Things to See in Petrified Forest National Park (Arizona Route 66)

Last updated on April 25th, 2024 at 07:37 am

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Cruise down a legendary highway lined with weathered telephone poles, past vibrant mesas and ancient petrified wood forests. Petrified Forest National Park isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a living piece of American history, where nature’s wonders intertwine with the iconic “Mother Road” – Route 66. Whether your travel itinerary allows for a full day of exploring or a quick hour-long drive through, there are plenty of things to see in Petrified Forest National Park. You won’t want to skip adding it to your Route 66 road trip itinerary.

Imagine cruising in a classic car along Route 66, the wind whipping through your hair as the Painted Desert unfolds before you. This wasn’t just a road trip, it was a symbol of freedom, opportunity, and adventure for generations. Petrified Forest National Park holds the unique distinction of being the only National Park to incorporate a section of Route 66 within its boundaries. Today, you can still pull over at designated spots and trace the original roadbed, feeling the spirit of wanderlust that fueled countless journeys.

While Route 66 beckons with its nostalgic charm, the park’s true treasures lie just beyond the asphalt. Step into the Rainbow Forest, where petrified logs, transformed into millions-of-years-old gems, lie scattered like fallen giants. Each piece, bursting with vibrant hues of red, purple, and orange, whispers stories of prehistoric forests and volcanic eruptions.

But the park’s magic extends beyond the petrified giants. Hike through the otherworldly landscape of the Blue Mesa, sculpted by wind and time into fantastical shapes. Explore the Painted Desert, its colorful layers revealing millions of years of geological history. Uncover the secrets of the past at ancestral Puebloan ruins, remnants of a civilization that thrived here long before the roar of Route 66 filled the air.

Whether you’re a history buff, a nature enthusiast, or simply seeking a unique road trip experience, Petrified Forest National Park offers something for everyone. This blog post will be your guide, navigating you through the park’s highlights, hidden gems, and Route 66 connections. So, gas up your car (or imagination), crank up some classic tunes, and get ready to discover the timeless wonders of Petrified Forest National Park, where the road less traveled intersects with ancient history and stunning landscapes.

Planning a Route 66 road trip? Add this attraction to your itinerary.

Things to See in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

There are so many things to see in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona: gorgeous landscapes, informative centers, pieces of history, and more. Here are some of the highlights you won’t want to leave off your Route 66 road trip itinerary.

Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Painted Desert Visitor Center

Stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center to get more information on your visit to the Petrified Forest National Park. Ask the knowledgeable staff all your questions, take a bathroom break before your big hike, pick up a souvenir magnet at the gift shop and bookstore, stamp your National Park passport, or gas up your car at the on-site gas station.

Painted Desert Inn - Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Painted Desert Inn

The Painted Desert Inn began its life in the early 1920s. Created by Herbert David Lore, the building was originally made of petrified wood and operated as the Stone Tree House. Visitors could get a bite to eat, purchase Native American arts and crafts, drink in the taptoom, or spend the night in one of six small rooms.

In 1936, the National Park Service bought the original inn, but with the amount of structural damage it had maintained in the Arizona elements, ended up rebuilding it completely in a popular-to-the-time Pueblo Revival Style that featured stuccoed masonry, thick walls, earth tones, flat roofs, and projecting roof beams (vigas). For a time in the 1940s, the inn was even operated under the renowned Fred Harvey Company.

Currently, the Painted Desert Inn serves as a museum, and no longer takes guests for overnight stays.

Painted Desert Overlooks at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Painted Desert Overlooks

There are plenty of things to see in the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona but most come for the incredible views. Pull over at one or all of the Painted Desert Overlooks for spectacular views of the National Park.

Stretching across the park’s northern region, the Painted Desert is a mesmerizing expanse of colorful badlands. The name perfectly encapsulates the landscape’s beauty—a canvas of pastel hues that shift with the sun’s angle, creating a breathtaking spectacle. The best views can be found at various overlooks along the park’s roads, with each offering a unique perspective of this natural masterpiece.

Route 66 Alignment at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Route 66 Alignment

Route 66 was commissioned in 1926, creating a road that took travelers all the way from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California. As the journey traversed northeastern Arizona the road wound right through what is now Petrified Forest National Park. Route 66 here was closed down in 1958 and the road was decommissioned altogether in 1985. The Petrified Forest was named a national park in 1962.

