NRA Family Destinations: Petrified Forest National Park

Thirteen thousand years of human civilization and 200,000,000 years before that ... and it's accessible for the whole family!

posted on March 21, 2024
Petrified Forest National Park Service

They call it the painted desert because that's as close as the English language can come to encapsulating its surreal beauty. With two geologic formations spanning uncountable eras of time, the landscape is marked by stunning striations in twisted, exposed stone. This is a land where the power of the infinite over the finite becomes as obvious as a treestump turned to stone. It's the Petrified Forest National Park, and it's all yours as an American citizen. Why should you make it a destination for your family?

For starters, there's the fact that this park is remarkably accessible (for a wilderness area). There are seven trails, most paved and barrier-free, although several have grades in excess of ADA requirements--meaning that wheelchair users can experience much of these trails, especially if their mobility devices are motorized or they have a friend or family member to help. The longest trail is 2.6 miles roundtrip, so most ambulatory visitors will find them easy. These trails, while manicured, put you directly into some of the wildest and most unique corners of the entire world. 

The trails, which take you right through forests that have been transformed by time into quartz, are also open to pets and horseback riding! Naturally, dogs must be leashed and visitors must clean up after their pets, but it's a great chance to take Fido on the walkies of a lifetime. (Yes, Spellcheck, we did mean to say "walkies.") 

As you might expect for a park with this kind of archaeological significance, there's plenty of human history to explore, too. Scientists believe that this area has been occupied since the end of the last ice age--about 13,000 years. Park visitors can walk right through an ancient pueblo, including a house built entirely from petrified wood called "Agate House." It is, essentially, a living museum. 

That said, there's a "regular" museum there too! It's called the Rainbow Forest Museum, and your family could easily spend the day within its walls. There's also a Visitor Center where you can see one-of-a-kind fossils from Petrified Forest National Park being prepared live as paleontologists remove rock from fossil bone.

Yes, fossil bone. The Petrified Forest doesn't just contain fossil trees; dinosaurs walked here just as they did everywhere else in prehistoric America. (We should caveat that the thunder lizards in this particular park are Triassic, not Jurassic.)

Who loves dinosaurs and fossils more than kids? Petrified Forest National Park invites your children to become Junior Rangers who "Explore, Learn, and Protect" their national parks. Stop by the Visitor Center so your Junior Ranger and you can learn about fossils, human history, wilderness and more. They'll even receive their own official Jr. Ranger badges so they'll always know how important they are to the National Park Service and the future of American conservation. For more information, or to plan your trip, click here!


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