Petrified Forest National Park loves dogs! Wait a second … a national park that loves pets? Yes, you read that right! Petrified Forest is a bit different from your average national park.
First, you won’t find a forest there – at least not in the traditional sense. And the park doesn’t have any established campgrounds. Dogs, however, can go practically everywhere — it’s encouraged, actually! Cool Whip and Hercules have already visited this national park twice and can’t wait to go back.
About 225 million years ago, this area was a rainforest with dinosaurs, ferns, and giant trees – all things Herc would have loved to sniff! As the trees fell, they were buried in river sediment and soaked up various minerals. These minerals caused the wood to crystallize into quartz in an array of colors. And that’s how the petrified wood you’ll see throughout the park was created.
Petrified Forest National Park straddles the I-40 Interstate in eastern Arizona, making it easily accessible. And the $20-per-car entrance fee gets you access to the park for seven days. There are visitor center/museums located on both ends of the park. And, while dogs are not allowed in the buildings, they can go on all the trails and in the backcountry, as long as they’re leashed.
You can even stop by a visitor center to participate in the Bark Ranger program. You’ll get a treat for your dog, guidelines for pet explorations, and information on how to share your pet’s photos with the park — they really do love pets!
For the classic experience, plan to start your visit by driving the 28-mile road running through the park. Cool Whip and Herc highly recommend stopping at each overlook and trail to maximize the sniffing opportunities.
The seven designated hikes have various lengths:
The southern end of the park holds the greatest concentration of petrified wood. Herc loves the Long Logs and Giant Logs trails where he can sniff some of those ancient trees. The picture below shows us next to a medium-sized petrified log in the backcountry. (I am 5’4″ and the dogs are both 70 pounds.)
Blue Mesa is Cool Whip’s favorite trail. We finally found a landscape where she’s camouflaged! The path is paved but very steep down into the valley, so it’s not for everyone. However, there are excellent overlooks on top if you’re not able to traverse up and down the hill.
The northern end of Petrified Forest National Park is part of the Painted Desert, and an area you won’t want to miss with your dogs. This beautiful collection of mesas, buttes, and badland hills show off a broad spectrum colors depending on the various sedimentary layers. The Rim Trail offers fantastic views of the desert as it follows the edge of the overlooking cliff. Also along the edge is the Painted Desert Inn, which has been turned into a museum and is recognized as a national landmark.
Behind the Inn is where you’ll find the steep trail that switchbacks down the cliff into the valley and leads to most of the backcountry. Cool Whip and Herc loved racing up and down the hills. They were less impressed when I made them stop for a photo.
You can choose to day-hike in the backcountry or do an overnight backpacking trip, which is the only way to spend a night in the park. While many parks have a designated trail system in the backcountry, Petrified Forest National Park only has “suggested” routes. These routes take you off the main trails to some of less-visited but truly amazing features within the park.
Suggested routes off the main trails:
For backpacking, you’ll need to obtain a permit from either the Rainbow Forest Museum (south end) or the Painted Desert Visitor Center (north end). The permit is free, but you have to read and sign off on the backcountry guidelines. For example, you must camp at least one mile from the trailhead. You’ll receive an assignment to one of the five backcountry zones and given a basic map. Beyond that, you’re free to roam!
There is no water in the backcountry, so you’ll have to pack all the water you’ll need for your excursion. The lack of water was Cool Whip’s favorite part about this terrain — she does not like to get her toes wet! Also, there are areas in the backcountry with rough terrain, so consider getting your dog used to wearing dog boots before your trip and and put them in her pack.
No matter where you go in Petrified Forest National Park with your dog, remember that you are in the desert and the weather can change quickly. We experienced extremely strong winds on both visits, as can be seen with Cool Whip’s preinstalled wind gauges (ear flaps).
We hope our experience encourages you to visit Petrified Forest National Park with your dogs. This uniquely pet friendly national park should be on every dog’s bucket list!
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