In 2006 a new pull-out and monument was added to the park to celebrate this area’s claim to fame of being the only National Park to contain an actual stretch of Route 66 (The Grand Canyon and Gateway Arch are both popular stops on a Route 66 road trip, though neither is directly on Route 66).

The highlight of the Route 66 Alignment Exhibit is the 1932 Studebaker that stands purposefully abandoned on the side of the road. It was donated to the National Park Service by Frank and Rhonda Dobell of the Arizona Automotive Service of Holbrook, Arizona. You will also find a chrome car-themed bench, an informational sign, and a row of historic telephone poles that mark the original Route 66 alignment.

Puerco Pueblo

Explore the ruins of a large Indian pueblo and petroglyphs on a .3-mile (.5 km) loop trail around Puerco Pueblo. As the largest archaeological site in Petrified Forest National Park, this site features the ruins of an ancient Puebloan village that was built by the Anasazi over 600 years ago and over 800 petroglyphs. Along the way you’ll discover informative panels that tell the history of your surroundings.

Newspaper Rock at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Newspaper Rock

Newspaper Rock is an archeological site with more than 650 petroglyphs that were created by ancestral Puebloan people between 650 and 2,000 years ago.

What is a petroglyph? Petroglyphs are rock carvings made by pecking the dark outer layer of rock away to reveal lighter rock below. The “desert varnish” on the surface of the rocks occurs in naturally arid regions when clay materials, oxideds, hydroxides of manganese and iron, and other particles create a thin red or black “varnish” across the rocks.

While you can’t get up close to Newspaper Rock to explore, you can admire it from the viewpoint, where telescopes and binoculars are available to give visitors a closer look.

Blue Mesa at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Blue Mesa

The Blue Mesa Trail takes you to the top of the mesa where you’ll find gorgeous scenic overlooks of the blue, purple, gray, and peach landscape. Along the way you’ll find bentonite clay, petrified wood, and plant and animal fossils

Agate Bridge

Agate Bridge (originally called Natural Bridge) is a 110-foot long petrified log that spans a gully at Agate Mesa to form a bridge.

Jasper Forest at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Jasper Forest

The Jasper Forest offers breathtaking views of the landscape of petrified wood. Take to the scenic overview and observation platform to take it in. More serious hikers can take a 2.5 mile (4 km) off-trail hike on an old abandoned 1930s road.

Crystal Forest at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Crystal Forest

Crystal Forest is one of the most popular areas of Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. The easy .75-mile (1.2 km) trail offers one of the best opportunities in the park to get up close to the petrified wood deposits. Walk among the remains of an ancient forest where millions of years of natural forces buried trees in mud and volcanic ash, leaving behind the fossilized remains you can see today. The Crystal Forest offers one of the best opportunities to see a concentrated collection of petrified wood deposits in one place. The fossilized trees and petrified wood in the area boast an unusually high concentration of quartz and amethyst crystals. In fact, the name “Crystal Forest” same from the sparkling quartz and purple amethyst crystals that developed on the logs as the trees petrified.

Rainbow Forest Museum at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Rainbow Forest Museum

The Rainbow Forest Museum serves as a visitor’s center, museum, and gift shop. It offers information about the park along with an informative film, paleontology exhibits, fossils and artifacts on display, and souvenirs. The .4-mile (.6 km) Giant Logs Trail also starts here.

Long Logs and Agate House

Together the Long Logs and Agate House trails make a 2.6-mile (4.2 km) round-trip hike full of petrified tree trunks and wood, badlands formations, and even a house made of petrified wood. The Long Logs Trail is a 1.6-mile (2.5 km)loop that goes through a Triassic-period log jam and petrified wood that reaches up to 100-feet long. The Agate House Trail leads to a multi-room pueblo made of petrified wood that dates back around 700 years.

Planning a Route 66 road trip? Add this attraction to your itinerary.

Crystal Forest at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Petrified Forest National Park Itineraries

Whether you have one hour or one day to explore this Arizona National Park and whether you’re a serious hiker or just want to take in the views, there are plenty of things to do in this natural wonderland. Here are some suggested itineraries based off of how much time your road trip allows.

Petrified Forest National Park in 1-2 Hours

If you have limited time on your Route 66 road trip and just want to pass through this park, it is easily doable in 1-2 hours. Drive straight through or pick a portoin of the park to explore, admire the rest from your car, and make plans to come back with more time the next time.

