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Petrified Forest National Park Camping: 9 Essential Tips & More

You’re planning a camping trip to eastern Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. But you want to be sure you know all there is to know about camping there. After all, the landscape looks like it’s all desert and badlands—nothing too exciting.

That’s where this Petrified Forest National Park camping guide comes in! The developed and rugged trails, petrified ruins, and carvings on rocks promise a fascinating and scenic camping trip.

Keep reading to learn some camping tips and facts about the park to prepare you for an off-the-grid getaway.

Hills of layered colored rocks in Petrified Forest National Park.

Brief History of Petrified Forest National Park

The history of Petrified Forest National Park goes all the way back to the end of the Ice Age. The land had a vast forest and was rich in resources, and nomadic hunter-gatherers used the wood to build tools. Years later, the climate got warmer and dryer, and the people settled and built pit houses and villages.

Eventually, the forest died out, and silica and organic matter petrified the remains of the wood. By the early 1400s, most of the people had left the Petrified Forest due to a longstanding drought.

When Spanish explorers arrived, one called the land El Desierto Pintado (Painted Desert) due to the colorful Chinle Formation. The site would become a monument in 1906 and a national park in 1962.

What to Expect at Petrified Forest National Park

Sunset over the colorful desert landscape of Petrified Forest National Park.


Arizona is known to reach near 100-degree temperatures by day and below-freezing temperatures by night. Before booking your Petrified Forest National Park camping trip, pack your gear with weather-appropriate clothes, plenty of water, and sunscreen.

Storms like monsoons and sandstorms occur mostly in the summertime. If you go camping at Petrified Forest National Park at that time, bring storm gear or check the weather beforehand.

Park Permits

Some parks and campgrounds require a camping permit before you settle down, and Petrified Forest National Park is no exception. Luckily, you can get a free backcountry camping permit at one of the park’s visitor centers.

The park has other permits for weddings, photography, research, First Amendment activities, and the scattering of ashes. If you’re doing more than just camping at Petrified Forest National Park, apply for these permits 72 hours before your arrival.

Set Hours

The park opens from 8am to 5pm every day; that shouldn’t detract from your Petrified Forest National Park camping experience. They’re serious about preventing fossil theft since the park is rife with fossilized animals, plants, and other materials.

Closeup of a cross-section of petrified wood.
Petrified wood.

Thankfully the bathrooms throughout the park don’t have set hours!

Petrified Forest National Park Camping Fees and Passes

Paying your park entrance fee guarantees free hikes. The price depends on the number of passengers and vehicle you drive (group camping is limited to eight people). These fees improve the park’s services and facilities, ensuring the best visitor experience!

Annual passes will let you continue camping at Petrified Forest National Park as often as you please. You can purchase them at the park entrance. Some annual and even lifetime passes are free depending on age, military status, disability, and volunteer status.

Guide to Petrified Forest National Park Camping

Coming to this park means you’re in for a backpacking trip. This is according to the park’s Leave No Trace principle. You need to be able to pack everything in and out so you don’t leave anything behind to mar the park.

A solitary campsite at night in Petrified Forest National Park.
Camping in Petrified Forest National Park.

Best Camping Spots

The following two spots for camping at Petrified Forest National Park don’t require bookings. That’s one thing you won’t have to worry about as you plan your trip.

Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area

This is the backcountry in the park, where you’ll hike to your campsite a half mile from your vehicle. The park road or a designated lot is where you need to park it since RV and car camping are prohibited. Other forms of camping, like front-country, boondocking, and dispersed camping, aren’t allowed here, either.

Crystal Forest Gift Shop and Campground

This is the closest campground to the park if you come in a self-contained RV. You can choose among 15 sites and only pay a small fee for an electric hook-up. Note that tent camping isn’t an option here.

Things to Do at Petrified Forest National Park

Rock formations at Petrified Forest National Park.

After choosing your spot for your Petrified Forest National Park camping experience, it’s time to get acquainted with the place. Here are several things you can do during your stay:


Some of the trails of Petrified Forest National Park are more developed, while others are considered off-beaten paths. That means the paths aren’t maintained, so check with the visitor centers to ensure you know where you’re going.

Make sure you don your feet with durable footwear, and bring a walking stick and water with you!

