The main area of fossilized wood in the Petrified Forest National Park is along the 20 mile section of road between the railway and the southern entrance, where there are six main viewpoints and hiking areas:
After Puerco Pueblo and Newspaper Rock, the road follows a low plateau southwards, then descends into a strange, grey-white landscape of barren badlands dotted with large circular mounds - The Tepees (see 360 degree panorama
). There are no official trails but it is easy to walk and climb amongst the stark formations.
Reached by a short loop road, Blue Mesa features many logs lying on undulating purple-grey mounds of bentonite clay, beneath a narrow plateau. Often the logs lie partially buried in the clay, and erosion gradually but continuously exposes more of them. A one mile partly paved trail descends the west side of the mesa and loops around some of the whitish-purple badlands, past many of the largest logs. Fossils of animals and other plants may also be found along the trail.
Jasper Forest is a large expanse of logs scattered over a wide and rather desolate valley, on the west side of the road. There used to be many more logs, but this was one of the main locations for collecting by early prospectors who removed petrified wood by the cartload. There is a good viewpoint but no hiking opportunities. On the opposite side of the road, a short track leads to Agate Bridge
, a long complete unbroken log lying over a stream bed. The bridge was reinforced by concrete early last century but it is of course forbidden to walk across in case the log breaks.
Further south, a short trail passes through Crystal Forest. This was once strewn with especially beautiful logs, which had crevices containing clear quartz and purple amethyst crystals, but all the best specimens were removed by souvenir hunters long ago. It was this theft that prompted local citizens to petition for the creation of the then National Monument, which was established in 1906 - National Park status was not achieved until 1962. A few small crystalline specimens can still be seen, amongst other more typical logs, by the paved 0.75 loop path that has a few short steepish sections across ravines.
The area with the most densely-scattered petrified wood is Rainbow Forest, near the south entrance of the national park, on the west side of the highway. Nearby is a museum which amongst other exhibits has a large collection of apologetic letters sent by visitors who have taken rock samples and later regretted their actions. Hundreds of pieces of petrified wood are returned each year. Through the museum, a 0.4 mile loop trail winds through the Giant Logs
which has some of the biggest pieces of petrified wood in the park.
At the end of a service road (closed to vehicles), the Long Logs Trail gives perhaps the most impressive views in the park - a 1.6 mile circular path passes hundreds of large beautifully colored examples, some over 10 meters in length. A one mile spur trail leads south to an old stone hut, Agate House
which was constructed entirely of petrified wood by Puebloan Indians in the 14th century. The house has been partially reconstructed and is quite an impressive sight.