy0.9 mile111 ft
Crystal ForestEasy0.6 miles36 ft
Dead Wash Overlook HikeStrenuous4 miles 300 ft
Devil’s PlaygroundModerate7.5 miles474 ft
First Forest PointModerate4.4 miles288 ft
Giant LogsEasy2.4 miles81 ft
Jasper Forest Easy2.6 miles177 ft
Long Logs and Agate House LoopEasy2.6 miles98 ft
Onyx Bridge HikeModerate4.5 miles433 ft
Painted Desert Rim TrailEasy1.1 miles49 ft
Puerco PuebloEasy0.3 miles13 ft
Red Basin Clam Bed HikeEasy7.3 miles223 ft
Tawa TrailEasy2.4 miles81 ft

Things to Know about Hiking in Petrified Forest National Park

  • There is an entry fee to enter the National Park, and this can be bought either as a 7-day pass or as an annual pass. An annual pass costs $45, whilst the 7-day passes vary in price (per vehicle; $25, per person/bicycle; $15, per motorcycle; $15).
  • The National Park is pet-friendly meaning you can bring your dogs along the trails with you. However, they must be kept on a leash at all times and the local wildlife must be respected. In order to bring your dog along the trails with you, you will need to head to the Visitor Center and ask for your dogs BARK ranger certificate.
  • A 28-mile road runs through the Petrified Forest National Park making it easily accessible. The main road is called Petrified Forest Road. It starts at Route 40 and ends at route 180.
  • This National Park is not open 24 hours a day, and the opening hours vary by season. For most of the year, the opening hours are 7 am-7 pm, with reduced hours in the winter. There are entrance gates located at both the north and south borders of the park, so if you arrive any earlier you won’t be able to gain access to the park.
  • It is illegal to take any petrified wood from the National Park. If you want a piece for yourself you will have to pay for it in one of the many petrified wood shops located throughout the Petrified Forest area.

Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park

Strenuous Petrified Forest Hikes

Dead Wash Overlook Hike

Looking down a rocky outcropping on to a grassy plain with a dry stream.
  • Distance: 2 miles / 3.2 km one way (4 miles / 6.4 km round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 300 feet (91m)
  • Estimated Time: 3-4 hours
  • Type of Trail: out and back
  • Trailhead Location: Gravel parking lot just before mile marker 7
  • Map: NPS

The Dead Wash Overlook hike takes you through the grassland, and then over the edge of a bluff past Black Forest. Once you get to the overlook you will be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Dead Wash Drainage. If you are planning to hike this trail then be prepared for a difficult one as you will have to scramble up and down boulders into washes. You will need a good level of fitness for this trail and some upper body strength. Whilst hiking this trail be mindful of the Cryptobiotic Soil as it plays an important role in ecosystems and if damaged can take between 30-100 years to grow back.

Moderate Hikes in Petrified Forest

Blue Forest Trail

Badlands with various shades of brown.
  • Distance: 2.4 miles / 3.9 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 223 feet (68m)
  • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: The roadside pullout at the Tepees area, near mile marker 14
  • Map: All Trails

The Blue Forest Trail was originally created in the 1930s before being closed off in 1955. Then in 2013, the trail was reestablished. It is known for its incredible views around every corner, as the trail weaves through blue and white badland hills. Not only that, but you’ll be able to see the exposed petrified wood and the surrounding barren desert. Although this hike isn’t considered strenuous some of the sections are quite narrow so make you’re wearing good quality hiking boots. It can also get incredibly hot here as it’s located right in the desert so bring plenty of water.

Devil’s Playground

Rock hoodoos that are grey in color.
  • Distance: 7.5 miles / 12.1 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 474 feet (145m)
  • Estimated Time: 3-5 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: I-40 Exit 303 to Washboard Rd past Black Curve
  • Map: All Trails

The Devils Playground is located within a remote area of the National Park and some off-road driving is required to reach the trailhead. To get to this area, the road runs over two washes meaning this hike isn’t accessible during floods or the monsoon season. After passing by the markers and reaching the gate, there isn’t generally a specific trail to follow and things can get a little complicated. However, this area is home to many unique geological formations due to the landscape being highly eroded in the past. Permits are required to hike the Devil’s Playground Trail as part of the hike is on private property. The permits are available on a first-come-first-serve basis and can be obtained from the Painted Desert Visitor Center.

