National Parks

From Route 66 to Stone Trees: 9 Cool Things to Do at Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park for kids as Arizona Road Trip Stop.
A light dusting of snow enhances the beauty of the painted desert in Petrified Forest National Park. Credit: Catherine Parker

A Northern Arizona road trip is one of the best ways to see top destinations like the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest National Park. Just a few hours east of Grand Canyon National Park off Interstate 40, it is an easy stop for road trippers. Visitors will find a one-way scenic drive that includes the Painted Desert Inn and the historic Route 66.  There are short hikes, a museum and even free activities for kids and dogs. Here are the top things to do at Petrified Forest National Park.

Petrified Forest National Park at a Glance

Year Established: 1962
Located: Northern Arizona
Size: 346 square miles (900 square kilometers)
Top Features: Petrified Wood, Route 66 and Painted Desert Inn


Top 9 Things to Do at Petrified Forest 

  • Learn how Petrified Stone is Made
  • Stop by the Visitor Center
  • See Route 66
  • Take a Scenic Drive
  • Take a Hike
  • Tour the Painted Desert Inn
  • See a Stone Tree
  • Earn a Junior Ranger or BARK Ranger Badge 
  • Visit Another National Park
Explore the Arizona family road trip stop at Petrified Forest National Park.
The giant logs of a downed stone forest offer families a unique landscape to explore. National Park Service

Why Visit Petrified Forest National Park

Road trippers can stretch their legs on a family-friendly hiking trail and see a stone tree. For those yearning to discover a landscape from an old Western, Petrified Forest National Park features colorful mesas and even a section of the fabled Route 66.

Over 200 million years ago, ancient Arizona was a rainforest with roaming dinosaurs and lush forests. The rainforest slowly died off as the continents moved and the climate changed. The huge trees fell to the earth and slowly transformed into stone.

In the late 1800s, visitors collected petrified wood and threatened the unique landscape of the Petrified Forest. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Petrified Forest National Monument, which became a national park in 1962. Petrified Forest National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park.

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Stop by one of the visitor centers for an interpretive center and family-friendly hikes nearby. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Visitor Centers in Petrified Forest National Park 

Many visitors’ first stop is the visitor center at each park entrance, one at the north and south entrances. Each center offers an interpretive area and an 18-minute introductory film. Outside, visitors will find marked trails, perfect for families with small children.

Painted Desert Visitor Center

You’ll find a picnic area, a gas station, restrooms, a bookstore, and a small restaurant. You can also get Junior Ranger booklets, maps, and wilderness permits.

Located at exit #311 on Interstate 40 at the northern entrance of the park. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Painted Desert National  Historic Landmark

This location also offers park information and restrooms. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Rainbow Forest Museum

You can see an exhibit of paleontological exhibits from the park, including skeletons collected in the park. Another top activity is walking along the Long Logs Agate House. There is also a picnic area and restrooms.

Located off U.S. Highway 180 near the southern entrance of the park. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Scenic Drives in Petrified Forest

One of the easiest ways to see a national park is to drive through it.

Main Park Road

The Main Park Road offers lots of pull-outs from one entrance to the next. The main park road is 28 miles from one end to the next.

See Route 66

As America grew, so did the need for roads. In 1853, Congress authorized a study to find a rail route between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. By 1857, a wagon road extended from New Mexico to the Colorado River. In 1926, Route 66 opened as one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System.

The Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park to protect a portion of Route 66. Near the Painted Desert Visitor Center, pull over to see the fabled route that enchanted a nation with the romance of cruising the open road much like the cowboys did a generation before.

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Best Short Hikes in Petrified Forest

Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum for several hikes that originate from this area.

Giant Logs Trail–Offers a .4-mile trail with Old Faithful, a petrified tree that’s 10 feet wide at its base. It is not an accessible trail or suitable for strollers, and it includes several sets of stairs.

Long Logs Trail— A 1.6-mile loop originating at the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot and can be combined with the Agate House Trail for a 2.6-mile hike.

Agate House Trail–A 2-mile roundtrip hike. Also originates at the Rainbow Forest Museum parking lot and can be combined.

Puerco Pueblo Trail–A .3-mile accessible and stroller-friendly hike about halfway between the entrances. On this trail, find petroglyphs or rock carvings.

Painted Desert Rim Trail–A 1-mile roundtrip hike near Tawa Point and Kachina Point. There are no steps but uneven grades.

