Viewpoints and trailheads along the 28.5 mile scenic drive in Petrified Forest National Park
- fossilized wood, eroded formations, badlands, rock art and ancient sites
The scenic road through Petrified Forest National Park
is 28.5 miles long, the drive taking around 45 minutes, without stops, or one full day if hiking all the short trails and viewing all overlooks.
There are eight maintained trails
along the road of which four are to areas of petrified wood (Blue Mesa, Crystal Forest, Giant Logs, Long Logs), one is to an ancient village (Puerco Pueblo), one to a stone dwelling, Agate House, made of fossilized wood, and two (Tawa, Painted Desert Rim) cross the plateau to the north. Other stops along the road are viewpoints, of rock formations, badlands and petroglyphs.
Map of Petrified Forest National Park
North of Interstate 40
The road starts in the north at Interstate 40 exit 311, already within the national park; it passes through the entrance gates, which are locked at 5 pm each day, then bends east to the visitor center and the fee station. The Tawa Trail
starts nearby, crossing a grassy plateau to a viewpoint of the Painted Desert, below to the north - this is Tawa Point
, the second overlook reached by the road itself, after Tiponi Point. The short Painted Desert Rim Trail
links Tawa Point to the third overlook, Kachina Point
, also site of the historic Painted Desert Inn
, an elegant adobe building opened in 1924 as a hotel and cafe, latterly used as a travel center. A short side road leads to the next overlook, Chinde Point
, also a picnic area, then beside the road are four more viewpoints - Pintado, Nizhoni, Whipple and Lacey, these looking north and west, across Lithodendron Wash and many miles of colorful badlands. Primitive trails descend from some of the overlooks, to petroglyph sites and petrified wood deposits, such as the loop to Black Forest and Onyx Bridge
. After the final overlook, the road leaves the plateau rim, now heading south, across old Route 66 and the interstate, into the main, southern section of the park.
A Pueblo, Petroglyphs and the Tepees
For over four miles, the scenic drive crosses a rather featureless stretch of grassland, though close to badlands to the east, explored via one of the park's unmaintained trails
, to Dead Wash Overlook
. It then passes over the Santa Fe Railroad, and a sandy drainage (Puerco River), and reaches the next roadside site, Puerco Pueblo
, the foundations of a 100-room dwelling dating from the 1500s, viewed by a 0.3 mile loop trail that also comes close to a line of boulders bearing many petroglyphs, just below the rim of a shallow canyon. 0.9 miles further, a short side road to the west leads to a viewpoint of Newspaper Rock
, a group of boulders bearing over 650 petroglyphs, most made between the 11th and 16th centuries. The boulders lie at the foot of a low cliff and can only be seen from a distance; hiking closer is not permitted. To the south, the main road traverses more grassland, then descends into a strange, grey-white landscape of barren badlands dotted with large circular mounds - The Tepees
. There are no official trails but it is easy to walk and climb amongst the stark formations. One path does begin a few hundred yards south - the Historic Blue Forest Trail
, which follows the original route to Blue Mesa, a photogenic area now reached by a side road a little further south.
At the end of a short loop road, Blue Mesa
features many petrified 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 seen along the trail. The loop road has several pullouts, with grand views to the west, north and east, and two primitive trails start here, to Billings Gap Overlook
and the Fossilized Clam Beds
Agate Bridge and Jasper Forest
2.5 miles south of the turn-off for Blue Mesa, a short track leads east to Agate Bridge, a long, complete, unbroken petrified log lying over a stream bed. The bridge was reinforced by concrete early last century but it is of course forbidden to walk across. Just beyond, on the opposite side of the road, 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 are several elevated viewpoints of the valley, from a loop at the end of a side road, and the area can be explored by another two of the park's primitive routes, the First Forest Point Trail and the Jasper Forest Trail.
The next point of interest is Crystal Forest, toured by a 0.75 mile loop path. The land hereabouts 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 path that has a few short, steepish sections across ravines. South of the Crystal Forest, the road passes through an area of small buttes, The Flattops, and more badlands, with some petroglyph sites, then descends slightly as it approaches the southern entrance station.
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 scenic drive. A 0.4 mile loop trail winds through the most accessible section, the Giant Logs, which has some of the biggest pieces of petrified wood in the park. The trail starts through the park 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. Nearby, on the opposite side of the scenic drive 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 that passes hundreds of large, beautifully colored examples, some over 30 feet in length. A one mile spur trail continues 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.