First Forest Point

An overlook with lots of preferred wood on grey and orange hills.
  • Distance: 2.2 miles / 3.55 km one way (4.4 miles / 7.1 km round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 288 feet (88m)
  • Estimated Time: 2-4 hours
  • Type of Trail: Out and back
  • Trailhead Location: Jasper Forest Overlook car park
  • Map: All Trails

This area was originally called ‘First Forest’ in the 1890s as it was the first stop for early tourists. Today, it is one of the more off-the-beaten-track routes so offers a very authentic hiking experience. As you wander along the trail the geological formations and petrified wood that you see are around 200 million years old. If you’re lucky you might even be able to see petroglyphs – rock carvings that have been made hundreds of years ago. They are a fascinating sight to see and are an important part of the area’s history. For this reason, if you are interested in the National Parks’ history and culture, then this is the trail for you.

Onyx Bridge Hike

A long length of petrified log that has fallen is broken into peices.
  • Distance: 4.5 miles / 7.4 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 443 feet (135m)
  • Estimated Time: 2-4 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Painted Desert Inn
  • Map: All Trails

After you take the path down from the Painted Desert Inn, keep heading down until you reach the desert floor. From there head north until you reach Lithodendron Wash, and then continue along until you reach Onyx Bridge. Onyx Bridge is probably one of the most impressive sites in the National Park, as it is a Triassic conifer tree that is used as a bridge on this route. The tree itself dates back around 200 million years old and is a dramatic example of petrified wood within the Park. Although this trail is generally dry, the washes can flood during the monsoon season which could leave you stranded. Make sure to check the weather forecast before you attempt this hike.

Easy Petrified Forest Hikes

Billings Gap

Orange badlands during the golden hour.
  • Distance: 2.1 miles / 3.5 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 82 feet (25m)
  • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: By the 4th pullout of Blue Mesa Loop
  • Map: All Trails

The Billings Gap Hike follows the edge of the Blue Mesa and offers incredible views of the badlands to the east and the surrounding grass valleys. The trailhead is quite difficult to spot, as first, you need to park at the 4th pullout of Blue Mesa Loop and then head about 25ft to the right of the sign. From there you will see the small trail winding its way towards the Billings Gap viewpoint. The colors of the badlands vary between blues, purples, greys, and whites throughout the day as the direction of the sunlight changes. The beautiful colors and surrounding scenery make this a great hike and one that you’ll need your camera for.

Blue Mesa

A blue/grey mesas and badlands
  • Distance: 0.9 mile / 1.6 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 111 feet (34m)
  • Estimated Time: 30 minutes
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Blue Mesa sun shelter
  • Map: All Trails

The Blue Mesa Trail is one of the easiest hikes in the National Park as it’s a paved and gravel route. It gives you the unique experience of walking among the Badland Hills as well as the chance to spot some of the National Park’s famous petrified wood. This hike allows you to go through both the north and south areas of the National Park – The Painted Desert and The Petrified Wood. That means you get the best of both worlds when it comes to this trail, making it a must during your trip. As this hike is a short one, it can be tempting to head off-trail to explore more of the area. However, it’s important that you stay on the path whilst hiking this route, otherwise, you could damage the fragile ecosystem.

Crystal Forest

A barren landscape with pieces of petfiried wood scattered about.
  • Distance: 0.8 mile / 1.4 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 36 feet (11m)
  • Estimated Time: 30 minutes
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Crystal Forest parking area
  • Map: All Trails

The Crystal Forest is one of the best places in the National Park to see petrified wood. The trail is named after the crystals that are found within the logs, which led them to be so well preserved and fossilized. This hike is a simple loop that takes you around where the ancient forest used to be millions of years ago. The trail is renowned for the fossilized trees having an unusually high concentration of these crystals, which makes it one of the more popular hikes. As you head along the trail you will get to see the crystals glint in the sunlight which is an incredible sight. Some of the petrified wood is scattered around the trail, but some are still lying in a straight line where they fell over 200 million years ago. Although beautiful, remember that it’s illegal to remove any of the petrified wood deposits from the National Park.