Add the Painted Desert Inn to your Arizona Family Road Trip in Petrified Forest.
Stop and tour the Painted Desert Inn during your visit to Petrified Forest National Park. National Park Service

Stop By The Painted Desert Inn

Built in the 1920s, the Painted Desert Inn offered lodging and dining for its earliest visitors. Originally constructed of petrified wood and native stone, park ranger Lyle Bennett redesigned it in the Pueblo Revival Style in the 1930s.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) added the stucco masonry walls, flat roofs and viga beams using ponderosa pine and aspen poles from nearby forests. The CCC made the light fixtures of hand-punched tin as well.

With a convenient location along Route 66, the Painted Desert Inn provided travelers with meals, Native American arts and crafts and lodging until the start of World War II. It closed for five years, along with the majority of the National Park Service sites during the war.

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Tour The Painted Desert Inn during your Arizona Family road trip.
The interior of the Painted Desert Inn offers original furniture and murals. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

The Fred Harvey Company arrived in the 1940s to freshen up the Painted Desert Inn. Mary Jane Colter, the lead architect for Fred Harvey, oversaw the renovations and added a new color scheme. By this time, Colter was well-known for her work from the nearby Grand Canyon Village.

The Fred Harvey Company brought the Harvey Girls to the Painted Desert Inn, which served customers from the 1940s through the 1950s. The Painted Desert Inn became a National Historic Landmark in 1987 after escaping demolition.

It features a museum along with restrooms and information. Get access to the Painted Desert Rim Trail.

The Painted Desert Inn is open daily from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.

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An Arizona Road Trip destination at Petrified Forest National Park.
The Petrified Forest National Park offers families a unique road trip stop in Northern Arizona. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Kids and Dogs at Petrified Forest

The Junior Ranger Program offers the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Pick up a Junior Ranger booklet at either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum and turn it in at the other end of the park. This Junior Ranger booklet doesn’t require attending a ranger program and can be completed within an hour or two while exploring the park.

The Petrified Forest National Park also offers the Junior Paleontologist Badge.

BARK program

Petrified Forest National Park welcomes pets as long as they practice the principles of the BARK program. In fact, the park offers a dog park for off-leash play, a nice feature since many of the visitors are road-tripping.

B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash

A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others

R–Respect wildlife

K–Know where you can go

Guide to Junior Ranger Badges

Horseback Riding

Petrified Forest National Park offers horseback riding trails. Two miles north of Painted Desert Inn, find the Painted Desert Wilderness Access Trail near Kachina Point. Find designated trailer parking though no water is available for people and horses.

Other Programs in Petrified Forest National Park 

Ranger Programs

Check-in at the visitor centers for Ranger Programs. Find programming like guided walks to special Junior Ranger activities.

Petrified Forest Field Institute 

Get an up-close look at the park with a guided day trip from a PFFI naturalist. Find programs like day-long fossil digs with a paleontologist or half-day programs covering Route 66. Separate fee for programming.

Artist in Residence

Learn more about art from one of the artists in residence at Petrified Forest National Park. Selected artists live in the park.

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Where’s Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park is located along Interstate 40, 25 miles east of Holbrook, Arizona. Find a regional airport in Flagstaff, Arizona, 92 miles away. Grand Canyon National Park is 200 miles west.

For eastbound travel, take I-40 exits 285 or 286 at Holbrook, Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park entrance is 21 miles south along Highway 180. Drive north through the park and re-enter I-40 at the exit 311.

For westbound travel, exit I-40 at exit 311, enter the park through the north entrance and exit through the south entrance. Drive 21 miles to Holbrook, Arizona, where you can re-enter I-40.

Petrified Forest National Park is open every day except December 25. The park hours are 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle or use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80).

Know before you go:

  • Arizona stays on Mountain Standard Time year-round, with no daylight savings time.
  • Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t offer a campground. Find lodging in Holbrook, Arizona, 21 miles away.
  • Register at a visitor center for a free backcountry camping permit.
  • Collecting fossils, plants, or artifacts within National Park Service sites is prohibited.
  • Stay on marked trails or paths.
  • Drones aren’t permitted at any NPS location.
  • Bring food and refillable water bottles for your visit.
  • Carry extra water year-round.
  • Temperatures can reach over 100F in the summer.

Located in Northern Arizona, explore Petrified Forest National Park to see crystal trees, the Desert Inn along with part of famed Route 66. As a drive through park, see the painted desert, do some hiking and grab a glimpse of desert animals. #NationalParks #Arizona

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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