Petrified Forest National Park doesn’t have many hiking trails, but the few improved trails that do exist are spectacular — even if it’s not at all what you expected!
While I do all of the road trip and family vacation research before our trips, I don’t share much with the rest of the family because they like to be surprised and they don’t want any spoiler facts.
For our spring break road trip to Grand Canyon National Park and Petrified Forest National Park, I only showed them a couple pictures of Grand Canyon and some petrified wood. So when we arrived and hit the first trail of our visit, Giant Logs Trail, the kids were confused. They wanted to know where the forest was!
I then explained that Petrified Forest isn’t an actual forest and there are no standing trees. Instead, it’s a massive collection of fallen trees that have been turned to stone and are now a mix of gorgeous colors that sometimes sparkle in the sun!
Located behind the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center, the Giant Logs Trail features some of the largest and most colorful petrified logs in the Petrified Forest National Park.
Giant Logs Trail is a 0.4 mile, easy, paved loop trail where you can see giant, rainbow petrified logs, including Old Faithful, which weighs 44 tons and measures almost 10 feet across its base and 35 feet long. The trail winds across a hillside strewn with colorful petrified logs to a lookout of the rolling badlands and surrounding terrain. It only takes about 20-30 minutes, or more if you stop frequently to take tons of photos like we did.
A Petrified Log Jam
On the Giant Logs Trail, you’ll walk through an ancient river bed, which is why there are high concentrations of of petrified wood at this location.
The forests of Petrified Forest National Park aren’t actually forests… they’re petrified log jams in an ancient riverbed!
Approximately 216 million years ago, these trees died and fell into the river. They were buried beneath silt, mud, sand, and volcanic ash, and over time, mineral-laden water soaked into the wood. The silica crystals bonded with the cells of the trees, replicating the organic matter in perfect detail. Eventually silica (quartz) replaced all of the wood and now the trees are no longer wood, but stone.
The petrified logs’ beautiful rainbow colors come from trace minerals that seeped into the wood over time along with the silica:
- Iron minerals create a bright mustard, orange, rich reds, ochre, and black.
- Manganese minerals create blue, purple, brown, black, and the free-like patterns.
Be sure to stop in the Rainbow Forest Visitor Center to pick up a copy of the Giant Logs Trail Guide, a booklet that provides information about each of the numbered stops along the self-guided trail.
Know Before You Go
- Giant Logs Trail in Petrified Forest National Park is located behind the Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center at 6618 Petrified Forest Road, Holbrook, Arizona 86025 in Navajo County.
- From Holbrook, take I-40 exit 285 to US 180 east to reach the south entrance. From I-40 exit 311, enter at the park’s north entrance and drive south through the park toward US 180.
- Download the Petrified Forest National Park Map.
- Giant Logs Trail is a 0.4 mile loop trail where you can see some of the largest petrified logs in the park, including Old Faithful, which measures almost 10 feet across its base.
- This paved trail has several sets of stairs and may not be suitable for strollers or mobility equipment.
- 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.