Do not underestimate the size of the Petrified Forest National Park. If you want to experience every official trail (the ones on the park map that is), plus stop at every overlook, a single day is probably not going to do it. The goal of my most recent adventure at this park was to stop at every major stop on the park map in sequence, starting at the south entrance and making my way north to the Painted Desert. This endeavor took me a day and a half to do at a comfortable pace.
That's why we split up our content around the Petrified Forest into 4 different blog posts and videos. It was too much to cover in just one.
I should also add that the stuff on the park map does not cover the many back country hikes you can do in the park without a permit. So if you want to do those too, I estimate you will need days, or maybe even a week or more, to do it all.
For this first leg of my journey, I cover several points of interest near the south entrance: the Visitor Center, the Giant Logs Trail, the Long Logs and Agate House Trails, and Crystal Forest. So let's jump straight into it.
If you came to the Petrified Forest to primarily see petrified logs, the south entrance is where you want to be. That's not to say you won't see petrified wood the further north you go, because you will... there is just less of it the more north you go.
I would recommend your first stop be the Visitor Center. Inside you will get to see many fossils from over 200 million years ago, the age when the trees that became the petrified logs thrived.
You will learn a lot that will supplement your enjoyment of the park.
Immediately behind the Visitor Center is one of the first trails that most visitors will explore. It's known as the Giant Logs Trail. Be sure to grab one of the map guides they have at the start of the trail. If you follow the numbered stops on the Giant Logs map in sequence, you will learn a great deal about how the Petrified Forest was formed and see real examples of things right before your eyes.
I was particularly amazed at how life-like and detailed some of the petrified wood is. In many cases, it truly looks like real wood. Knocking on it with your knuckle will quickly reveal to you that any trace of actual wood is nowhere to be found however.
One of the highlights of the Giant Logs area for me was huge petrified log named "Old Faithful".
I was amazed at the enormous size of Old Faithful. It has to be one of the most impressive specimens of petrified logs to be found in the park.
This is probably one of the most popular areas in the park, and rightfully so. So, if you want to break away from the pack a little, I would recommend walking past the parking lot in front of the Visitor Center, past the gift shop, and across a bridge that crosses a normally dry wash to find the trailhead for the Agate House and Long Logs trail.
It was not initially clear to me where the trailhead was, and perhaps this explains why I did not see any others hiking these trails. Or perhaps it's because these two trails add up to a few miles between the both of them and many folks just don't want to walk that far. But, the trails are mostly paved, and I would argue large sections are even wheelchair accessible. For me, the walk did not seem long.
Both trails begin as the same trail and eventually split. I opted to walk the paved path to the Agate House first. Along the way you will see plenty of petrified logs, but the main feature is the Agate House itself.
The Agate House is a reconstruction of an old Pueblo, thought to have been occupied between 1050 - 1300 AD. It was reconstructed in the 1930's. A window in the side of it reveals that it may not have been accurately reconstructed according to a nearby sign (as windows were not features of this style of dwelling). The neatest thing is that it's made of petrified wood. I chuckled to myself as I thought how this was a "log cabin" of sorts. I mean, petrified logs are still logs, aren't they?
Regardless, I found this site extremely interesting. More interesting than I originally thought it would be. Well worth the walk out to it if you have time.
Even more impressive though was the Long Logs Trail. This trail heads out towards some colorful badlands features, and proceeds through an ancient river bed where many of the logs you see got jammed up on the river before the process of petrification took hold. Fast forward a couple hundred million years to now, and you'll be able to get a sense of just how tall these trees were.
For me, my favorite thing in the park are the long trunks of petrified wood. They really create that connection that helps you envision the distant past.
I might say that nowhere in the park do you get to see as many long logs as you do on this aptly named trail. For me, it ranks towards the top of my favorite trails in the park.
The final stop on the first leg of our journey requires getting back into your vehicle for the first time since you began your journey at the Visitor Center. From the Visitor Center, take the main park road north to get to the Crystal Forest.
The Crystal Forest is another very popular spot in the park. Here you'll see much more of the petrified wood that you came here for, but this time, it's presented within a badlands setting, which is what makes this place so neat.
When wandering through the Crystal Forest, I often pretend that I'm in an alien landscape, recently devastated by war or some other kind of major disaster. It feels very desolate, mainly because of the grey, ashen color of the badlands. Very lifeless. A strange contrast with the fallen petrified trees.
Crystal Forest is another one of the highlights of the park for me. A must-stop for just about any visitor.
Further up the road, there is much more to see. But we have reached the end of the first leg of our journey. If you want to see more and experience our journey in more detail, consider checking out our YouTube video.
Please join us again the upcoming weeks as we continue our journey north through the park. You may be surprised at how much variance exists at the Petrified Forest and what lies ahead!