100% YES! The geology of Petrified Forest National Park and its window into prehistoric earth is mind blowing. The park straddles the high plains and painted desert of Arizona. Additionally, there is so much more to see in the surrounding area. Below we will get into a recap of a weekend trip we did to the park and other things in the area to check.
Before we get into visiting Petrified Forest National Park we want to remind you to practice the LEAVE NO TRACE principles. Please remember to stay on trail, pack out all trash, and explore prepared. Check out our hiking tips here.
Where is Petrified Forest National Park?
Petrified Forest National Park is 3.5 hours from Phoenix and is in the northeastern section of the state and intersected by Interstate-40. The closest city is Holbrook and it’s about 20 minutes from the National Park. The second closest city is Winslow and it’s about 40 minutes from the park.
Good things to know about the park
Unlike most other National Parks, Petrified Forest National Park opens and closes with time controlled gates. The park hours are 8am to 5pm, MST. Don’t forget that Arizona does not observe Daylight Savings. It is one of the most animal friendly parks. Bring your leashed pet any place you are allowed to go except into the buildings. You can even take your pet on a trail or backpack overnight. A 7 day pass is $25 or you can use an America The Beautiful or other accepted Interagency Pass.
Petrified Forest National Park isn’t a huge park and is drivable in one day. There is a North Entrance and a South Entrance. The North section has the Painted Desert and the South section has the popular Blue Mesa Trail, the Crystal Forest, and more accessible larger “forests” of petrified wood.
What we did
This was our second time visiting the park. If you’re interested in our first trip you can check it out here. This time around we drove to Holbrook directly after work a Friday. We arrived at Holbrook just as the sun was setting.
On Saturday we were at the park right before the gates were set to open. We were the first ones at the South Entrance and went straight to Blue Mesa Trail. It felt weird in a national park, but we were the only ones on the trail. It was great!
Blue Mesa Trail
Blue Mesa Trail is one of the popular trails in the park, and for good reason. The colors of the badlands are absolutely beautiful! The trail is completely paved, but it is steep going down and coming back up. The trail is a loop and it is only 1 mile. You can check out the trail on AllTrails here.
After we hiked Blue Mesa Trail we quickly checked out The Tepees. It’s a quick stop since it is right off the side of the road and it’s just a pull out, but it’s worth the easy stop!
Other Things To Consider Before Leaving The South Section of the Park
- Crystal Forest
- Jasper Forest
- Newspaper Rock
The Painted Desert
After we were done at the Tepees we went directly to The Painted Desert Inn to hike to Onyx Bridge. The Painted Desert Inn is a historic landmark and was once a small hotel. There is a small museum inside and an ice cream shop. Before we set off on our hike, we enjoyed a Mountain House meal on one of the picnic benches outside.
The hike to Onyx Bridge starts with a steep descent down some switchbacks on the back side of the Painted Desert Inn. Once down to the desert floor, there isn’t much elevation change until the very end. This hike can be hard to follow, but we used AllTrails even though it can be inaccurate at times. You MUST download the trail ahead of time. You can also can get a map from the Visitor Center. Most of the time we followed the footprints of previous hikers.
“The Triassic conifer tree, known as Onyx Bridge, is one of the many preserved logs in the Black Forest. These logs and the geologic layer in which they are found in are about 210 million years old” – National Park Service
During the day we overheard someone asking about a dark sky program scheduled for that night. After learning more details, we decided to attend. We were able to enter the park after dark, which you normally can’t do, so we thought that was pretty cool! There were multiple telescopes set up, and after a brief overview on stars and constellation from a former ranger (now volunteer) we were able to see distant stars and nebulas. The ranger pointed out different constellations and taught us how to find the North Start, Polaris.
We happened to attend the very first dark sky program of 2023 and it was still pretty cold that night. They only have these programs in the summer, but it is worth checking one out!
Homolovi State Park
About 30 minutes from Holbrook is Homolovi State Park! We definitely think this is worth the quick stop if you have time.
“The primary Homolovi interpretive resources consist of archeological sites including four major pueblos, numerous smaller structures, and site features ranging in size from one-room pit houses or simple artifact scatters to a 1200 room pueblo, and petroglyphic panels with depictions of kachina and clan symbols. The sites date from three main periods: AD 620-850, AD 1050-1225, and AD 1260-1400. During each of these periods there was a concentrated population of people living near the Little Colorado River. Members of the Hopi Nation consider this area an important ancestral site and return to Homolovi for religious purposes” – AZ State Parks
We made sure we checked into both State Parks with The Arizona Parks Passport. It’s a fun way to keep track of all of the parks you’ve been to and there is a chance to win prizes thorough the Arizona Office of Tourism with every check in! To download the app visit the Arizona Office of Tourism’s website.
Stop in Winslow
About 20 minutes from Homolovi State Park is Winslow. We made a really quick stop. If we had more time we would have ate lunch there. Some of the restaurants looked good! Winslow became known in pop culture because of the hit Eagles song, Take It Easy where they sing Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona...
Other Things To Consider
- Check out the Meteor Crater National Landmark near Winslow
Where we stayed
There aren’t a ton of options in Holbrook, but we stayed at the popular Wigwam Motel that a lot of people think cars is based off of! This is definitely more of a motel and the inside hasn’t been updated in awhile, but the outside is pretty cool.