Crystal Forest is home to a moderately easy hiking loop through a dense collection of petrified wood, offering both expansive vistas of Petrified Forest National Park and some up-close experiences with the ancient trees turned modern day stones.
If you’re headed to Petrified Forest National Park, odds are you’re eventually going to want to see some petrified wood, right? There are two areas where established trails can get you right into the petrified forests — one is at the park’s southern entrance, where the Long Logs, Giant Logs, and Agate House are all within easy striking distance of each other — and the other is a bit farther north at the area known as the Crystal Forest.
Here, a 0.8 mile loop trail takes you into the remains of an ancient forest, where some 225 million years ago, 200-foot tall conifers dominated a tropical lowland. Time, climate, and geologic forces buried the trees in layers of mud and volcanic ash, leaving enormous fossilized remains for visitors of the modern age.
The fossilized trees of the Crystal Forest have an unusually high concentration of additional crystals inside the trees themselves — small pockets where the trees have become filled with deposits that eventually turned into quartz and amethyst crystals.
As with all areas inside National Park, collection or disturbance of anything — especially petrified wood — is forbidden. If you spot someone taking petrified wood, please contact the rangers at (928) 524-6228 as soon as possible.
The trail begins on a paved path that heads toward a lone (and very welcome) shade shelter.
From this shade shelter, you’ll get a tremendous panorama of the Crystal Forest area. The top of the Blue Mesa formation gives many of the hills a blue-purplish tint, while rabbitbrush and grasses chime in with green or gold. And the fallen, fossilized, fractured trees lie everywhere.
The trail forms a lollipop loop, and you can go in any direction. This route goes clockwise but either way, you’ll be taken up close to the petrified wood. Be sure to spend some time getting a closer look — each log is unique, and they all reward careful inspection.
While most trees in Petrified Forest have been scattered due to geologic movement and erosion, in some cases, you can still see trees that are lying essentially in a straight line, just as they fell all those millions of years ago.
The trail reaches its high point at about the half-mile mark, then turns west to close the loop and return to the trailhead.
Partially paved and gravel path that will be manageable for just about every hiker.
There are no developed campgrounds inside Petrified Forest National Park. Backcountry camping is allowed in the Petrified Forest Wilderness Area. Free permits are required and can be obtained at the Painted Desert Visitor Center, Painted Desert Inn, and Rainbow Forest Museum up to an hour before the park closes. The Park Service has a page set up with nearby National Forest and State Park campgrounds for further information.
From Holbrook, head east on US-180 for about 17.5 miles, then turn left onto Petrified Forest Road. The Crystal Forest trailhead will be on your right in approximately 8.1 miles.