Crystal Forest Trail, Crystal Forest Trailhead, Petrified Forest National Park - Painted Desert, Arizona

Crystal Forest Trail - 0.85 miles

Crystal Forest Trailhead

Colorful petrified wood remains are scattered about the rolling hills of the Crystal Forest

Colorful petrified wood remains are scattered about the rolling hills of the Crystal Forest

Round-Trip Length: 0.85 miles (roundtrip loop)
Start-End Elevation: 5,529' - 5,529' (5,565' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +121' total roundtrip elevation gain
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: Yes
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Crystal Forest Trail - 0.85 Miles Round-Trip

The Crystal Forest Trail loops through rolling grasslands and badland formations highlighted by a stunning collection of petrified wood.

The trail is easily accessed from Park Road, and friendly to families and persons of all abilities.

Photographers may prefer afternoon light on petrified wood remains, while sunrise illuminates the The Battleship, an isolated fin just off to the west (pictured above).

During the late Triassic Period some 225 million years ago, much of Northern Arizona was a heavily wooded tropical floodplain. Period flooding and erosion interspersed with volcanic activity from the south and west carried sediments and ash downstream, settling over fallen trees in this area.

In some cases trees were buried quickly and deeply enough to deprive them of oxygen, thus significantly slowing the natural decomposition process. Over time, ground water dissolved silica from volcanic ash into the porous body of fallen, buried trees.

This solution formed quartz crystals that filled hollows and cracks in the logs, eventually petrifying them by encasing and replacing the trees' organic material with minerals.

The wood's brilliant colors come from impurities in the quartz, such as iron, carbon, and manganese.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N34 51.825 W109 47.511 — 0.0 Miles: Crystal Forest Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Petrified wood in the Petrified Forest National Park is almost solid quartz, weighing on average between 150-180 pounds per cubic foot. It's so hard, you can only cut it with a diamond tipped saw.

  • Petrified wood is mostly quartz. The physical characteristics of cylindrical quartz cause it to break cleanly when stressed, resulting in the symmetrical segments we see today.

  • Iron Oxides give the wood its distinctive red, yellow and orange hues.

  • Carbonized organic compounds and residues yield black, tan and brown tones.

  • Shortgrass prairies and pockets of high desert cover a majority of the Park. The Park's ecology is technically classified as an Inter-mountain Basin, Semi-Desert Shrub Steppe and Grassland.

Rules and Regulations

  • Collection of plants, rocks, petrified wood, fossils, archeological objects or other materials is illegal anywhere in the park. Rules are strictly enforced and violators are subject to significant penalties.

  • Pets are permitted on maintained trails, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed within Wilderness Areas, nor on the Wilderness Access Trail near The Painted Desert Inn. Pets are not allowed in buildings unless they are service animals.

Directions to Trailhead

The Crystal Forest Trailhead is located approximately 20 miles from the Park Entrance Station on Park Road. The parking lot is on the east side of Park Road.

Contact Information

Petrified Forest National Park
1 Park Road
P.O. Box 2217
Petrified Forest, AZ 86028
928.524.6228 (phone)
928 524.3567 (fax

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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