Eventually this section of the Colorado Plateau sank and was once
again covered by sediment from an inland sea. Tectonic forces once
again lifted the area and from that time to now wind and water
have worn away the sedimentary layers and uncovered fossil bearing
material including petrified wood, as well as the skeletons of unique
dinosaurs. In addition, the erosion process has also revealed the
amazing colors of the sediments in the Painted Desert which have been
sculpted into a number of pleasant shapes in a landscape that is
typified by colorful, rolling hills.
There are numerous short trails throughout the park that explore the
remains of the areas petrified trees. Check the park's website for more
details on things to do while
The entrance fee to the park is $10 per private vehicle, $5 for
pedestrian or cyclist. Admission is for 7 days.
The Petrified Forest National Park is open year around, except for
Christmas. Park hours vary but you can expect it to be open from
at least 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although it is generally open an hour earlier
and closes one to two hours later in fall, spring and summer. See
the park's official
website for more details on visiting.
The park sits at 5,400
feet elevation and is located in a sparsely populated section of eastern
Arizona. The area is vast, empty and extremely hot in the summer.
Be sure that you vehicle is in good shape before touring this area.
The best way to experience Petrified Forest National Park is to drive.
You can enter the park from the south or the north and the distance
through the park is around 30 miles. The main road has many scenic
overlooks and places for short hikes, so it is easy to spend several
hours in the park. There is no water available in the park and you
should be equipped with a gallon per person per day to survive the
unexpected in the desert.
The main visitor center (the Painted Desert Visitor
Center) is a the north end off of Interstate 40 and is well worth a
visit. Near the entrance, but inside the park is the Painted
Desert Inn National Historic Landmark that has been recently reopened.
The building functions as a museum and a bookstore (no lodging) and is a
wonderful example of traditional southwest architecture.
Forest Museum at the south end of the park has a number of fossil
exhibits, offers and orientation movie and is near several interesting
trailheads in the park.
One of the main reasons the park was
established was to preserve and area of petrified wood for posterity.
Please do not take any of these fossils as a keepsake, as you are
denuding this park of one of its greatest treasures. Of course,
substantial fines will be levied if you are caught. You can buy
petrified wood that has been harvested outside of the park at the shops
within the park and in nearby towns.
There is no campground in park, but you can get a free permit
to camp in the wild. For more information about backpacking in the
park and how to obtain the permit (as well other details on what's
allowed) see this section of the park's
Best Time to Visit
Winter is the best season for a visit, due to the cool temperature
and clear days that are common in this area, although most of the park's
600,000 annual visitors tour during the summer months
Snow and rain
occur throughout the winter and snow can be expected as early as October
and as late as March. Rainfall peaks in July and August and is
usually in the form of thunderstorms. The park is also in one of
the windiest sections of Arizona. You can expect to see dust devils and
an occasional sandstorm during the summers.
Summer temperatures (from
May to early September) are in the mid to high nineties (F) with drops
into the sixties (F) at night. July is usually the park's hottest
Daytime temperatures in winter range from the forties (F) to
fifties (F), but can drop into the teens at night. December is
usually the park's coldest month, but is only slightly colder than
The nearest major airports are Albuquerque, New Mexico (212 miles)
Phoenix, Arizona (261 miles) or Las Vegas, Nevada (367 miles).
is not available in the park, although Holbrook, Arizona (27 miles west)
and Winslow, Arizona (52 miles west) offer a selection of
accommodations. If you are headed west, you might be interested in
visiting Meteor Crater (or perhaps seeing it on the way to Petrified
Forest National Park). It is 35 miles east of Flagstaff and
20 miles west of Winslow. Meteor Crater's website provides details
on the crater and
If you are heading east, Gallup, New Mexico is 68 miles.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument (107 miles) is to the north of
Petrified Forest National Park. Canyon de Chelly is another of the
area’s interesting cliff house dwellings, but the road in is rough and
there are no facilities. If you are interested in more detail,
visit the park's