8 Can't Miss Things to Do in Petrified Forest National Park
There’s a lot more to Petrified Forest National park than just petrified wood. There are so many ways to appreciate the area’s natural and human history as well as explore the stunning scenery. We’re not just looking at old rocks here, friends!
1. Take the Shaka Guide tour
Duh! Taking the Shaka Guide Petrified Forest National Park Tour will take you from the gateway town of Holbrook and through the entire Petrified Forest National Park. The tour includes all the park’s highlights: Painted Desert overlooks, historic buildings and archeological sites, and of course the strange sights of the park’s petrified wood deposits.
2. Marvel at the Painted Desert
The Painted Desert / Image from Shutterstock
A portion of the striking Painted Desert is preserved on the north side of Petrified Forest. Red, white, pink, gray – you’ll find all these colors from any of the park’s Painted Desert overlooks including Tiponi Point, Kachina Point, and Pintado Point. The view of this vast, colorful emptiness goes on for as many as 100 miles on a clear day.
3. Hike Some Weird Terrain
Petrified Forest National Park protects some truly bizarre badlands. These barren, banded hills of gray, blue, and purple look like they belong on another planet, but they’re right here in Arizona. Take the popular Blue Mesa Trail for an immersive experience into this strange world populated by petrified wood. Or, explore the untamed backcountry on an “Off the Beaten Path” trail. The 225 million-year-old petrified wood might be your only company.
4. Learn Something at a Visitor Center
There are two visitor centers in Petrified Forest. At the north side’s Painted Desert Visitor Center, ask one of the park’s paleontologists your questions about fossils. Petrified Forest is the place to find fossils from the Triassic Period! You can see some of them at the Rainbow Forest Museum, the south side’s visitor center. You’ll also find displays on the park’s unique geological history and human history, including the Ancestral Puebloans and the petroglyphs and pueblos they left behind in the park.
5. Get your Kicks on Route 66
Route 66 Marker / Image from Shutterstock
Petrified Forest is the only national park along Route 66. Hard to believe, isn’t it? The spot where the road used to cross the park is marked with a 1932 Studebaker. Outside the park along I-40, look for roadside shops with quirky dinosaur statues for that classic Route 66 road trip vibe. Then head over to the town of Holbrook where the spirit of Route 66 is alive in well in local diners and motels. Perhaps no place in town is more iconically Route 66 than the Wigwam Motel, spoofed in the Pixar film Cars.
6. Shop for Souvenirs
With roadside gift shops come souvenir shopping. Shops around here mostly specialize in petrified wood products. Some even let you take a small piece home for free! Petrified wood found in gift shops are sourced on private land rather than the national park, so be assured your souvenir purchase is not a detriment to science. You can also shop for handcrafted pottery, jewelry, decor, and other gifts made by artists from local tribes. The Painted Desert Indian Center specializes in these types of products.
7. Stand on a Corner
“Well I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
And such a fine sight to see.”
The Eagles song “Take it Easy” puts the small town of Winslow, less than an hour west of Petrified Forest, right on the map. You can celebrate your inner troubadour at the Standin’ on a Corner Foundation. This street corner in the middle of town features two statues of traveling musicians that pay homage to the song. It’s a popular photography spot, so don’t forget your camera!
8. Go back in time at La Posada
Only a few steps from the Standin’ on a Corner Foundation is the incredible La Posada railroad hotel and former Harvey House. Famed architect Mary Jane Colter, who designed many iconic buildings along the Grand Canyon rim, considered this luxurious hotel her masterpiece. It certainly feels like one, with its Southwestern and Native motifs throughout. Eat a fine meal at The Turquoise Room, or wander the art galleries and gardens. You’ll yearn for the days of train travel out West. But guess what? Amtrak trains still stop at the hotel on a regular basis. They just don’t make places like this anymore!
Petrified Forest National Park and the surrounding area are anything but one note. Take your time and explore this part of Arizona’s scenery and culture.