The mountains are purple and rocks are rainbow swirled. No you are not in a Dr. Seuss book, you are visiting the one of a kind landscape at Petrified Forest National Park. The main draw of this park is the colorful petrified wood, however there is a lot more magic to see. Badlands and vibrant mountains in the backdrop make hiking and driving in the park a wonder world. One main road, 28 miles long, runs the length of the park. You can enter from the north or the south and it takes approximately an hour to drive through without stopping, so it isn’t difficult to see the major park attractions in one day. Many of the signature hikes in the park are between one and two miles, so you can mix and match quite a few to see it all. If you enter through the Painted Desert Visitors Center make your first stop the Painted Desert Rim Trail. The views along this one-mile round trip trail are breathtaking.
The desert is painted with a myriad of pastel colors, and it isn’t difficult to keep your eyes on the scene because the trail is very easy to stroll with gentle rolling hills. If you have limited time you can enjoy these sight from the overlook and still be super satisfied by their beautiful. A quick detour to Newspaper Rock is in order for any amateur anthropologists interested in ancient cultures. You are way above the rocks lined with petroglyphs, and can use the binoculars at the overlook for a close view.
This rock wasn’t as impressive as the one at the Needles in Canyonlands National Park, but it was still worth a stop and amazing to see these preserved pictures after thousands of years. One hike you mustn’t miss is the Blue Mesa Trail. This trail too is just one mile round trip, a loop trail, which brings you down into the otherworldly badlands and may give you your first introduction to petrified wood. From the parking lot you are above it all, gazing down into the hazy canyon.
Your hike begins with a rapid descent so you can see these strange formations up close and personal.
The trail is dubbed the ‘blue’ mesa, but on this day against the bright blue sky they looked more purple to me. Either way they were one of the most unusual sights I have witnessed in my life. Along with their color, all of the unique wrinkles and striations only added to the madness of the badlands. Scattered about the trail are mostly small pieces of petrified wood. While these are not the most colorful examples of the wood in the park, I was still excited to see the little capsules of history for the first time. As you finish your loop you will head back up the elevation you came down getting your heart rate up a bit, and if you’re anything like me you’ll be utterly enchanted. This was one of my favorite hikes from our two week national park loop tour! When you’re back on the road, keep driving along and take a stop at the Agate Bridge for a minute or two. Once again, we haven’t reached the really colorful stuff yet, but it’s cool how this trunk fell and remains preserved in a bridge like fashion after all of these years.
The Crystal Forest Trail is one of the trails where you will see a high concentration of multicolored petrified wood. It is a .75 mile loop with gentle rolling hills, a very manageable nature walk for any ability and a must see! Each piece of wood was more stunning than the next, I was in constant awe.
Coupled with the light sandy soil the wood really popped in this section of the park, and the wacky badlands are still view.
This trail is truly a treasure. As you reach the other end of the park from the Rainbow Forest Visitors Center parking lot there are two trailheads for more excellent displays of petrified wood. Right behind the Visitors Center the Giant Logs Trail begins. It is .4 miles long and boasts the parks largest piece of wood the 35 ft petrified tree, Old Faithful.
It is a great short trail to explore and is packed, as its name would suggest, quite a few logs on the larger side.
If you walk back down the road away from the Visitors Center you will find the trailhead for Long Logs on the right hand side, quietly tucked away. This relaxing stroll is 1.6 miles long and you may stumble upon some log jams here, possibly created by prehistoric rivers.
This is one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park. Unlike the rest of the trails, we barely bumped into a soul on this path. The easy trail is home to long lines of logs.
Some of the exquisite colors can be seen simply from the top of the pieces,
but peeking over to the ends of long logs can reveal surprises.
After investigating all of the delightful trails, be sure to investigate the Rainbow Forest Museum. Really obscure fossils that were found in the park are on display.
The park closes its gates in conjunction with sunset so be sure to keep your eye on the time, and plan accordingly. Our drive out at dusk was glorious and the day remarkable.
Our two-week trip took us through seven national parks, all amazing in their own way, but Petrified Forest was definitely the strangest of the bunch – which is a good thing. For nature lovers and those who are intrigued by the obscure, Petrified Forest National Park should be at the top of the list for your next adventure.