Petrified Forest National Park is probably Arizona’s most overlooked and underrated National Park. Along with Saguaro, this Arizona National Park is 100% worth visiting.
Petrified Forest can be fully explored in one day, so there’s no excuse why you shouldn’t make a detour to this amazing public land on your Arizona road trip!
In this guide, I will share with you how to make the most of one day in Petrified Forest National Park. I’ll take you stop-by-stop on the scenic drive to make sure you don’t miss any of the noteworthy overlooks, reveal the trails that are worth hiking, share important visitor tips, and briefly mention where to stay near the park.
Know Before You Go to Petrified Forest National Park
Park hours are typically 8 AM – 5 PM but can be extended during the busy season. Times are in Mountain Standard Time. The park does not observe daylight savings time.
Petrified Forest is open every day of the year except Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
Petrified Forest is one of the most dog-friendly National Parks in the USA. Your furbaby is allowed on all developed trails!
The scenic drive is 28 miles from end to end (visitor center to visitor center).
It is illegal to remove the petrified wood from the park.
One Day in Petrified Forest National Park
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This One Day Petrified Forest Itinerary is laid out from south (Rainbow Forest) to north (Painted Desert) but you can enter the park on either end and travel whichever way you want! Just flip the itinerary around if you start at the northern (Painted Desert) entrance.
Here’s exactly how you can see Petrified Forest National Park in one day!
One Day Petrified Forest Itinerary Overview
- Enter the park in the late morning.
- Have a picnic lunch at the Rainbow Forest Museum (or Painted Desert Visitor Center, depending on which way you’re entering the park).
- Drive the scenic road and stop at the noteworthy overlooks. I will share all of the best ones in this blog post!
- Hike the trails. I will reveal the best ones!
- Drive to your next destination (I’d recommend Flagstaff or Sedona) or stay near the park. I’d recommend La Quinta Inn & Suites in Holbrook.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #1: Rainbow Forest Museum
The first stop you will want to make after you pass the entrance station is the Rainbow Forest Museum.
Here you can find passport stamps, visitor information, maps, a gift shop, and restrooms. If you’re backpacking in the park, you can also get your backcountry permits here.
If you arrive here around lunchtime, there is a picnic pavilion for you to enjoy lunch. Make sure to pack your lunch in! There are limited snacks available for purchase in Rainbow Forest.
There are three hiking trails that branch off of this museum/visitor center parking area: Giant Logs, Long Logs, and Agate House. If you are short on time, I’d recommend prioritizing Giant Logs. You’ll get to see some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park in a simple 0.4-mile loop!
If you have extra time, the other two trails are a little bit longer but are worth hiking! The Long Logs trail has the highest concentration of petrified wood in the entire park. The Agate House trail boasts archeological artifacts.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #2: Crystal Forest
Crystal Forest is one of the best stops and best hikes in Petrified Forest National Park!
The Crystal Forest Trail is a paved 0.75-mile loop that showcases an abundance of beautiful crystalized petrified logs scattered as far as the eye can see. Not to mention the views of the surrounding colorful badlands are jaw-dropping!
PRO TIP: Bring a pair of binoculars to see the distant crystal logs and rolling hills up close and personal!
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #3: Jasper Forest
Jasper Forest is a stunning overlook that is located on a spur road off the main scenic drive.
This swath of land contains one of the most impressive concentrations of petrified wood in the park. The crystalized badlands resemble formations that belong on the planet Mars. Such a cool sight to see!
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #4: Agate Bridge
The Agate Bridge is a unique natural bridge that’s worth checking out. It’s not an ordinary rock bridge though; it’s a petrified log bridge!
The petrified log spans a gully at the Agate Mesa, extending about 100 feet (40 feet across the chasm).
⚠️ Do NOT cross the bridge! It’s extremely delicate.
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Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #5: Blue Mesa
In my opinion, Blue Mesa is the best hike in Petrified Forest National Park! A trip to this Arizona park isn’t complete without a stroll through the colorful hills of Blue Mesa.
