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Ok, so, this post is going to look very overwhelming. And it is a lot. But it’s totally doable and worth having a long day for! This is how to spend one day in Petrified Forest National Park and everything that you can see in that day.
And yes, you can do all of this in one day! It’s going to be a long day and it involves a good amount of hiking (still under seven miles though, total!) but I promise it’s manageable.
If you have two whole days in the park, that’s helpful to spread things out a little more, but most of the things on this list are short hikes or quick stops.
It looks like a lot but it’s easy. And if you don’t have a whole day, this post about things to do in Petrified Forest besides hiking might help you. It will let you see a lot of the park but in less time.
Of course, you don’t have to do everything here but I just want to share that it really is possible to do all of this in one day. I did it. And this is starting from the top of the park but it can be done in reverse, too.
Also, don’t take petrified wood from the park, it’s illegal.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a National Park journal for all of the NPS sites (400+!) to keep track of your travels!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
You don’t have to start this at sunrise or anything, but like, 9 AM would be good. We always say we’ll start early and never do. We managed to just barely do all of this even getting to the park at like, noon, we were just a little rushed at the end of the day.
And why were we rushed at the end of the day? Because the park closes at 5. It doesn’t take long just to drive though the park, about 45 minutes, but if you want to stop or do anything, be sure to give yourself enough time.
If you start a little earlier, you can just have a little more laid back of a day while still packing it full of fun activities. If you get started a little later, no sweat. You’ll still be able to do plenty even if you only have a few hours.
Painted Desert Visitor Center
The visitor center is always our first stop and I would also make it yours. If you don’t collect any park things or have any questions or don’t want to stop at the little exhibits, you could skip this, but I like them and they are usually quick stops.
If you like overlooks, you’ll probably like this park. There are overlooks along the whole drive, but there are a ton at the beginning. I’m just including this once but it’s relevant for the whole park.
I really don’t think you need to stop at every single one. Some of them are pretty close together and have similar views but they’re quick stops.
If you have all day, stop at all of them, sure, but if you have a little less time, half a day or something, you can skip some and not miss much.
Stop at the Painted Desert Inn
As of January 2022, you can’t go into the Painted Desert Inn, which is now a museum, but you can stop and walk around the outside. There is a short walk to an overlook here, too.
While there isn’t currently much to do here, the inn is really cute and I liked stopping here. I didn’t stop on my first visit but just on the second.
See the Route 66 Studebaker
Right before crossing under the Interstate you’ll see the rusty Studebaker on the side of the road marking the orientation of where Route 66 was. This is the only national park that Route 66 goes through and it’s marked here.
There is a Geocache here (and a few more in the park, if you want to look for those.) There isn’t much to do here but it’s good for fans of history and Route 66.
Walk the Puerco Pueblo loop
This is a nice short, easy hike to see some ruins and petroglyphs right on the side of the scenic drive. I like this little walk. The ruins don’t look super impressive but it was actually a 108-room dwelling!
Some of the petroglyphs here are my favorites that I’ve seen so far (not including pictographs around Moab, those are incredible.) This is a quick stop and you probably won’t need more than 30 minutes here.
Just please stay on the trail and don’t take any artifacts if you find any. It’s illegal if it’s not on private land, especially in national parks.
Stop at Newspaper Rock
Not far after Puerco Pueblo is Newspaper Rock. There are quite a few of these in the southwest and between this one and Moab’s, I like Moab’s more.
You can’t go down to the Boulder and rock art but there are those binocular viewer things here to help you get a batter look at them. It’s not a thrilling stop but it’s good if you like rock art or haven’t seen any/much before.
This was my favorite hike in the park. It’s a one-mile hike and pretty easy and paved. There is a short steepish part but it’s doesn’t make the trail really tough or anything and there are some rocks/benches to rest on on the way up.
This is the first hike (coming from the top of the park) that really gets you close to petrified wood. It’s not the most impressive wood in the park but the hike is wonderful and you can see some cool logs that look like they’re whole but chopped up.
See the Agate Bridge
I did not care for this stop but it takes like, two minutes so give it a shot. This is an agate bridge, basically a petrified log laying above a wash.
But it’s not just the log, there is something under it supporting it because there were concerns of it collapsing and the park wanted to preserve it.
Visit Japer Forest
This can be either a long or short stop. There is an overlook here and most people just stop for that but if you want, you can head down into the forest to do some hiking!
There isn’t an official trail here but to the right of the overlook (if you’re on the sidewalk between the overlook and parking lot, with the parking lot to your back) there is a little dirt trail.
Head down that trail then follow your heart. We hiked a little bit here, probably less than two miles, but we had a lot left to do so we didn’t stay as long.
I’d love to go back to this spot and hike more because everywhere you look, there are more pieces you need to see! The wood here seemed more colorful than other areas of the park.
So this stop could take five minutes to two hours, just depending on if you want to hike or how much you may want to hike. If you have all day, even like, six hours, it would be worth hiking here.
Hike the Crystal Forest loop
This next one is a hike just over halfway down the scenic drive. This is a nice, easy hike coming in right at one-mile with very little elevation change (under 50 feet.) This trail is also paved, if slightly lump in some places.
It gets it’s name from the quarts that can be found in a lot of the wood that glitters in the sun. I love love love seeing petrified wood with crystals in it. There are quite a few huge logs here that are intact or still lined up but look chopped up.
Hike the Long Logs and Agate House Loop
This is the longest hike on the list and probably where you’ll be ending your day. Or starting depending on which direction you’re coming from.
The loop is 2.6 miles and I would do this as a loop instead of two separate hikes. If you do one then come back later and do the other, it’s about 3.6 miles.
This trail is a little longer than the others but it’s still easy. You can hike to a (restored) house made of agate which is so cool. Then you can loop around on your way back and do the Long Logs Trail.
I did this trail twice and went to the agate house first both times. It doesn’t matter which way you do this, I was just more excited to see an agate house.
This hike (aside from Jasper Forest if you hike that) is what would take the longest, but still not tons of time. This can be done in under an hour if needed but maybe 1.5 hours if you take your time.
Some of the logs on the Long Logs trail are HUGE. Like, almost taller than me and they’re so long! I did like this trail a lot. They’re all good.
Walk the Giant Logs Trail
This was my least favorite of the hikes I did in the park and if I were to skip. one, it would be this. It’s also the shortest though and can be done in like, fifteen minutes so you’re not saving tons of time not doing this one.
This trail is just half a mile long but it’s not paved and does have some stairs. Compared to the other trails, the wood here isn’t anything special but the Old Faithful log is pretty impressive.
And it’s more than a log, it’s like half of a massive tree trunk and stump lying on it’s side as one piece still. You could easily walk to just this part if you wanted.
Stop in the Rainbow Forest Museum
Finally, head into the Rainbow Forest Museum. This is just right next to the Giant Logs Trail. I actually haven’t been in here yet and I think if you went to the other visitor center, you may not need to go here, but if you like little museums, pop in. Why not?
While this still may look like the most overwhelming day in Petrified Forest National Park, it’s not too bad and will be totally worth it.
We stayed at the Econolodge in Holbrook for two nights so we had a full day in the park and didn’t have to worry about driving later in the day and rushing through the park.
It’s not an exciting town but it’s closest to the park which is usually what I look for. If you want somewhere with a little more to see and do, consider Winslow just a little further down the road.
Have you been to Petrified Forest? What did you think of it? How long were you there? What what your favorite thing about it?