Giant Logs

A cactus with yellow blooms along with species of petrified wood.
  • Distance: 0.6 mile / 1 km
  • Elevation Gain: 36 feet (11m)
  • Estimated Time: 30 minutes
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: The Rainbow Forest Museum
  • Map: All Trails

The trailhead to the Giant Longs hike is located just behind the Rainbow Forest Museum. Although only a short trail, this hike features some of the largest and most colorful petrified wood in the National Park. When you get to the top of the trail, you’ll find ‘Old Faithful’ which is almost 10 feet wide at its base. It’s a pretty impressive sight and one not to miss during your visit. This trail is another very easy hike in the Petrified Forest, although there is a set of stairs near the end of the trail. Either before or after your hike, you should also visit the Rainbow Forest Museum which has exhibits on the geology of the park and human history. If you only have a limited amount of time in Petrified Forest National Park, then make sure this hike is on your list.

Jasper Forest Hike

A huge piece of petrified wood and a grey hill.
  • Distance: 2.6 miles / 4.2 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 177 feet (54m)
  • Estimated Time: 2-4 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Jasper Forest Overlook
  • Map: All Trails

The Jasper Forest Hike is an unmaintained trail that follows the route of an abandoned road built in the 1930s. However, most of the road has now disappeared and the route isn’t an easy one to follow. Once you follow the indistinct path past near the highway, the trail becomes a bit more apparent. As you reach the area below the bluff, there is a wide variety of petrified wood to see including logs and chippings. Although the trail is difficult to follow in places, once you loop around and start to head back, Jasper Forest Overlook is pretty easy to see from any point in the hike.

Related Article: 301+ Best Hiking Quotes & Hiking Captions for Instagram

Long Logs and Agate House Loop

A house made of petrified wood pecies.
  • Distance: 2.6 miles / 4.2 km round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 98 feet (30m)
  • Estimated Time: 1-2 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Rainbow Forest Museum
  • Map: All Trails

After parking at the Rainbow Forest Museum, head towards a small bridge over Jim Camp Wash where you will find the sign for this hike. The Long Logs section of the trail contains one of the highest concentrations of petrified wood in the National Park, due to the fact it was an ancient log jam. Agate house is also located along this trail and was built by the Ancestral Puebloan. It is built from petrified wood held in place by mud mortar which is pretty impressive. It’s estimated that Agate house was built between 1050 and 1300 and was likely part of a larger community at the time. It is possible to do the trails separately, but as both have the same trailhead and run side by side it makes sense to do them as a loop trail. The trails can be done in either order, depending on which area you would like to see first.

Painted Desert Rim Trail

Orange grey mesas
  • Distance: 0.5 mile / 0.95km one way (1.1 miles / 1.9 km round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 49 feet (15m)
  • Estimated Time: 30 minutes-1 hour
  • Type of Trail: Out and back
  • Trailhead Location: Tawa Point and Kachina Point
  • Map: All Trails

This trail is a beautiful hike that takes you through the badlands known as the Painted Desert. The hike is relatively flat apart from a few steep areas and is considered to be pretty easy. It’s the perfect family hike, but still offers incredible views of the Painted Desert and its surrounding areas. As the trail winds along the rim, you will get to spot interesting wildlife, unique rock formations as well as panoramic views of the desert below. Much of the view looks out towards the backcountry wilderness of the Navajo Nation. Before you head off-trail into this area you will have to get a special overnight permit from the Visitor Center. If you have a permit and want to head out further into the Painted Desert then one of the best options is the Painted Desert Wilderness Access Trail.

Puerco Pueblo

The remains of an ancestral Puebloan village.
  • Distance: 0.3 mile / 0.5 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 13 feet (4m)
  • Estimated Time: 30 minutes
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: Puerco Pueblo parking area
  • Map: All Trails

Puerco Pueblo is the only ancestral Puebloan Village that is easily accessible to the public. It is the largest archaeological site in the National Park and was home to the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. However, the area is currently only half-excavated so you can still see some walls poking out through the desert floor. Petroglyphs can also be viewed towards the end of the trail, and many are in remarkable condition so keep your eyes peeled. The route to the ancestral village is easy and paved making it suitable for families, strollers, and wheelchairs. This is a trail you must visit, even if you only have a short amount of time in the Petrified Forest National Park. The culture and the history of this site is intriguing and is something you have to see for yourself.

