Strolling through the Crystal Forest

Petrified wood along the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified wood along the Crystal Forest Trail

I was very pleasantly surprised by the Crystal Forest Trail in Petrified Forest National Park.  I’d already toured most of the park (including the Wilderness Loop), so I wasn’t exactly enamored with seeing chunks of wood-turned-rock.  But the specimens here are some of the prettiest I’ve seen, and the 0.9-mile loop itself is fairly easy walking, making it a great option if you happen to be in the southern part of the park.

Quick Stats

Round Trip Length: 0.9 miles Trail Type: Lollipop loop Elevation Gain: 99ft. Pets: Leashed Fees: $25/vehicle

An especially pretty petrified log in the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
An especially pretty petrified log

I believe I’ve visited Petrified Forest 3 times before this, including one visit where we did just about everything we could do.  And yet, I don’t believe I’d ever hiked this trail before.  Probably, the route to the Giant Logs and the Long Logs/Agate House route was more interesting to us.  But we definitely missed out on a gem when we bypassed the Crystal Forest.

Evening light on the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Evening light on the Crystal Forest

The trail begins in a fairly benign manner as a paved path heading west.  Shortly after leaving the parking area, the path will split.  I went right.  I went right again a short distance later when a trail struck off left toward the pavilion up on the hill (if you’re just looking for a general view, the pavilion is great, but I wanted to see the logs close up and personal).

One of the first really great sets of petrified logs I came to - notice the bark, still intact!  Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
One of the first really great sets of logs I came to – notice the bark, still intact!

Heave a sigh of relief that you don’t have to worry about another trail junction for quite some time.  Instead of worrying about which way to turn next, enjoy the collection of petrified wood along the trail.

Petrified logs in the badlands along the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified logs in the badlands

Not only does the Crystal Forest have quite a number of logs (too many to count!), but each one is unique.  Logs can be black, brown, red, yellow, or a number of other colors.  These tend to be multi-colored, including white crystals (thus the name), purple, red, brown, and yellow.

Purple, white, brown, gray, and red petrified wood, Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Purple, white, brown, gray, and red

Others are very real – as in, you can still see tree bark, rings, and twigs as though the rock was still wood!

You can still see both the bark and the grain of the wood in this cool specimen of petrified wood, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
You can still see both the bark and the grain of the wood in this cool specimen

I hiked the path just before dusk.  It was the perfect time of day to enjoy the area, but not really the best for photos.  So trust me that the wood is much prettier than what I could capture with a camera/lens setup that doesn’t love low light and no tripod.

A long log right along the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
A long log right along the path!

At long last, the paved path returns to a junction that would take you up to the pavilion.  I turned right here and then wandered up to the pavilion later (so it doesn’t show on my map).

Petrified logs under evening clouds in the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Petrified logs under evening clouds

Return to the trailhead about 0.9 miles from where you began.  It’s not a difficult or especially long trail, but you’ll definitely see some neat petrified logs along the way!

Views over the Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Views over the Crystal Forest

Round Trip Trail Length: 0.9 miles

Elevation Gain: 99ft. (5,525ft. to 5,566ft.)

Facilities: None.  There is parking for trailers and RVs.

Fees: $25/vehicle, valid 7 days.  Petrified Forest Annual and America the Beautiful National Parks & Federal Lands Passes are also accepted.

A very specimen with many colors in the petrified wood, Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
A very specimen with many colors

Trail Notes: The Crystal Forest Trail is paved; however, it’s not exactly smooth.  A jogging stroller could probably make it as long as you go slow on the multiple tight curves.  I wouldn’t recommend it for a wheelchair unless you don’t mind bumping over the asphalt (grade is 5.2% with a max grade of 22.5%).  Please try to stay on the trail and leave the petrified wood (including small pieces) for the next visitor to enjoy.  I highly recommend this as an evening hike; however, be mindful of time – we lost track of time and didn’t realize that the sign asking you to be in your vehicle by a certain time meant that they wanted you to be exiting the park at that time (I figured they didn’t want you lost after dark!)

Pretty badlands along the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Pretty badlands along the Crystal Forest Trail

Trail ★★★★☆

Road ★★★★★

Signs ★★★★☆

Scenery ★★★☆☆

Would I go 100 miles out of my way for this? ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Longer petrified logs along the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Longer petrified logs

GPS Coordinates for the Crystal Forest Trail

Trailhead: 34.8637600°, -109.7918330° (34°51.82560′, -109°47.50998′ / 34°51’49.5360″, -109°47’30.5988″) (5,534ft.) (0.0)

End: 34.8637680°, -109.7918460° (34°51.82608′, -109°47.51076′ / 34°51’49.5648″, -109°47’30.6456″) (5,534ft.) (0.89)

The gpx file for the Crystal Forest Trail can be downloaded – please note that this and the GPS Coordinates are for reference only and should not be used as a sole resource when hiking this trail.

Download GPX File size: 12.9 KB Downloaded 21 times

(Note: I do my best to ensure that all downloads, the webpage, etc. are virus-free and accurate; however, I cannot be held responsible for any damage that might result, including but not limited to loss of data, damages to hardware, harm to users, from use of files, information, etc. from this website.  Thanks!)

A colorful piece of petrified wood, Crystal Forest, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
A colorful piece of petrified wood

Getting to the Crystal Forest Trailhead

From the southern entrance of Petrified Forest National Park, drive north.  After 8.0 miles, turn right into the parking area for the Crystal Forest (this is 5.8 miles north of the parking area for the Rainbow Forest Museum – you’ll have to drive through this parking area to continue north on the road; just keep driving and you’ll figure it out).

From the northern entrance of Petrified Forest National Park, take the main road.  The Crystal Forest Trailhead is on the left after 20.4 miles – but you’ll pass some great overlooks and scenery before you get there!  (It’s also 4.7 miles south of the Blue Mesa Scenic Road.)

Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Crystal Forest Trail, Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona
Visual trail map and elevation profile for the Crystal Forest Trail

Today’s Featured Product!

Looking for more great hikes in the area?  Check out this classic guide to hiking in Arizona.  From short strolls to definite adventures, this book is a great resource.  Buy your copy here!

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