  • If you’re starting from the north end, stop at a couple of overlooks, walk the painted Desert Rim Trail, and visit the Painted Desert Inn before driving through the rest of the park.
  • If you’re starting at the south end, Visit the Rainbow Forest Museum, walk the Giant Logs and Crystal Forest Trails, and Drive the Blue Mesa Trail before driving through the rest of the park.

Petrified Forest National Park in Half a Day

If you only have half in Petrified Forest National Park you can plan to drive through the entire park and stop at most of the attractions. You won’t have much time for hiking but can do one or two of the shorter, easier trails. Hop in and out of your car and enjoy the scenic views!

Here is a suggested half-day itinerary:

  • Stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center
  • Explore the Painted Desert Inn and Painted Desert Overlooks
  • Check Out the Route 66 Alignment
  • Stop at Newspaper Rock, Blue Mesa, and Jasper Forest (but save hiking for next time)
  • Walk through the Crystal Forest
  • Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum and Giant Logs Trail

Petrified Forest National Park in One Day or More

If you have a full day, or multiple days, to explore this national park, you can explore all of the highlights, drive through the entire park, take in the longer hikes, do one or more of the more strenuous off-the-beaten-path hikes, aor even camp in the backcountry wilderness area.

Developed Trails

There are many developed trails in Petrified Forest National Park. These are maintained areas that allow you to take short walks to get up close and personal with the landscape of the area.

  • Tawa Trail (2 Miles/3.2 km, Round Trip): Grasslands and views better the Painted Desert Visitor Center Entrance Station and Tawa Point.
  • Painted Desert Rim (1 Mile/1.6 km, Round Trip): Walk Between Tawa Point and Painted Desert Inn.
  • Puerco Pueblo (.3 Mile/.5km, Loop): Walk around the partial excavation of a 100+ room village that was occupied between 1250 and 1380 CE.
  • Blue Mesa (1 Mile/1.6 km, Loop): Wander the blue, purple, and gray badlands covered in petrified wood.
  • Crystal Forest (.75 Mile, 1.2 km, Loop): Walk among a beautiful collection of petrified logs.
  • Giant Logs (.4 Mile/.6 km, Loop): Visit some of the largest and most colorful logs in Petrified Forest National Park, including the ten-foot around “Old Faithful.”
  • Log Logs (1.6 Mile/2.5 km, Loop): Find Triassic log jams and long petrified tree trunks.
  • Agate House (2 Miles/3.2 km, Round Trip): Walk to a reconstructed seven-room pueblo.

Harder Hikes

For those with more experience and wanting a bit more of a challenging hike, these off-the-beaten-path trails are for you. These are not as maintained so they might require route-finding skills. Stop at one of the visitor centers to pick up guides and get more information. DOn’t forget to bring a bottle of water!

  • Onyx Bridge (4 Miles/6.4 km, Round Trip): Hike to a Petrified Wood “Bridge.”
  • Wilderness Loop (7 Miles/11.3 km, Round Trip): Hike the North Painted Desert Wilderness.
  • Deadwash Overlook (4 Miles/6.4 km, Round Trip): A moderately challenging hike that includes scrambling and steep elevations.
  • Historic Blue Forest Trail (3 Miles/4.8 km, Round Trip): Hike along an unmaintained CCC trail.
  • Billings Gap (3 Miles/4.8 km, Round Trip): Hike atop the Blue Mesa.
  • Red Basin Clam Beds (8.5 Miles/13.7 km Round Trip): Hike atop the Blue Mesa.
  • Jasper Forest (2.5 Miles/4 km, Round Trip): Hike on an old road among petrified wood.
  • First Forest (2.1 Miles/3.4 km Round Trip): Hike on an old road among petrified logs.
Crystal Forest at Petrified Forest National Park on Arizona Route 66

Plan Your Visit to Petrified Forest National Park

Plan your visit to Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. Here are some things to know before you go, directions, places to stay, and more things to see on your road trip!

Plan Your Visit

Petrified Forest National Park is open from 8:00 am to 5:00pm, MST. Please note that Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings.

Fees to visit this national park are:

  • $25 for a private vehicle. Admits one private, non-commercial vehicle (15-passenger capacity or less) and all occupants. Valid for 7 days.
  • $15 per person. Admits one individual with no motor vehicle (bicyclist, hiker, pedestrian). Youth 15 and under are admitted free of charge. Valid for 7 days.
  • $20 per motorcycle. Admits one or two passengers on a single private, non-commercial motorcycle. Valid for 7 days.

