White Mountains Online

Petrified Forest National Wilderness
Take A Walk On The Wild Side!


On October 23, 1970, 50,260 acres of Petrified Forest National Park were designated as the Petrified Forest National Wilderness. Two distinct units were set aside; 43,020 acres in the Painted Desert and another 7,240 acres in the Rainbow Forest. It was the first wilderness area established in the National Park System under the provisions of the Federal Wilderness Protection Act of 1964.

This act defines a wilderness as an area "where earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The building of roads and the use of mechanized equipment within these areas are prohibited. To explore the wilderness you must enter on foot or on horseback, and be prepared to carry the provisions you will need for the length of your visit.

Backpacking and day hiking are permitted in the Petrified Forest National Park and Wilderness. In fact, the best way to truly enjoy this starkly beautiful area is to depart from one of the trailheads and explore on your own. Following are some regulations and suggestions to help you plan your visit.

Day Hiking

You may day hike almost anywhere in the park. There are some restricted areas however, so check with a park ranger before departing. Day hiking does not require a permit, but you must exit the park before the posted closing time.

Wilderness Backpacking

Overnight backpacking trips are allowed only in the Petrified Forest National wilderness. A free permit must be obtained at least one hour before the park closes. Permits may be obtained at the Painted Desert Visitor Center or the Rainbow Forest Museum. If you wish to camp within the Painted Desert Wilderness, you must depart from Kachina Point. Backpackers wanting to camp within the Rainbow Forest need to get specific instructions from a ranger. There are no established or marked trails in the wilderness. A topographical map and compass are recommended.

A permit is required to ride or pack in the wilderness. However, water and food are not available for your horse. Grazing is not permitted on the scarce desert vegetation as it is damaging to the fragile desert environment. Pressed pellet feed is preferable to grain because it provides complete nourishment and does not compete with native vegetation if spilled.

Prepare for a Safe Trip

When hiking during the summer, remember to rest frequently, wear a hat that protects you from the sun, and watch for symptoms of heat related illness. Excessive perspiration, cool clammy skin, feeling light headed or nauseous, may indicate heat exhaustion. If not treated, heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke which is life threatening and indicated by hot, dry red skin and anxious or irrational behavior. Treatment includes getting into a shaded area and cooling exposed skin areas with wet cloths.

Summer thundershowers build quickly in the desert, drenching unprepared hikers. Such soaking makes hypothermia a real possibility even in the summer. Hypothermia results when the body cannot keep itself warm. Early symptoms are shivering, drowsiness, and fatigue. The patient should be given dry clothing, hot drinks, and be protected from the wind, rain and cold. In the event of an emergency, contact a park ranger.

Leave Only Footprints

Whether day hiking or backpacking, please take time to ask at any visitor area about Petrified Forest National Park's regulations. These restrictions were developed to prevent environmental damage, and violators may be fined under federal law. DO NOT collect or displace any natural or cultural object you may find during your hike. Backpackers be aware there are further regulations concerning prohibition of fires and other issues. Be sure you understand these regulations when you receive your required overnight permit!

Printed by permission Petrified Forest National Park;
Michele Hellickson, Superintendent

Petrified Forest Home Page
Prehistoric Man In the Petrified Forest
Holbrook, City of the Petrified Forest