During our spring break road trip, we visited the Route 66 cities of Kingman, Arizona and Holbrook, Arizona, Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, and Hoover Dam.
We had 1.5 days at Petrified Forest National Park, which was perfect. After snapping a family photo at the entrance sign, our first stop was the Rainbow Forest Museum And Visitor Center, the best place to begin your Petrified Forest adventure.
At the Rainbow Forest Museum And Visitor Center, you can learn all about petrified wood, watch an movie about the park, and chat with park rangers about the things to do in the park. Even with all the research we do before a trip, I always like to start at the Visitor Center with a quick conversation with a ranger to get their recommendations, make sure I didn’t miss anything, and see if any trails are closed.
During my conversation with the ranger, I mentioned the gloomy grey sky, how bummed I was that it wasn’t sunny, and that the petrified wood wasn’t going to be as pretty and colorful. But the ranger told me I was wrong. She said that the cloudy sky is better for viewing the petrified wood than full sun because the full sun washes out the color in photos. Woohoo!
While at the Rainbow Forest Museum And Visitor Center, we also browsed the museum exhibits, chronicling the area’s geologic and human history and displays on the reptiles and dinosaurs that once inhabited this region.
- Visitor information, maps, and free backcountry permits
- A free 20 minute park orientation film that explains the process by which wood becomes fossilized (this is the same film shown at the Painted Desert Visitor Center.)
- Paleontological exhibits complete with fossils and skeleton displays of prehistoric animals
- Access to the Giant Logs Trail, Long Logs Trail, and Agate House Trail
- A bookstore and gift shop with limited snacks
- A picnic pavilion and public restrooms
Adjacent to the Rainbow Forest Museum And Visitor Center is the Rainbow Forest Curio Shop and Fountain with a snack bar.
Know Before You Go
- The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National Park is located 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.
- Petrified Forest was designated a National Monument in 1906 and became a National Park in 1962.
- The park’s elevation varies from a low of 5,340 feet along the Puerco River to a high of 6,230 feet at Pilot Rock. The average elevation is about 5,400 feet.
- Download the Petrified Forest National Park Map.
- The Rainbow Forest buildings are some of the first structures built for the park. Most were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The Rainbow Forest Museum was originally the park headquarters and the Curio Shop was originally the Rainbow Forest Lodge.
- The Rainbow Forest Museum and Visitor Center has a picnic area, restrooms, and trail access to the Giant Logs Trail, Long Logs Trail, and Agate House Trail.
- 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 Painted Desert Visitor Center and Rainbow Forest Museum And Visitor Center are open daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm year round, with extended hours as staffing permits.
- 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.
- 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.