On this 1-mile looped trail, you’ll descend from the mesa down to the canyon floor. You get to wind through all of the blue, purple, peach, and gray banded badlands. It’s truly remarkable; I honestly wish this trail was longer! I could’ve wandered around the hills for hours.
Even if you don’t hike the trail, you must drive the Blue Mesa Scenic Road – a spur road off the main scenic drive! The drive itself is incredibly scenic and one of the best stretches of road in the entire park.
NOTE: There is an overlook (accessible by vehicle) from above the Blue Mesa if you’re not inclined to descend the steep path.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #6: Newspaper Rock
If you’re into archeology and petroglyphs, Newspaper Rock is a must-see! Even if you’re not super into this kind of thing, it’s still neat to observe.
At this archeological site, you’ll find over 650 petroglyphs etched into the rock faces. Such a high concentration of petroglyphs like this indicates that this was a very special and significant area. I wish we could decipher the carvings!
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #7: Puerco Pueblo
Puerco Pueblo is the only ancestral Puebloan village that is easily accessible to the public.
Take the 0.3-mile looped trail around the site to observe the ruins and petroglyphs and imagine what once was.
→ READ NEXT: 5 Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park 🥾
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #8: Route 66
An American road trip just isn’t complete without a journey down Route 66! Traveling from Chicago to Los Angeles, this historic road symbolizes all that is great about America – the small towns, local cuisine, mom-and-pop shops, and all of the adventure, opportunity and discovery possibilities.
At this pull-off along the route, you’ll get to see an old car that remains on the old Route 66.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #9: Lacey Point
The quick landscape transition from white, blue, and brown hills to vibrant hills in varying shades of pink and red is wild.
The view from Lacey Point showcases a breathtaking view of the Painted Desert and looks towards Pintado Point and Pilot Rock, both capped with black volcanic rock.
Bonus Overlook: Whipple Point is near Lacey and provides a pretty similar overlook view. You can stop or simply drive by.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #10: Nizhoni Point
Another landscape color swap! Nizhoni Point gave me real Canyonlands National Park vibes. From this overlook, the black and brown hills resembled the deep canyons and buttes found in the southern Utah desert.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #11: Pintado Point
At the Pintado Point overlook, you are treated to 360-degree views of the pink hills of the Painted Desert! You can also see volcanic formations from this panoramic birds-eye perspective.
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Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #12: Painted Desert Inn
This historic landmark (the Painted Desert Inn) sits at Kachina Point, which is also worth seeing! This historic inn used to serve as a rest stop for travelers driving on Route 66.
Today, you can walk through the inn and grab ice cream, use the restroom, and browse the gift shop.
It is here that you can access the Painted Desert Rim Trail. This 1-mile out & back trail travels across the edge of the Painted Desert rim. From Kachina Point to Tawa Point, you get incredible uninterrupted views of the pink hills! I loved that this trail was unpaved, which was unlike many of the other frontcountry trails in the park. I felt like I was really getting immersed into the park!
If you are going to be backpacking, you can access the trails here in the Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area. You’ll know you’re on the wilderness trail (not the rim trail) if you start descending.
Petrified Forest Itinerary Stop #13: Painted Desert Visitor Center
The last stop on your Petrified Forest scenic drive journey is the Painted Desert Visitor Center, which sits at the north end of the park.
Here you will find visitor information, maps, passport stamps, a bookstore, a restaurant, restrooms, a gas station, and more!
The Tawa Trail, 2.4 miles roundtrip, begins at this visitor center if you want to get out and stretch your legs one last time!
→ READ NEXT: 5 Best Hikes in Petrified Forest National Park 🥾
Discover Your Next Adventure
Where to next? I’ve got some suggestions!
- Saguaro National Park
- Page, Arizona
- Sedona, Arizona
- Bryce Canyon National Park
- Canyonlands National Park
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