Here are three examples of short hiking trails:

  • Giant Logs: Behind the Rainbow Forest Museum is a paved, 0.4-mile loop that reveals the largest, colorful logs in the park.
  • Crystal Forest: Walking this 0.75-mile trail, you’ll notice the crystals in the petrified wood deposits along the path.
  • Painted Desert Rim Trail: The mile-long unpaved trail gives you chance encounters of the wildlife and scenic views of the Painted Desert.

And these are two examples of longer hiking trails:

  • Jasper Forest Hike: This 2.5-mile trail goes through an old road that used to lead to Eagle’s Nest Rock. Jasper Forest was originally called First Forest since it had the first collection of petrified wood in the park.
  • Red Basin Clam Beds Hike: If you like hiking long distances, you’ll love this 8.5-mile trail. The area is rich with fossil clam beds, petrified wood, and petroglyphs, and walking involves crossing the badland hills!
Closeup of a cross-section of brightly colored petrified wood.

Horseback Riding

For all of you equestrians and hippophiles, Petrified Forest National Park camping is for you! Instead of simply walking on unpaved trails and roads in the Wilderness Area, ride a horse through them.

Should you ride a horse for hours, even days, bring enough water for you and your horse. Clean up after it, keep it off paved trails and roads, and never leave it unattended.

Park Sights

While camping at Petrified Forest National Park, don’t miss these three points of interest if they’re not on your chosen trails!

  • Agate House: Puebloans built this eight-room structure with petrified wood. Because there haven’t been any artifacts found here, it’s believed that Agate House was only a temporary dwelling place.
  • Route 66 Alignment: Get your kicks on this historic roadbed! Petrified Forest National Park is the only national park that contains a section of the Main Street of America. A rusty 1932 Studebaker showcases where the road cut through the park in its day.
  • Newspaper Rock: You won’t read any news stories on these rock faces, but you’ll see over 650 petroglyphs carved by the Puebloans. Though you can’t walk up to this site, you can view it from an overlook or a catwalk.

Guided Backcountry Hikes

View of bright-colored hills of Painted Desert in Petrified Forest National Park.

You’ve briefly read about some of the park’s sights, but the following three are covered in guided backcountry hikes. Unlike your leisurely hikes, you’re hiking for four to six hours with park archaeologists in the lead.

Here are three guided hiking trails on the park’s 2023 hike schedule:

  • Dead Wash Overlook: This four-mile round-trip trail gives you a challenge as you trek along boulders past the Black Forest wood. The peak of the hike is a broad view of the park across the Dead Wash drainage.
  • Devil’s Playground: You’ll need a high-clearance vehicle to access the meeting point before you take a guided hike on this four-mile trail. The desert terrain has you seeing purple, blue, and gray landscapes eroded in different shapes.
  • Flat Iron/Lore’s Bridge: This moderate three-mile hike has steep switchbacks and off-trail conditions. Despite the challenges, it showcases the scenery of the Painted Desert, petroglyphs, and Lore’s Bridge.

Visitor Centers

Enrich your Petrified Forest National Park camping trip with the park’s history and culture at the three visitor centers. Some of their amenities include bookstores, restaurants, displayed exhibits, gift shops, and more.

The Painted Desert Visitor Center and the Rainbow Forest Museum are where you can get your backcountry camping permit. And the Painted Desert Inn is a national historic landmark that used to house Route 66 travelers.


A lizard on petrified wood.

Night or day, depending on the season, you’ll always see certain animals while camping at Petrified Forest National Park. They include, but aren’t limited to, birds, lizards, snakes, spiders, millipedes, mice, amphibians, coyotes, and bobcats.

Like any national park, you’re ordered not to approach, feed, or harass the animals.

Vegetation and Geography

Prickly pear cactus with purple fruit.

Despite being known for its petrified wood, the park’s environment is an intermountain-basin, semi-arid grassland. The vegetation that’s here maintains the park’s ecosystem.

Wildflowers beautify the park between March and October. Other plants, like the many species of cacti and desert succulents, provide shade and deflect dry winds.

You won’t see a lot of trees while camping at Petrified Forest National Park. But there are a few established junipers and pinons on the high mesa tops.

Experience Petrified Forest National Park Camping!

An old car body near the entrance of Petrified Forest Natinal Park.
An old car near the park’s entrance.

You’re now all set for some Petrified Forest National Park camping. Off the grid and in a desert, the park itself, its history, and its trails make for an adventurous camping trip!

Visit our National Park Camping page for more guides to assist you in planning your next camping experience!