Hiking at Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest National Park is not the long-distance hiker's nirvana, as there are only a handful of short trails in the front-country and no marked trails winding through the backcountry.
No doubt, the lack of shade, water, and other amenities—forests, for instance, that provide both atmosphere and firewood—is responsible for the dearth of extensive backcountry trails. You are welcome to venture off into either of the park's two wilderness areas, but you'll have to carry your own water—no easy task at eight pounds a gallon, with a gallon recommended for each person per day!
What trails exist in the front-country, however, are highly educational and intriguing for the archeological resources and petrified wood that they showcase at select spots along the 28-mile park road that runs between the Painted Desert Visitor Center and the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center.
Hikes Featured in the Traveler
Blue Mesa Trail
There are, relative to other parks, only a handful of hikes for you to consider when you visit Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but you still should come up with a pecking order, if only to plan your day.
And if you like to hike first thing in the morning, then the Blue Mesa Trail should rise to the very top of your list.
Crystal Forest Trail
Though it's called the "Crystal Forest," it could just as easily have been dubbed "the wood lot" for all the slabs and trunks of petrified wood you'll find along this easy hike in Petrified Forest National Park.
Located not quite 5 miles north of the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center at the park's south entrance, the Crystal Forest Trail meanders three-quarters of a mile past some of the most colorful stone logs you'll ever see.
This is a particularly great trail for kids: It's not too long to tucker out youngsters, and the close proximity of stone logs, slabs, and trunks along the trail allows kids to not only closely inspect these stones but also rap their knuckles on them to prove that they really are stone.
Long Logs and Agate House Trails
It's the heart of summer, the hottest time to visit Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona, but that doesn't mean you still can't enjoy the Long Logs and Agate House trails near the park's south entrance. You just have to be strategic in planning when to do these companion hikes.
Together the two trails wind fewer than 4 miles through the petrified wood-littered landscape that's surrounded by gray-white badlands. There are reddish and cinnamon-hued long logs -- hence the name of the one trail -- and slabs that might have been sliced with a laser so clean are the cuts. And there's a pueblo recreated from petrified wood slabs similar to what ancestral puebloans might have used to build their homes seven-10 centuries ago.
Other Hikes At Petrified Forest
Painted Desert Rim Trail
Length: 1 mile round trip
Trailheads: Tawa Point and Kachina Point
This unpaved trail winds through the rim woodland, a place for chance encounters with many species of plants and animals and spectacular views of the Painted Desert. Please do not harm animals or plants in the park. Even though this trail does not have stairs, the waterbars and dirt-gravel surface may make this trail unsuitable for strollers or mobility vehicles.
Length: 0.3 mile loop
Trailhead: Puerco Pueblo parking area
At Puerco Pueblo, walk amidst the remains of a hundred room pueblo, occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Petroglyphs can be viewed along the south end of the trail. Do not climb on the boulders or walls. Please do not touch the petroglyphs. This trail is paved and does not have stairs, making it suitable for strollers and various mobility equipment (power and manual).
Giant Logs Trail
Length: 0.4 mile loop
Location: Behind Rainbow Forest Museum
* Trail guide available inside Rainbow Forest Museum.
Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. "Old Faithful," at the top of the trail, is almost ten feet wide at the base! This paved trail has several sets of stairs and may not be suitable for strollers or mobility equipment.
The first half-mile of this trail is paved and suitable for mobility equipment and strollers. Strollers may be negotiated on the loop, but it is not recommended for most wheelchairs and other mobility equipment due to its narrow width and very rough surface. Stairs up to the shade shelter can be avoided by using the Agate House trail to access the hilltop.