If you live in the area or plan to return multiple times in the year, consider getting an annual pass for $45. Or, get an America the Beautiful pass for $80 to gain access to National Parks and monuments around the country.

Things to Know Before You Go

Planning a visit to Petrified Forest National Park? Here are some things to know before you go:

  • All items in the park are protected. Collecting items and objects other than photographs and things sold in the gift show is prohibited. This includes petrified wood, fossils, rocks, soil, plants, pottery shards, arrowheads, petroglyphs, feathers, and grass. If you witness resource theft in the park please call 928-524-6025 and provide a description.
  • There is a gas station at the Painted Desert Visitor Center if you need to fuel up before driving through the park.
  • Painted Desert Diner is open 8am-3pm daily for meals. Grab-and-go options are available at the Rainbow Forest Museum.
  • Bicycles are permitted on paved roads.
  • Pets are welcome. Do not leave them unattended in the car. Pets are allowed on trails as long as they are leashed and picked up after. Animals other than service animals are not allowed inside the visitors centers.
  • Don’t forget to use sunblock and stay hydrated.

How to Get to Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located between Interstate 40 and Highway 180. There are two entrances and exits with visitors centers: The Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south entrance. Here’s how to get to Petrified Forest National Park:

  • Westbound I-40: take exit 311, drive 28 miles through the park. Make a right turn at HWY-180 intersection for 18 miles to return to I-40 via Holbrook.
  • Eastbound I-40: take exit 285 into Holbrook. Follow signs through town to HWY-180. Travel 18 miles east on HWY-180 then turn left at the park’s southern entrance. Drive 28 miles north through the park to return to I-40.
  • Northbound: follow the eastbound route to reach HWY-191 North.
  • Southbound HWY-77: enter either side to return to Holbrook before heading south.

Where to Stay Near Petrified Forest National Park

There are no hotels, motels, or RV setups inside the Petrified Forest National Park so you most likely will need to book a room in a neighboring town, like Holbrook, Arizona; Winslow, Arizona; or Gallup, New Mexico. Check out some of our favorite Route 66 motels:

Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, Arizona Route 66 Motel and Roadside Attraction

Wigwam Motel

Have you slept in a Wigwam lately? Seven Wigwam Motels were built in the 1930s and 1940s. Today, only three remain, including two Wigwam Motels on Route 66. Each motel room in this Holbrook motel is in an individual building shaped like a teepee. Spend the night at Wigwam Motel, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the inspiration for Sally’s Cozy Cone Motel in the Pixar movie Cars.

Located about 20 miles away in Holbrook, Arizona

Hotel Room at La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona Route 66 Motel

La Posada Hotel

La Posada offers a four-star experience that can’t be beat. The 1930 hotel was created by architect Mary Colter, hotelier Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway. It was the last great railway hotel built in America and the finest historic hotel on Route 66. Over the years it has served an impressive roster of celebrity guests, from James Cagney to Franklin D. Roosevelt to Amelia Earhart to John Wayne. Book a room and a reservation at The Turquoise Room, one of the finest restaurants in the southwest.

Located about 60 miles away in Winslow, Arizona.

Historic El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, New Mexico Route 66 Motel

Historic El Rancho Hotel

One of the best motels on Route 66 is the Historic El Rancho Hotel. Sleep where the stars have at this 1940s hotel that has hosted some of Hollywood’s biggest movie movie stars and makers, including Robert Mitchum, Elia Kazan, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, William Holden, Billy Wilder, Kirk Douglas, Gregory Peck, Troy Donahue, and more. Photos of the stars are peppered throughout the intricately designed property and each room is themed with a star’s photo and information.

Located about 74 miles away in Gallup, New Mexico.

Camping inside the park in limited to the Wilderness Area. There are no designated camping sites and you must obtain a camping permit at the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum.

Book Your Road Trip

Whether you’re traveling from out of town specifically to explore the Petrified Forest National Park, road-tripping Arizona, or taking a cross-country Route 66 adventure, you’ll want to do some planning ahead. Here are some ways to plan your road trip to the Petrified Forest National Park:

Attractions Near Petrified Forest National Park

If you’re taking a Route 66 road trip through Arizona or just looking for something to do after visiting Petrified Forest National Park, there are plenty of fun things in the area to explore! Here are some recommendations on what to do next:

Planning a Route 66 road trip? Add this attraction to your itinerary.

Plan Your Route 66 Road Trip

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Last modified: April 25, 2024
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