Petrified Forest National Park loves pets! 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 there aren’t any established campgrounds within the park. Dogs, however, are allowed practically everywhere — 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 down over time, they were buried in river sediment and soaked up various minerals from the groundwater. These minerals caused the wood to crystallize into quartz in an array of colors — and that created the petrified wood you’ll see throughout the park.
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. Visitor center/museums are located on both ends of the park, and while dogs are not allowed in any buildings, they are welcome 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 explore the 28-mile road running through the park. Cool Whip and Herc highly recommend stopping at each overlook and trail to maximize the sniffing options.
There are also seven designated hikes of various lengths:
The southern end of the park holds the greatest concentration of petrified wood. Check out the Long Logs and Giant Logs trails for an up close look at the size of some of those ancient trees. Trust me when I say these are worth checking out. 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 visited a landscape where she can blend in! The path is paved but very steep heading down into the valley, so it may be difficult for some visitors. 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, a beautiful collection of mesas, buttes, and badland hills decked out in 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 didn’t seem impressed with the rocks up close, but they sure did love racing up and down the hills!
You can 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 be assigned to one of the five backcountry zones for your adventure 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 are in Petrified Forest National Park, 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).