Dreaming of Travel: Petrified Forest National Park

Published on March 17, 2022 - Updated on March 17, 2022

When you think of National Parks, a few immediately pop into your head: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Zion, Grand Canyon...it takes a while until Petrified Forest comes to mind. Well, we are here to tell you that it is one of the most underrated national parks out west. This national park, known for its large deposits of petrified wood and colorful badlands, is located in northeastern Arizona's Navajo and Apache counties. It covers about 346 square miles and can be fully experienced within one day!


Where to Stay

One of the great perks of this national park is its convenience. Its location will keep you right along I-40 making it the perfect stop for the day. We were headed east, so we stayed the night at a standard chain hotel, the Best Western, in Holbrook, Arizona next to the 180. This helped to make our trip in the morning to the south entrance of the Petrified Forest National Park quick and easy. They have a few other hotel chains in the area as well (Quality Inn, Hotel 6, La Quinta, etc.). Since it is a roadside attraction, the majority of the overnight options will be motel style. There is also a KOA campground that has RV & tent sites. During the summer season, their pool is open and reservations can be made on their website!

Where to Eat

The actual national park is a pack in, pack out situation, with no options for food once inside. Holbrook (about 20 minutes out) is your last big town with a few fast food options. You can also find a few family-owned restaurants in town as well. Since we were on a road trip, we had packed our snacks and lunches for the day and brought them in a cooler.


Where to Play

Below is the order of how we experienced the entire National Park in half of a day, traveling from west to east!

Crystal Forest Museum

Before entering the park, we made a quick stop at a local gift shop in Holbrook - Crystal Forest Museum. The store was full of huge pieces of petrified wood and crystals. We ended up purchasing a couple of crystals and even got two pieces of free petrified wood as a souvenir for the boys. After spending quite some time just exploring the shop and the surrounding areas, we made our way into the park.

Giant Logs Trail

Giant Logs Trail (0.4-mile loop) - This trail was covered in large petrified logs. This gave us an amazing opportunity to explain the process of petrified wood to our eldest son. It also was a safe trail to let him roam on and climb around safely. 

Passed by: Long Logs and Agate House Trail (both are easy trails to combine into a 2.6-mile hike for older children), but we decided to save our "hiking" time for Crystal Forest). On the left side, you will see Martha's Butte. This is your landmark to warn you that the Crystal Forest is coming up on the right. 

Crystal Forest Trail.jpg

Crystal Forest (0.75-mile loop) - This paved loop trail was littered with petrified wood that had crystallized. You can get an up-close view of the amazing colors within the wood and the beautiful landscape views of the park. Brings lots of water during the summer months as there is ZERO shade.

Passed by: Jasper Forest, Agate Bridge. With kids, you have to pick and choose your stops based on what would catch their interest. Also…a natural bridge with minimal safety measures + 2.5 years old = stress.

Blue Mesa Trail.jpg

Blue Mesa Trail (1-mile loop) - As you continue north, you run into the Blue Mesa driving loop, or Saturn as our eldest son called it. This drive was OUT OF THIS WORLD gorgeous. This loop is through the badlands of the park and has several viewpoints. We didn't get to make it all the way down the Blue Mesa trail, but the small portion we did do was incredible. 

Passed by: Tepees Viewpoint, Newspaper Rock (our boys were napping at this point, and these were all things we could see from our car, perfect timing!), and Puerco Pueblo (the short trail we opted out of due to napping).

As you continue north, you'll cross over the historic Route 66 and head right into Painted Desert, where there are fun old-timey landmarks along the drive to stop and view as well.

Painted Desert Rim

Painted Desert Rim Trail (1-mile round trip) - This is a quick one-mile trail with views of the Painted Desert. There is very minimal petrified wood in the park's northern portion, an easy trail to go through and pop back in the car. 


And just like that, we exited through the north entrance and were back on the I-40 headed east.

We did have to skip a few of the viewpoints since visiting with the kids makes it harder to get in and out of the car all day. With the above itinerary, we could fully experience the park, stay stress-free, and have some fun! This was a great stop during our epic journey from California to Michigan! We are big fans of Arizona and found such beauty in this underrated national park.

Petrified Forest.jpg

Let us know if you've been to Petrified Forest National Park! What were your favorite parts? Let us know in the comments below and don't forget to tag us in your Instagram photos @gethappyly!

Interested in reading up on more national parks? We've got a bunch of ambassador-recommended ones over on the happyly blog like Haleakala National Park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Saguaro National Park, Shawnee National Forest, and more! Head on over to check them out and get some great ideas for your next family vacation!

For even more local activities and attractions at your fingertips, be sure to download thehappyly app, the country's only mobile-first family activity planning app, for fast access to all of our frequent blog content, favorite activities, and expertly designed curated days, both locally and in many communities and travel destinations across the country.

Thoughtfully captured by:
Taylor Hansen
Taylor Hansen, mom of two toddlers making family-life in the big city of Los Angeles happen on the daily! They are a nature & science lovin’ family of four that spends as much time as possible exploring the great outdoors. Their family motto is “Leave the road, take the trails…” Their favorite outdoor activities are bouldering, waterfall hikes and family bike rides. When they aren’t out on the trails you’ll find them digging for sand crabs at the beach, collecting water samples to observe under their microscope or working on their outdoor family apparel for our Etsy shop!!! Follow their Los Angeles adventures on instagram @hansensonthehustle!
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Petrified Forest National Park is one of the most underrated parks in the west and deserves a visit on your next journey to the area.