Explore Petrified Forest National Park and its best trail through the colorful, clay-like rock of the Painted Desert.
Blue Mesa Trail Guide
MAPS: National Park Service
PERMITS: park entrance fee required
DESIGNATION: Petrified Forest National Park
BEST SEASONS: fall, spring, winter
DISTANCE: 0.9 mile paved loop trail
ELEVATION: trailhead 5600ft, low point 5500ft
ACCESS: paved road
DIRECTIONS: From the south entrance of the National Park, drive north and then east approximately 15 miles to the Blue Mesa Trailhead. Or, from the north entrance of the Park, drive south then east approximately 20 miles to the trail. “Blue Mesa Trailhead” registers in Google Maps.
ROUTE: paved, crowded, well maintained, signed junctions
GUIDEBOOK: Petrified National Forest National Park: Planning Guide
Petrified Forest National Park
Petrified Forest has always been known for its (you guessed it) petrified wood, and has never been an especially attractive destination for the most intrepid of hikers and backpackers.
There’s a scenic drive through the Park of about 30 miles (one way) that features a number of overlooks and short loop hikes. These hikes are a family-friendly, wonderful way to explore the park on foot. They include:
- The Blue Mesa Trail (0.9 miles)
- Crystal Forest Trail (0.75m)
- Giant Logs Trail (0.4m)
- Long Logs Trail (1.6 miles)
- Agate House Ruin (2 miles)
- Puerco Pueblo (0.3m)
- Painted Desert Rim Trail (1 mile)
All distances are listed as round trips, and you can knock out all of these in an afternoon.
Of all these trails, Blue Mesa is my favorite.
In recent times, Petrified Forest has made an effort to promote its deeper backcountry, primarily in the wilderness area north of Interstate I-40 in the Painted Desert. They’ve gone so far as to list some suggested wilderness routes on their website.
I have yet to explore this true backcountry of the Park. The Painted Desert looks especially intriguing for its lack of trails, secluded clay hills, and presumed sense of solitude amid such an empty desert landscape.
There’s no water out there, so deeper explorations would best be done in late fall, winter, or early spring.
My Trip Notes & Photos
My first and only visit to Petrified Forest was just for a day, on January 8, 2010. The area struck me as vast and open. A cold winter wind swept across the landscape.
I think what impressed me most about the Blue Mesa Trail, in addition to the colorful Chinle Formation, was the way the trail offered a level of intimacy in an otherwise barren area.
These first images depict scenes from other trails and overlooks in the park.
The Park’s showcase is its petrified wood, of course.
those who were here before
The Pained Desert
The north end of the Park focuses on its views of the Painted Desert, cut off from the main region of Petrified Forest by Interstate I-40
The Blue Mesa Trail
And finally, here’s a collection of photos from the Blue Mesa Trail
The nearby town of Holbrook, Arizona is rich with Route 66 history, including the quirky Wigwam Motel.
Have you hiked the Blue Mesa Trail or done any further backpacking in Petrified Forest National Park? How was it?