Blue Mesa Trail In The Painted Desert Of Petrified Forest National Park

The Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park

When researching things to do in Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park for our spring break road trip, I found all sorts of awesome scenic vista points, historic buildings, awesome trails, and ancient ruins and petroglyphs.

For Petrified Forest, a few things kept showing up as “must see” items and were listed on every “best things to do” list I found:

We heard that Blue Mesa Trail was not to be missed, so we saved it as one of our last activities — and it didn’t disappoint! After exploring Death Valley National Park, Grand Canyon, and the Painted Desert area of Petrified Forest National Park, we had seen A LOT of browns, reds, oranges, pinks, and even greens, and greys in the surrounding landscapes. While all three were incredibly gorgeous and took our breath away, it was nothing like what you see at Blue Mesa!

Who would believe the desert here is made of hues of blue, purple, green, grey, and white?!

We were in awe as we drove Blue Mesa Road and hiked the Blue Mesa Trail.

Carter, Natalie, and Brian Bourn sit on a bench along the steep section of the Blue Mesa Trail
Carter, Natalie, and Brian Bourn sit on a bench along the steep section of the winding, switchbacking, Blue Mesa Trail and take in the stunning view of the striped, colorful badlands that surround them.

Blue Mesa Trail

Blue Mesa Trail is a moderate, paved, 1.0 mile loop trail with an elevation change of 120 feet. The trailhead is located at the Blue Mesa sun shelter near the parking area.

After a short walk along the ridge line, the trail descends quickly into the Blue Mesa Basin and the trail grade at this point, can be as steep as 35%! Luckily, once you’re in the basin, the trail takes you into the stunning, mostly-flat Painted Desert badlands. Here you’ll walk through blue, purple, white, green, and grey striped hills, cones, and buttes dotted with rainbow petrified wood.

  • The hills are Chinle Shale and bentonite clay, and the cool colors are the result of layers of sediment and minerals like manganese, carbon, and iron being drowned underwater and lacking exposure to oxygen.
  • When the water level is lower and minerals are exposed to oxygen, they rust and form the brown, red, pink, and orange hues found elsewhere in the Painted Desert.

After our hike, we drove a short way down Blue Mesa Road to a fantastic scenic overlook with views of the entire Blue Mesa Basin. It was fun to do this after our hike, so we could all look down the the trail we just completed and see it from a new perspective!

Petrified Wood At Blue Mesa

Petrified wood, around 225 million years old, is scattered throughout the Blue Mesa Basin, and is found along the trail and in the drainage areas between hills. The vibrant, warm colors of the petrified wood is absolutely gorgeous against the cool contrasting colors of the badlands and with very little vegetation in the area, the views are amazing.

The Blue Mesa Trail is a walk into the heart of the Petrified Forest badlands. As you descend into the Blue Mesa Basin, you take a walk back in time as each colorful stripe you pass represents many years into the past. Along the trail are signs that explain the processes that have changed, and are still changing, this landscape.

Right next to the trail, just under the scenic overlook along Blue Mesa Road is a giant chunk of petrified wood on a natural sandstone pedestal. Mushroom-like pedestals like this one are products of water erosion. The softer material beneath the hard caps of petrified wood slowly erode to form the pedestals, and they will continue to erode until the piece drops to the ground.

Petrified Wood on a Natural Pedestal
A large chunk of petrified wood sits on an eroding natural pedestal on the Blue Mesa Trail. If you’re not up for the trail hike, you can see this petrified wood formation from the Blue Mesa Trail Overlook right off the road.

Know Before You Go

  • The Blue Mesa Trail at Petrified Forest National Park is located on Blue Mesa Road, Petrified Forest, Arizona 86028 in Apache County.
  • Blue Mesa Trail is a moderate, paved/gravel, 1.0 mile loop trail with a quick elevation change of 120 feet.
  • Don’t have time for a hike? Just down the road from the trailhead, there is a scenic overlook with views of the entire Blue Mesa Basin.
  • Download the Petrified Forest National Park Map.
  • Petrified Forest National Park actually closes! The park is open daily year-round from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. When staff permits, extended hours go into effect from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm — and they’re not kidding. The park gates actually close and rangers drive the main park road around 4:30 telling you to wrap it up and start heading out of the park.
  • The Petrified Forest landscape is an extremely dry, high altitude desert so pack lots of water, even for short day hikes, to avoid heat exhaustion.
  • Restrooms are located at the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center, Rainbow Forest Curio Shop, Painted Desert Visitor Center, Painted Desert Inn, Chinde Point, and the Puerco Pueblo.
  • Petrified Forest is one of the most animal friendly national parks. You can bring your leashed pet any place you are allowed to go except into the buildings.
  • Removal of petrified wood or other materials is against the law. Do not collect or take home pieces of the wood from the National Park.

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