Arizona is home to three national parks, one of which is the Petrified Forest National Park. The park is a stunning destination in northeastern Arizona, boasting a unique landscape. This small incredible park is home to a vast collection of petrified wood, which has been beautifully preserved over millions of years. In addition to the petrified wood, visitors can explore unique rock formations, great hiking, and stunning vistas.
The Drive-Thru National Park
We have visited many national parks, but none are easier to access than Petrified Forest National Park. This park has its own dedicated exit from Interstate 40 (I-40). If you are traveling west on I-40, you take exit 311; exiting from the freeway, you are now on Park Road, which leads to the park's fee station. Once you are in the park, the two-lane road continues for 28 miles and connects to AZ Hwy 180, which will take you to Holbrook, where you can rejoin I-40.
Even the National Parks Service promotes the drive-thru nature of the park. The Trip Planner you receive as part of your park fee provides recommendations based on how much time you want to spend, ranging from 1-2 hours to a full day; it even highlights that if you do not stop, you can make the entire drive in 45 minutes.
That said, I encourage you to take your time and fully explore this amazing place. We spent four days taking in all that this park had to offer.
Petrified Forest North and South
I-40 cuts through the park and serves as the dividing line between the North and South Sections of the park. North of the I-40 consists of the Painted Desert Wilderness area, with Petrified Forest National Park making up the southern section.
Painted Desert Wilderness Area
Following Park Road south from the I-40 entry point, the road runs along the southern edge of the Painted Desert Wilderness area. The Painted Desert covers an area of 7,500 square miles running southeast from the Grand Canyon, with the south section ending at the Petrified Forest.
This area gets its name from the remarkable mix of colors. Here limestone-topped hills containing large concentrations of oxidized iron mixed with desert plants create a fantastic landscape.
Most of the painted desert falls within the Navajo Nation, and permission is needed to access it. The southeastern corner of Painted Desert has been designated the Painted Desert Wilderness Area. This area measures roughly 8 miles by 10 miles and is managed by the National Park Service. This area allows you to experience The Painted Desert up close through hiking and camping opportunities.
As you continue south, the road slowly descends into a flat area, and the road noise of I-40 traffic breaks the silence of the desert. As you approach an I-40 overpass, the remains of a 1932 Studebaker come into view. This old car was added to the park in 2006 and sits on the original 1926 Route 66 alignment and serves as a reminder of the impact that Route 66 had on 20th-century American history and culture. On the left side of the road is a line of old telephone poles heading west into the desert, marking the path of the old road.
Heading over the overpass, you transition from the Painted Desert into the Petrified Forest. This landscape dramatically changes. The hills in this area have a mix of manganese, iron, and other minerals creating hills with bands of reds, blues, greens, and white.
The Blue Mesa is a stunning grouping of hills containing large deposits of bentonite clay, giving this area this incredible blue color. This area is very easy to access, and the park service has a one-mile paved path that winds through the hills. This stop is also the first place you will start to see examples of petrified wood.
Crystal Forest and Giant Logs
Leaving Blue Mesa and heading south, you enter the Petrified Forest zone. In this area, the amount of petrified wood is astounding.
Crystal Forest is a magnificent attraction located in the Petrified Forest in Arizona. The forest is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and adventure enthusiasts. The trees in the forest are over 200 million years old and have been petrified by the volcanic activity that occurred in the area.
The forest is a true wonder of nature and is worth exploring. Visitors can stroll through the forest and marvel at the beauty of this place. There are numerous trails in this section of the park; here, you can take your time and stroll among these geological wonders.
To make the most of your visit, you should visit during the cooler months, carry lots of water and wear comfortable hiking shoes. Also important to stay on designated trails and not disturb the petrified wood, as all artifacts in the park are protected by law.
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