Exploring Timeless Beauty: A Family Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Exploring Timeless Beauty: A Family Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Are you looking for an adventure that will get your kids excited about history, geology, and nature? Look no further than Petrified Forest National Park, a desert wonderland located in northeastern Arizona. With its stunning vistas, fascinating history, and unique geology, Petrified Forest National Park is a great destination for families looking to explore the great outdoors.

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Visitor Information

Before you head out to the park, it’s important to know a few things. The park is open year-round, but some of the facilities may be closed during the winter months, so be sure to check the park’s website before you go. While this is a desert it is a high desert, so you may very well find some snow in the winter. Our visit was windy and cold, so dress for the weather.

It’s important to remember that removing petrified wood from the park is illegal and can result in fines and prosecution. Not only is it against the law, but it also deprives future visitors of the opportunity to enjoy the park’s unique beauty. There are other places in the area just outside of the park where you can hunt for petrified wood.

The park has two entrances: the north entrance is located off of I-40, while the south entrance is located off of Highway 180. There is a fee to enter the park, but it’s well worth it.

Make sure you pack a picnic. Petrified Forest is not particularly near anything so we were glad to have a full grocery store lunch with us. Petrified Forest National Park offers several picnic areas for visitors to enjoy. The Painted Desert Visitor Center, Rainbow Forest Museum, and Crystal Forest Museum all have picnic areas with tables and restrooms. We ended up using one of the pullouts on one of the park’s many scenic drives. It’s easy enough to pull over and enjoy a picnic lunch with a stunning view of the surrounding landscape. Additionally, visitors are allowed to picnic in the wilderness areas of the park, but they must pack out all of their trash and follow Leave No Trace principles.

Best Hikes for Families

Petrified Forest National Park offers a variety of hiking trails that are perfect for families with kids of all ages. Here are some of the best hikes for families:

  1. Crystal Forest Trail: This easy 0.75-mile loop trail takes you through a forest of petrified wood, with informative signs along the way.
  2. Giant Logs Trail: This easy 0.4-mile trail takes you past some of the largest petrified logs in the park.
  3. Blue Mesa Trail: This moderate 1-mile loop trail takes you through a colorful badlands area with stunning views.


The park’s unique geology is a testament to the area’s ancient history. The petrified wood found in the park is the result of a process that began over 200 million years ago, when the area was covered by a vast forest. Over time, volcanic ash buried the forest, and the trees were transformed into stone through a process called certification. The petrification process occurs when the organic material in the wood is replaced with minerals, such as silica and quartz, over thousands of years. The result is a beautiful, rainbow-colored forest of petrified wood that has been preserved for millions of years.

Jr. Ranger Program

The park’s Junior Ranger program is a great way to get kids excited about the park’s natural and cultural resources. Kids can pick up a free Junior Ranger booklet at any visitor center and complete a series of activities to earn a Junior Ranger badge.

You also won’t want to miss the unique opportunity to watch rangers work with rocks in a lab at one of the park’s visitor centers. The lab is located at the Rainbow Forest Museum and is staffed by knowledgeable rangers who are happy to answer questions and share their expertise with visitors. In the lab, visitors can see firsthand how the park’s petrified wood is studied and analyzed, as well as learn about the park’s geology and history. It’s a fascinating experience that gives visitors a deeper understanding and appreciation for the park’s unique features. You can also get your Jr. Ranger badge here from one of the rangers in the museum.

Other Things to Know

Petrified Forest National Park and Route 66 share a special connection as the iconic highway runs right through the park. Visitors can take a scenic drive on Route 66 and see historic sites, such as the Painted Desert Inn and the rusted-out car that has become a popular photo opportunity. The rusted car, also known as the “Two Guns” car, is located along the park’s historic section of Route 66 and serves as a reminder of the highway’s heyday in the mid-20th century. It’s a popular stop for visitors who want to snap a photo and immerse themselves in the nostalgia of the historic highway.

If you are looking for more info on Route 66 travel check out Route 66 Travel Guide 202 Amazing Places and EZ 66 Guide for Travelers.

It is important to note that visitors should not remove petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park. However, there are some nearby locations where it is legal to collect small amounts of petrified wood to take home. The nearby Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and BLM lands offer opportunities for visitors to search for petrified wood. It’s important to obtain a permit and follow the rules and regulations for collecting petrified wood in these areas. Visitors should also be aware that commercial collection of petrified wood is strictly prohibited in all federal lands in the area, and unauthorized collection can result in fines and legal action.

There are also some private ranches where you can pay to hunt for petrified wood. Rockseeker.com has a great guide on Where To Find Petrified Wood In Arizona. If you are a book person, check out Rock Hounding Arizona. (Our library had a copy of this fun book!)

Petrified Forest National Park is a great destination for families looking to explore the wonders of the desert. With its stunning vistas, fascinating history, and unique geology, the park is sure to leave a lasting impression on visitors of all ages. So pack your bags, grab your kids, and head out to Petrified Forest National Park for an adventure you’ll never forget!

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