In addition to its unique beauty and scenic vistas, Petrified Forest National Park is home to one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the world. The significance? It is also home to one of the most diverse and complete fossil records of the Triassic period—it stretches the imagination to think that what is now Arizona desert was once a lush ecosystem situated near the equator and inhabited by the early dinosaurs.
Petrified wood is the land’s most evident connection to that time, and it abounds in the park. Much of the wood survives from long-extinct trees 211-218 million years old. These natural phenomena can be spotted from the road or off any one of the park’s trails. They are found in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Some are as large as ten feet in diameter. Upon close inspection one can examine prehistoric tree-rings and find fossilized insects embedded in the wood.
For those less interested in science and natural history, the Petrified Forest is still a great park to visit whether one intends to drive through or spend the whole day. One doesn’t have to know how old the rocks are to be inspired by the weird topography of the Chinle formation or be hushed by the iridescent badlands of the Painted Desert. Short scenic trails are available to time-pressed visitors; for the more adventurous, the park’s designated wilderness will sustain more than a short hike.
The park’s visitor center is located near the north entrance off I-40. The main road runs through the park north-south at a length of approximately 28 miles, linking I-40 to Hwy 180. Dozens of historical and archaeological sites are located off the main road, including Pueblo Puerco, a petroglyphic, hundred-room village dating from 1250 CE; Agate House, a pueblo made of petrified wood and dating back to 900 CE; and the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark, located off historic Route 66. The Rainbow Forest Museum is located two miles north of the south entrance and houses nearly 200,000 objects including fossils and ethnological artifacts.
Petrified Forest National Park is a day park. Operating hours vary depending on the season. Winter hours are the shortest, from 8 AM to 5 PM. Overnight camping, parking and RVs are prohibited. Overnight backpacking is available by permit. Lodging can be found outside of the park. PFNP is wheelchair accessible.
Location: Northeastern Arizona, Apache and Navajo Counties
- Paved Scenic Drive
- Visitor Center
- Public Restrooms
- Gas Station
- Convenience Store
- Numerous hiking trails and scenic points
- Bookstores and Gift Shops
- Historic Museums