Painted Desert Visitor Center is open 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. MST.
Rainbow Forest Museum is open 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. MST.
Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark (a museum and bookstore only) is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. MST year-round.
Petrified Forest & Painted Desert are actually two parks in one. Plan to spend at least two, preferably three to four, hours to see both parks.
The parks are drive through with lots of stops to see along the way. Pick up a driving map at the Visitor's Center. It has details of all the stops along the way. There is a free Junior Ranger program for the kids to complete. There is also an informative Ranger talk at the Visitors Center that is worth sitting through. It gives you lots of information on the formation of the park.
Just behind the Visitors Center is a walking trail that takes you through some petrified logs. There are several marked stops on the trail but the most noteworthy is the gigantic log that you can sit on.
Driving through the park gives you some beautiful scenery. There are some awesome formations to see. There are several stops with little trail loops that you can take. Be sure to see Newspaper Rock. If you have a zoom lens on your camera you can clearly see the petroglyphs.
The trails are level & and easy hike for all age levels. They are accessible for strollers as well.
The coolest thing is that an actual strip of the original Route 66 runs through the park. If you get out & walk it (it is closed to traffic) you see a bunch of old trash leftover fro the Route 66 era (tin cans, bottles, etc). As you are in a National Park, it is illegal to move or remove any of the objects. It's fun to think about the history & all of the cars that traveled that road!
We visited Petrified Forest National Park on our way back to New Mexico after our visit to the Grand Canyon (see separate review). We entered the South end and stopped at the visitor center. It was very informative and had a little museum. We picked up a Junior Ranger packet and the kids got started on them right away. The movie at the visitors center was very helpful to let us know about the park and what we would be seeing. We did the walk right around the visitor center and viewed the petrified logs. They were really neat. We drove to the North entrance stopping along the way to do a few short hikes and take pictures. It was really hot and dry so I would recommend a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, plenty of water and good hiking shoes. We spent a total of 4 hours (and we move pretty slow but did not hike everything). We weren't there long but managed to fit in time for the kids to complete their Jr. Ranger packets and receive a patch. I definitely recommend making the stop if you are driving by.
We drove through the park on our big trip out west and loved it! We came in at the south end and drove to the north, stopping to hike amongst the many, many petrified logs in the desert. The girls were fascinated by the color in the logs as well as the layered colors of sand in the petrified forest. Definitely worth a stop!
Along our cross country vacation, and on our way to The Grand Canyon, we made a detour off of route 40 and made our way onto historic RT 66 to visit The Petrified Forest and Painted Desert.
Again, this fit in with our National Parks Pass and once we had paid our fee for the year, we just drove on through, into the park, to enjoy the beautiful views.
I will admit that the kids (and my husband & I) were much more impressed with the Painted Desert than we were with the Petrified Forest. (I am certain I was expecting FULL petrified trees and instead, they were stumps.)
BUT, the painted desert was beautiful and it was a nice excuse to take a slow drive and occassionally get out and stretch our legs.
This was an enjoyable addition to our grand canyon trip. My then 6 year old son and I loved seeing and learning about the trees but it was really hot when we visited.
Everyone there was really nice and took the time to explain things in terms we could understand. We spend a couple hours seeing near by attraction in the park and having lunch.
If you are traveling the 40 to get from one spot to another, this National Park is worth the little detour to see the unique formations. Our children love the Jr Ranger programs available at the national parks, too, and this is another spot to get a badge! They learn so much, and are able to remember more about the parks we visit. You will only add about an hour to your trip to drive through and stop at the visitor center!
This is one National Park that you should not skip. Not only is the setting goergous, but the subject matter of how whole trees can be turned into stone is mind boggling. The whole park seems surreal. When my grandkids touched the rock hard tree stumps they were full of questions - why did the tree become rock? Did a witch cast a spell, asked my 3 year old grand daughter. She was convinced that this was something that could only come out of fairytales.
If you can help it, come in the cooler months.