The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

The Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona

Living in Arizona for eight years now, we’ve always heard of this magical place called the Painted Desert. We had seen pictures of colorful, sandy waves dancing across the skyline with colors you’d never expect from a desert. Since it’s 2020 and we’re limited in our travel options at the time (due to COVID-19) we decided to embark on a road trip through Northern Arizona.

I don’t think the universe wanted us to be traveling as we encountered lots of traffic making our way north, due to a crazy amount of wildfire damage and road closures. But eventually, half a day later, we made it to Holbrook, Arizona. 

Holbrook… it’s nothing special. Not a place you need to visit, but a good home base for visiting the Painted Desert. We stayed the night and the next morning, woke up early to begin our explorations. We arrived at the Petrified Forest National Park with expectations, expecting to see things we’ve never seen before in under an hour of driving total. We were correct about one of those things, but not the time. Despite being told it was only 40-45 minutes to drive through the entire loop of the park, we ended up spending 3-4 hours there and could have spent longer.

We began by driving the north loop from the Visitor’s Center where we picked up a map. The map is well laid out and makes it clear what’s at each stop and if a hike is available. We asked several of the employees which stops were their favorites to be sure we spent the most time there.

So come along on this road trip through the Petrified Forest with us! We’ll share which stops are worth it and which could be skipped. Here we go…

Stop 1: Visitor Center

Before stop 2, pull off to take in the views at Tawa Point which are expansive! Worth a couple minutes of gazing and photos. Our vote: stop here.

Stop 2: Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark

This was closed due to COVID-19 precautions and social distancing, but the views behind the Inn were also beautiful. Our vote: stop here.

Stop 3: Painted Desert Overlooks

More magnificent views for some oohs and aahs. Our vote: stop here.

Stop 4: Route 66 Alignment

We didn’t stop but you’ll just see an old Studebaker sitting off to the right side of the road here to signify when Route 66 used to pass through here. Our vote: skip it.

Now, you’ll cross over the highway and venture south to the remaining stops.

Step 5: Puerco Pueblo 

We didn’t stop at this one as most of the old ancestral homes are gone now and only the foundations remain. But it could be a quick stop and see. Our vote: skip it. 

Step 6: Newspaper Rock

We walked out to the rock and used the telescopes to see the petroglyphs. They’re very small and hard to see without them. They’re 2,000 years old and a beautiful site. However, since we were at the Rock Art Canyon prior to this, it paled in comparison. Our vote: stop here.

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Stop 7: Blue Mesa

Ok here’s where it gets fun, the blue mesa! This was our #1 favorite stop of the entire loop drive. Why? Pure, organic beauty. First off, the geology is so colorful. It’s a blue-ish, purple-ish color that’s almost hard to believe. Nothing you’d ever expect to see. Definitely spend some time here by hiking down into the canyon and doing the 1 mile walk around it. You can see the colors up close as well as some petrified wood pieces scattered throughout. Don’t miss this stop! Our vote: definitely stop here.

Stop 8: Agate Bridge

We stopped here, but it wasn’t much. Just an old petrified log that spans a gully. You could skip this one. Our vote: skip it. 

Stop 9: Jasper Forest

We didn’t stop here as we had already seen a lot of petrified wood dring our Blue Mesa hike. No one was even stopped there. Wait until the next few stops to see more of the petrified wood. Our vote: skip it.

Stop 10: Crystal Forest

We stopped her and did the entire 0.75mi loop trail. It was cool to get up close to the petrified wood and see the quartz crystals glisten under the sun. Our vote: stop here.

Stop 11: Rainbow Forest Museum and Giant Logs Trail

The museum was closed, but you can walk to the right of the building to the giant logs trail. It’s basically a 0.4mi loop trail where some of the larger petrified wood has been displayed. Make sure you see the biggest one there! Our vote: stop here. 

Stop 12: Long logs and Agate House

We didn’t stop here. It’s not a natural house, but instead reconstructed from the wood and there’s a 2.6mi trail here. Our vote: skip it. 

Well, that was the entire trip! As we said, you can easily spend a few hours here if you do some of the hiking trails. The Blue Mesa section was our favorite, in addition to some of the Tepees you’ll see just before getting to the Blue Mesa turn off. Out second favorite thing was just the views at the very beginning of the Painted Desert.

Getting to see just a portion of the 50,000 acres of wilderness throughout this park was such a treat. We’re so glad we got to experience more of Arizona’s natural wonders and highly recommend the day trip here! It’s about 2 hours from Flagstaff if you’re in that area.

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destination dorworth
destination dorworth

About the Author

Hello, we are Zach (@zachdorworth) and Steph (@stephdorworth). We are Mr & Mrs traveling the world one romantic city at a time while perfecting obsessively organized travel.

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