Off the Beaten Path at Petrified Forest National Park

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The best hikes are off the beaten path at Petrified Forest National Park. Ask a park ranger for details when you stop at the visitor’s center. They will give you a spiral packed with details on their wilderness hikes. We had been to this park before in March 2017. While there, we did the scenic drive and stopped for a hike on the Blue Mesa Trail. Due to unpredictable weather, consisting of painfully cold-pelting sleet, we chose not to do any wilderness hiking that time. We swore that we’d be back though, and we held true to our vow.

Now in 2019, we entered the park during the month of May with fine-clear-blue skies. The crowds are painful, but once you get about a mile from the busy trailheads and scenic pullouts, other hikers are rare. This is a park for people who love badlands, open spaces, beautiful flowers, and fossils. It is for folks who love to watch the sunlight hit the desert rocks, painting them with pinks, yellows, reds, and blues. There is wildlife here too, including colorful lizards and pronghorn. The wilderness hiking isn’t difficult for hikers in reasonably good shape. It will hone your route-finding skills and challenge you to work for that point of interest.

Blue Forest Hike

This is a fun hike that gives you an awesome up-close look at those beautiful blue, purple, and pink badlands you’ve been admiring along the Petrified National Forest scenic drive. It’s a 2.4-mile there-and-back-again hike across the badland ridges. Usually, when you hike in the badlands, you’re looking up at them from the ground. This trail is unique because you’re on top looking down and across this enchanting landscape. You’ll have to search for the path in a few spots, but it’s not difficult, and visibility is good. Try to stay on the faint trail to avoid disturbing the badlands’ structure, which is extremely sensitive.

Onyx Bridge Hike

A 4-mile there-and-back-again “trail”, this hike will allow you to practice using landmarks for navigation. I say “trail” because there isn’t really one after the first half-mile or so. You simply cut across an open space heading for a landmark on the horizon. From the trailhead, you’ll steeply descend into badlands from the rim. You wind your way and climb out of these into a valley of sand and creekbeds (mostly dry while we were there). Traversing the valley floor towards the distant buttes, you’ll reenter a maze of badland canyons leading to an impressively-long petrified log stretched across a wash.

Long Logs & Agate House Loop

This is not an off the beaten path hike, but we think it’s worth mentioning because it’s one of the better mainstream trails at this park. The Long Logs & Agate House trails can be combined to make a 2.6-mile loop, showcasing petrified wood of all shapes, positions, and sizes with a badlands vista. Depending on the time of year, you can see a variety of vivid flowers. The Agate House is 700-year old Pueblo constructed with petrified wood. There isn’t much left of it, and it has been modified, but it’s historically valuable nonetheless and a point of interest. This would be a good hike to do, along with the Blue Mesa Trail (mentioned in our 2017 post, click here), if you only have a few days in the park. It gives you a satisfying look at what the park’s all about, if not a deep one.

For more hiking destinations, click here.

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Hiker Tips

  • Hikes are fully exposed. Prepare with proper desert clothing, sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
  • Pay close attention to your surroundings, noting memorable landmarks. Look behind you occasionally to note appearances.
  • Take plenty of water.

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