After visiting Petrified Forest National Park over spring break and being completely blown away by it’s stunning beauty, we all were excited to visit the Ginkgo Petrified Forest in Washington State. We drove by it on our way to a Dead & Company concert at The Gorge back in 2016 and didn’t have time to stop then. So this summer, in 2018, we made sure to we had time to stop on the way to The Gorge Amphitheater!
The Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park, a National Natural Landmark, sits near the geographic center of Washington State along the Columbia River. The 7,124 acre park features 27,000 feet of freshwater shoreline on the Wanapum Reservoir along the Columbia River, as well as 3.0 miles of hiking trails, camping, boating, and more.
The petrified logs in this area formed when the Ginkgo lava flow covered and entombed water-saturated trees. The trees, part of the Vantage Forest, had fallen into an ancient lake that protected them from the extreme heat of the lava. Encased in basalt for over 15 million years, minerals trapped in the water slowly seeped into the wood and petrified it.
The brochure and website for the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park claims to have one of the most diverse petrified forests in North America — and while this may be true, it’s definitely not the most impressive, most beautiful, or most interesting.
- The Ginkgo Interpretive Center, sitting on a bluff above the Columbia River, was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1936 and later expanded. It offer visitors displays of petrified wood, geology exhibits, outdoor exhibits, awesome views, restrooms, and a picnic area.
- The Trees Of Stone Interpretive Trail, located two miles west of the Interpretive Center, travels through a prehistoric lake bed where trees were covered with lava millions of years ago. The protected petrified logs are visible in the ground where they formed.
Visiting The Ginkgo Petrified Forest
Our visit started at the Ginkgo Interpretive Center, which was well worth the stop and the scenic viewpoint behind the museum is amazing. Outside the museum, a short trail travels around the side of the building to ancient Wanapum petroglyphs that have been saved and relocated.
We then drove over to the parking area for the Trees Of Stone Interpretive Trail to see the petrified wood. The trailhead begins at an abandoned/closed Visitor Center and travels up a hillside covered in black lava, which makes it VERY hot.
Needless to say, in the middle of summer, we were sweating our butts off!
Now I don’t mind a hot sweaty hike if we’re going to see something amazing. But this wasn’t that kind of hike. At Petrified Forest National Park, big, gorgeous chunks of rainbow petrified wood were scattered all over the ground, so after a bit, we started wondering when we were going to see the petrified wood. Then we realized what was going on…
Up ahead on the trail, there was a cage concreted into the ground with rocks and locked inside the cage, buried in the ground, with only a tiny bit of it visible, was one piece of petrified wood.
All I could think was, “Are you freaking kidding me?!” And, from the looks on the faces of my family, they were thinking the same thing. The cage was full of dirt and debris, and the petrified wood was dirty and hard to see. “This can’t be it,” we thought, so we kept hiking and soon came to another petrified piece of wood in a cage in the ground, and then another. It was so disappointing and at that point we were so hot and sweaty, that we decided to head back to the truck.
If visiting the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is on your list of things to do in Washington State, make time to visit the Interpretive Center and enjoy a picnic overlooking the Columbia River below…
But maybe skip the hiking trail.
Know Before You Go
- The Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is located at 4511 Huntzinger Road, Vantage, Washington 98950 in Kittitas County, about 30 miles east of Ellensburg.
- It is open daily from 8:00 am to dusk from October 1 to March 31 and 6:30 am to dusk from April 1 to September 30.
- The Interpretive Center is open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm daily from May 16 to September 15, and Friday through Sunday from April 1 to May 15 and September 16 to October 31. During the winter, it is open by appointment only.
- Admission to the park is $10/vehicle for a one day Discover Pass.
- Download the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Map.
- The Ginkgo Petrified Forest Interpretive Center has 30 varieties of petrified wood on display, including a shiny black slice of an ancient gum tree. Admission is free.
- The Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail winds through an ancient fossil bed with nearly two dozen petrified logs exposed along this 1.0 mile loop trail.
- There are 57 unsheltered picnic tables, available first come, first served. The park is heavily used during Gorge concert season, and fills early on weekends.
- The Cove Recreation Area, located 1.5 miles south of the Wanapum campground, offers a half-mile, self-guided interpretive trail along Johnston Creek.
- Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park became a Washington State Park in 1935 and a National Natural Landmark in 1965.
- Petrified wood is Washington’s official state gem.