If you’re going to take a long weekend vacation, why not do something that’s truly a memorable, one-of-a-kind experience? Whether you’re going with friends, creating a family-friendly adventure or even just striking out on your own, the Petrified Forest National Park and the Painted Desert are excellent destinations.
Located in the sunbaked Southwest, these Arizona parks provide the most beautiful views imaginable for vacation-goers of all types. Each destination provides a visual experience like no other, all while providing an educational opportunity that everyone is sure to glean something interesting from. Additionally, you can hike both areas, allowing you and your party the ability to explore this unique portion of the great outdoors.
Petrified Forest National Park
This national park runs alongside the Painted Desert and offers a rich experience to explorers of all types. The first thing you’re likely to notice is the amazing scenery that this park offers. Red and orange plateaus rise against the clear, hot Arizona sky one after another, crafting a brilliantly unique skyline. Wind, rain, snow and other environmental factors have worked together for millions of years to craft memorable landmarks such as the Late Triassic Chinle Formation and the Mio-Pliocene Bidahochi Formation, two of the park’s most remarkable natural pieces.
However, landmarks and looming plateaus aren’t the only things that draw weekend vacationers to this park time and time again. The park is also home to a great deal of plant life and wildlife, including a wide range of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and invertebrates. The variety of nature available in this arid atmosphere creates a unique ecosystem that’s sure to amuse nature lovers for hours on end.
Cultural exhibits in the park are also available to teach more about the people who once called the area home. From fossils to ancient pottery and other artifacts, these pieces of the park contain about 13,000 years of history between them.
The Painted Desert
While it’s nearby Petrified Forest National Park, the Painted Desert offers an experience that differs significantly from its neighbor. Located around 115 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona, this is the area that encompasses the Petrified Forest National Park and its contents. Some points of interest are monuments, such as the Puerco Pueblo and Agate House, while others are landscapes you can have fun exploring. Some of the most popular desert destinations include:
- The Painted Desert Inn (built in 1924)
- National Heritage Areas
- Route 66 historic highway
- The Teepees
- The Rainbow Forest Museum
This is by no means a complete list of the wonders that you can uncover in the Painted Desert. These and the dozens of other beautiful, breathtaking features can often be seen over 100 miles away in the clear, bright air of the Southwest—an experience hikers enjoy more than anyone else.
These parks make for ideal hiking locations. However, as is the case when you go hiking anywhere, you need to make sure you’re prepared for the environment before you begin your adventure. In the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, there is very little water and shade, for example, so you’ll want to be sure to pack accordingly.
The national park has a wide range of hiking trails available. However, if you’re really looking for an experience that’s unforgettable, there are plenty of hiking routes you can take away from the beaten path, opening up even more locations and views. There are suggested routes to take, but overall, you’re unrestricted regarding your park wandering (with the exception of Devils Playground). Camping is also available, though you’ll need to obtain a permit in order to do so. However, you never need a permit for daytime hiking, so you’re always welcome to wander as far as you’d like while the sun is up.
As stated, you can camp out in the park if you have a permit. However, if you’re not much of a camper, consider staying in nearby Holbrook, Arizona. This friendly town is located nearby the locations and offers several different hotel opportunities. Staying close to the Painted Desert means you never have to sacrifice your valuable weekend vacation time on driving back and forth between your hotel and what you really came to see. Still, remember to get your vehicle inspected before you embark on your journey to avoid a breakdown in the desert.