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Neighboring Parks

Petrified Forest National Park in Eastern Arizona

And uncrowded national park east of the Grand Canyon

For visitors who are interested in seeing an ancient landscape, it’s worth the 3-hour drive from Grand Canyon National Park to visit Petrified Forest National Park. Home to fossils older than 200 million years, and some of the largest and most beautiful concentrations of petrified wood, “painted desert” badlands, archeological sites and historic structures, Petrified Forest National Park is a very unique national park.

Stunning striped purple sandstone formations of Blue Mesa badlands in Petrified Forest National Park
Stunning striped purple sandstone formations of Blue MesaJim Mangum

Touring the park by car without stopping will take about 45 minutes. Plan at least an hour to adequately take in the sights of the ancient forests and sites. If possible, stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center. Also plan on taking in the sights at Kachina Point, drive the Blue Mesa Road and stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum.

If you have more time and want to experience this unique park at a deeper level, walk the Giant Logs Trail, the Puerco Pueblo Trail and spend a little time at the Painted Desert Inn Museum.

Puerco Pueblo, an ancient 100+ room pueblo in Petrified Forest National Park
Puerco Pueblo, an ancient 100+ room pueblo in the center of the national parkNPS Public Domain

What is Special About the Petrified Forest?

At Petrified Forest National Park, you’ll discover two things you may not find at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: solitude and a warm welcome for your dog.

You can bring your dog anywhere, except the park’s buildings, making it one of the most animal-friendly locations in the park system. Rangers like to point out that even the park’s name begins with the word “Pet.”

Dog and Dad at Crystal Forest in Petrified Forest National Park
Dog and Dad at Crystal Forest in Petrified Forest National ParkNPS Public Domain

It’s also one of the least crowded national parks. And with the new addition of backcountry hiking areas like Martha’s Butte (no one recalls who Martha actually was) and Red Basin, you can route-find on your own or go on a guided ranger hike. The 2-mile out-and-back Martha’s Butte hike leads you to a stunning solar-marker petroglyph that gets covered exactly in half by shadow during the summer solstice. At Red Basin, you’ll find petrified wood, petroglyphs and vibrant badlands formations.

Sandstone rock formations in the expansion lands of Petrified Forest National Park
Sandstone rock formations in the expansion lands of Petrified Forest National ParkAndrew Kearns/Flickr

Can You Take Rocks from Petrified Forest?

No, you are not supposed to remove or even move rocks, petrified wood or other natural elements from the national park. In some locations, you may touch the wood but leave it lie where it’s been resting for over 200 million years. Contrary to what some believe, you won’t be cursed if you take a rock home. But many have regretted a lapse in judgement and returned stolen rocks to the park where they end up in the “conscience pile.” If you really want a fossil or piece of petrified wood, there are legal gift shops outside of the park where such treasures cost just a few dollars.

Getting to Petrified Forest National Park from the Grand Canyon

It’s a three-hour drive to the park from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. Take Hwy. 180 to Flagstaff, a fun university town. Then travel I-40 east with stops at the Meteor Crater Visitor Center and  Winslow, made famous by the Eagles song Take It Easy, to Exit 303, Adamana Road.

Petrofied Forest Regional map

For more information about Petrified Forest National Park, visit www.nps.gov/pefo/.