Petrified Forest Loop

A challenging 10-mile circuit through one of America's largest petrified forest.

Hiking Difficult

Distance
17 km
Ascent
270 m
Descent
270 m
Low Point
728 m
High Point
832 m
Gradient
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Petrified Forest Loop Map

Description

The Petrified Forest Loop explores ancient petrified forests and the iconic badlands wilderness along a 10-mile tour of the park's remote backcountry. Seen here, this loop pairs the Maah Daah Hey Trail and the North/South Petrified Forest Trails (which are sometimes listed as the Petrified Forest Loop), and numerous trail junctions offer options for even longer outings. As a day hike, it could take upwards of 6 hours to complete, or you could obtain a free backcountry permit and turn the adventure into an overnight trip instead.

Petrified wood, which is simply wood that aged to stone, "occurs when the tree becomes buried and decomposition does not initially occur due to a lack of oxygen," this source writes. "Minerals such as silica in water deposit in the tree and stone (usually quartz) is formed," and the tree's individual rings can often be observed, the author continues. Though there are other natural occurrences of petrified forests throughout the world, this particular one is thought to be the third-largest in the United States.

The trailhead is located about 20 minutes from Mendora, in the northwest corner of the park's Southern Unit. It can host up to 20 cars, though it is only suitable for smaller passenger vehicles. Neither restrooms nor water are available, though a small kiosk is there to greet you with some additional information about the trail. If hiking the entire 10-mile circuit seems a little too ambitious, an out-and-back into North Petrified Forest is an excellent option that will leave you with plenty of time for other plans.

NPS Dakota Reflections

Difficulty

Difficult

Hiking trails where obstacles such as rocks or roots are prevalent. Some obstacles can require care to step over or around. At times, the trail can be worn and eroded. The grade of the trail is generally quite steep, and can often lead to strenuous hiking.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

3 out of 4

Little chance of being seen or helped in case of an accident.

Best time to visit

March, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Historical
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area