Escalante Petrified Forest State Park Utah is a little known cousin to Arizona's National Park of the same name. Thankfully, crowds are fairly thin and a great experience in the Escalante area
Petrified Forest State Park Utah was not on my original travel plans but the name intrigued me. After spending extensive time on the Hole-in-the-Rock Road and navigating some of the more treacherous offshoots, I made my way back to Escalante and saw signs for this park. It wasn't far, why not check out?
Small Park with Big Sights
I've been to Petrified Forest National Park, unfortunately during one of those increasingly common government shut downs. I missed the majority of the petrified wood due to security issues. How fortunate that I passed another spot with an abundance of these fossils! Needing a brief break in all my local canyoneering, I stopped by.
The park is small but beautiful (park website here). There's campground for tents and RVs, bathrooms and showers. It backs up to a small reservoir which is perfect for cooling off during these desert summer days. There's a massive petrified log just off the main drag and then two-three hikes in the park.
Hiking the Petrified Forest Trail
The Petrified Forest Trail is a 1.0 mile trail that's steep but beautiful. It leaves from the main parking area, ascends a cliff and pops you out on a mesa with literally tons of petrified wood. Here's an area map:
At the trailhead, I picked up a nature guide which illuminated the numerous other gems of the Utah high desert and set off. Its quite steep and unshaded for the first 0.4 miles. Thankfully there were increasingly expansive views of the Escalante area and reservoir. The various stops on the nature trail were well dispersed for short breaks.
There's not much wood for the first 0.4 miles but once the trail flattens out on the Mesa, I found it in abundance. The trail reaches a fork which is simply the return of the 1.0 mile loop. I went right but if you go left on the loop, you'll run into the largest naturally occurring petrified log in the park.
After another 0.2 miles, the trail reaches two back-to-back junctions, one with a mountain biking trail connecting Escalante; I ignored this one. The second fork in the trail is with the "Trail of Sleeping Rainbows" which heads to the right. Taking this adds an additional 0.9 miles to the total trail distance from the parking lot. If you want to keep the distance to the original 1.0 mile loop, simply head left at this junction, continue the loop around the mesa and head right at the final junction.
Trail of Sleeping Rainbows, Petrified Forest State Park Utah
The park rangers recommended this extra 0.9 mile loop for the best views of petrified wood. I found a phenominal concentration of it on this short but steep loop. You couldn't throw a stone without hitting some petrified wood.
This trail is steep, narrow and undulating for the most part. There's also some smaller, bootlegged trails leaving from it that are probably illegal. I paid close attention to the map; even though its short, I felt like I could get lost easily.
I linked back up with the main Petrified Wood Trail and looped back around to the largest specimen above. A phenomenal range of colors streak across this fossil. What changes in landscape this rock must have seen over the millennia.
After linking up with the original trail, I took it back down to the campground and had lunch. Altogether, the trail took me about 2 hours, mainly due to pictures and stops to admire the petrified wood. Don't miss out on this park while canyoneering around Escalante!