Our first experience with petrified wood was Petrified Forest National Park and it was an unforgettable trip. The immense amount of rainbow petrified wood and colorful desert landscape was beautiful. Our second experience with petrified wood was the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Washington State and it was a huge disappointment. When driving into Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, honestly we weren’t quite sure what to expect and it ended up being somewhere in the middle.
Established in 1963, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park covers 1,350 acres and sits at 5,900 feet elevation. It features large specimens of petrified wood and dinosaur fossils, hiking trails, camping, and water sports.
When we arrived, we parked near the visitor center and wandered the property a bit. A huge, colorful, 50 foot, rainbow petrified log is displayed along with other big chunks of petrified wood near the trailhead for the Petrified Forest Trail. It is one of the most complete fossil logs known from the Morrison Formation and on par with the rainbow petrified wood from Petrified Forest National Park.
A large covered picnic area is nearby and provides amazing views of the Petrified Forest Trail as it climbs the striped cliffs. I wanted to hike the trail to the top of the ridge, but we had been hiking for several days in row and our legs were already exhausted. We watched people climb the trail, watched others come down the trail exhausted, and pondered whether or not we should do it.
The family wasn’t excited about it but I’m not one to leave something left undone. I knew if we didn’t do it, I would regret it.
Petrified Forest Trail
The Petrified Forest Trail is a moderately strenuous, 1.0 mile lollipop loop that winds up the side of a steep mesa 250 feet to a plateau and pygmy forest of piñon pine and juniper trees.
With breathtaking views and rainbow petrified wood, it is the most popular trail in the park. The trail starts out with a serious climb up switchbacks and inclines to the top of the mesa. It wasn’t a tough as it looked though because the trail is also an interpretive trail. We snagged a brochure at the trailhead and stopped at the numbered posts along the trail to learn more about our surroundings.
At the top of the mesa, the trail forms a loop around the plateau and the first notable chunks and logs of petrified wood on the trail appear on this loop. The red, yellow, pink, orange, white, and black petrified wood is beautiful — there just isn’t very much of it! After reading that there are thousands of specimens to see, I expected to see a lot more of it. We definitely didn’t even see hundreds of them.
The Petrified Forest Trail hike isn’t a long hike but the climb at the start is no joke. Luckily, the views and petrified wood chunks at the top make it totally worth the effort.
Want to make the trail a little longer and a lot harder? Sleeping Rainbows Trail is a steep 0.75 mile loop off the Petrified Forest Trail. It requires scrambling and climbing over rocks but has the most dense concentration of petrified wood in the park.
After we finished up our hike, we stopped in the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park Visitor Center. It was built in 1991 and showcases petrified wood samples, plant and marine fossils, and dinosaur bones from the Upper Jurassic Period.
Wide Hollow Reservoir
Wide Hollow Reservoir was constructed in 1954 to provide irrigation for the town of Escalante. The reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout and bluegill and is a popular spot for boating, swimming, kayaking, and fishing.
Know Before You Go
- Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, also known as Escalante State Park, is located 1.0 mile west / 0.5 mile north of Escalante at 710 Reservoir Road, Escalante, Utah 84726 off Scenic Byway 12 in Garfield County.
- The park is open year-round. During summer, it is open from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm and in the winter it is open from 8:00 am to 10:00 pm. It is closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
- Admission fees include: $6.00 per day-use permit, $3.00 per senior day-use permit, $75.00 per annual pass, and $35.00 per senior annual pass.
- You can park at the visitor center, the trailhead to the Petrified Forest Trail, or the Wide Hollow Campground, which are all next to each other.
- Petrified Wood Cove Trail is an easy, flat, wheelchair accessible trail with a good specimens of petrified wood visible from the trail.
- Wide Hollow Campground has 22 single campsites, one handicapped campsite, and one group site. Camping is $19.00 per night and sites are available on a first-come first-serve basis.
- Dogs are allowed in the park.
- Taking any pieces of petrified wood is against the law. In fact, if you take any petrified wood from the park, you might be cursed! Yep. The petrified wood curse has guilt-ridden visitors mailing chunks of petrified wood they took back to the park, apologizing for having stolen it years before.