An Arizona road trip through the northern part of the state offers lots of interesting sites to explore, like Petrified Forest National Park. Just a few hours east of Grand Canyon National Park off Interstate 40, it is an easy stop for families. Visitors will find a one-way scenic drive that includes the historic Route 66. Additionally visitors will find the Painted Desert Inn, an historic lodge. Here are the top things to do at Petrified Forest National Park with Kids.
Top Things to do at Petrified Forest with Kids
- Stop by the Visitor Center
- Take a Scenic Drive
- Take a Hike
- Tour the Painted Desert Inn
- See a Stone Tree
- Earn a Junior Ranger Program
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|
Petrified Forest National Park
Road trippers can stretch their legs with a family-friendly hiking trail along with the chance to see a tree of stone. For those yearning to discover a landscape from 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. As the continents moved and the climate changed, the rainforest slowly died off. The huge trees fell to the earth and slowly transformed into stone.
In the late 1800s, visitors collected the petrified wood and threatened the unique landscape of Petrified Forest. Then in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Petrified Forest National Monument. In 1962, it became a national park. Petrified Forest National Park is also an International Dark Sky Park.
Visitor Centers in Petrified Forest National Park
The first stop for many is the visitor center at each entrance of the park. Each visitor center offers an interpretive area along with a 18-minute introductory film. Outside visitors will find marked trails, perfect for families with small children.
Painted Desert Visitor Center
Find a picnic area along with a gas station and restrooms. Additionally, there’s a bookstore and a small restaurant. Get Junior Ranger booklets, maps along with 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.
Rainbow Forest Museum
See an exhibit of paleontological exhibits from the park, including skeletons collected in the park. Walk along the Long Logs, Agate House Also find a picnic area along with restrooms.
Located off U.S. Highway 180 near the southern entrance of the park. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
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.
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.
Best Shorter Hikes in Petrified Forest
Stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum for several hikes 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. Not an accessible trail or suitable for strollers, 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 half-way 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. No steps but uneven grade.
The Painted Desert Inn
Built in the 1920s, the Painted Desert Inn offered lodging and dining for the earliest visitors. Originally constructed of petrified wood and native stone, Lyle Bennett, a park ranger, 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.
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, who 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.
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 them 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.
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
K–Know where you can go
What to do in 2 Hours
Stop at Visitor Center
Stop by at visitor center at each entrance, the Painted Desert Visitor Center at the north entrance and the Rainbow Forest Museum at the south entrance.
Take a Scenic Drive
With 28 miles of paved park roads, Petrified Forest National Park offers a convenient one-way drive through the park. Start at the either the north or south entrance.
Tour the Painted Desert Inn
Stop at the Painted Desert Inn for a quick tour of the historic property.
Take a Hike
Find a cross section of trails in Petrified Forest National Park.
Earn a Junior Ranger Badge
Learn more about the park with this fun activities for kids.
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
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.
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 and 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, no day-light 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.