Red Basin Clam Bed Hike

a orange rock fin.
  • Distance: 7.3 miles / 11.9 km round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 223 feet (68m)
  • Estimated Time: 3-5 hours
  • Type of Trail: Loop
  • Trailhead Location: The pull-out on your left before the split in Blue Mesa Loop Road
  • Map: All Trails

If you are after a trail in the National Park that offers a bit of everything then this is the one. Whilst doing the Red Basin Clam Bed hike you will get the opportunity to hike in a fossil-rich area. You will get to see petrified wood, fossil clam beds, unique rock formations, petroglyphs, and of course the colorful badlands. This is one of the Petrified Forest’s backcountry hikes, and so it’s likely to be a bit quieter on this trail. This hike takes you through Billings Gap, through the washes in Red Basin, and then back along the fossilized clam beds to return. One thing to note about this trail is that it’s long with very little shade so make sure you wear a hat, drink plenty of water and wear sunscreen.

Tawa Trail

Orange colored badlands
  • Distance: 1.2 mile / 1.9km one way (2.4 mile / 3.8km round trip)
  • Elevation Gain: 81 ft (24m)
  • Estimated Time: 1 hour
  • Type of Trail: Out and back
  • Trailhead Location: Tawa Point and the Painted Desert Visitor Center
  • Map: NPS

The Tawa trail is an easy paved trail that takes you to Tawa Point. The word ‘Tawa’ actually refers to the sun spirit which is the creator of the world in Hopi ideology. Tawa Point is one of eight Painted Desert overlooks in the National Park so naturally offers incredible views. The path runs through the grassland where you will get incredible views of the prairie especially during wildflower season and the red area of the Painted Desert. Although relatively flat, there isn’t a lot of shade along this trail so make sure you bring plenty of water.

Frequently Asked Questions about Petrified Forest Trails?

Can you hike at Petrified Forest National Park?

Hiking is the best way to explore Petrified Forest National Park, as this way you get to see all of the unique geological formations for yourself and at a closer distance. However, it’s best to only stay on the maintained trails as off-trail hiking can often damage the fragile environment here and disturb wildlife. As the Petrified Forest Road runs straight through the National Park, it’s entirely possible to get a great view from a car and make stop-offs along the way. However, this won’t give you the chance to see the petrified wood up close or the colorful geology of the area.

How many trails are in the Petrified Forest?

There are plenty of trails to choose from in the Petrified Forest area of the National Park that range from strenuous to easy. Whether you are looking for a quick 30-minute hike or a route that will take 2-4 hours, you have multiple choices. There are very few trails that run mainly through the Painted Desert area of the National Park, as the majority of them run through the Petrified Forest.

If you are looking for the best trails to see petrified wood then we would recommend:

  • The Long Logs and Agate House Loop
  • The Giant Logs Hike
  • The Crystal Forest Trail
  • The Blue Mesa Trail
Lots of pieces of petrified wood in the grass.

Where do you hike in the Painted Desert?

The Painted Desert stretches from the Grand Canyon into the Petrified Forest National Park. Although it encompasses such a size, there aren’t many trails that run through this part of the park. However, you do have the option of hiking either the Painted Desert Rim Trail or the Blue Mesa Trail as they both offer superb views of the Painted Desert.

There are also 8 Painted Desert Overlooks located in the National Park and these are:

  • Chinde Point
  • Kachina Point
  • Lacey Point
  • Nizhoni Point
  • Pintado Point
  • Tawa Point
  • Tiponi Point
  • Whipple Point

These spots are all great places to get a stunning view over the Painted Desert, so make sure you include some of them on your trip.

Final Thoughts on Day Hiking in the Petrified Forest

We hope this article has encouraged you to try some of the beautiful trails Petrified Forest National Park has to offer, so you can experience the mesmerizing scenery for yourself. Which is your favorite hike in Petrified Forest National Park? If it isn’t on this list, then leave a comment below to inspire other hikers or join us in talking about all things National Parks in our National Park Trip Planning Community.

Looking to some other hiking in Arizona’s National Parks?

Pin for Later: 15 ABSOLUTE Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park for 2022

Looking for the best Petrified Forest Hikes? Click HERE to find out about the best hikes in Petrified Forest National Park.   We will break down the best Petrified Forest hikes for you.

hiking petrified forest national park / painted desert rim / painted desert trail / agate bridge petrified forest national park

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