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Explore / nature / high country

Painted Desert

2 Cool Lizards travel guide

Panoramic views of the Painted Desert can be seen from Petrified Forest National Park, which is located on the north and south sides of I-40 east of Holbrook, Arizona. The Painted Desert is a wondrous work of nature, as if God took a paintbrush and painted the land in beautiful colors of the rainbow. I first saw it in September 2007, and it has remained fresh in my memory since. While there, be sure to visit the Petrified Forest (another great work of art created by the wonders of nature).

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Painted Desert
From I-40, take exit 311 and go north to the Visitor's Center to pay fee and collect maps and information. The Visitor's Center also provides a 20 minute movie about the history and geology of the area. The north end of the park provides excellent views of the Painted Desert, which runs from just east of the Grand Canyon southeast to St. Johns, Arizona. Forces of nature, including erosion and deposits of minerals, have created the forms and colors that make up the Painted Desert. It has taken over 200 million years to create what you see before you 1.

The 28 mile park road loops around to the south and continues on through the park into the petrified forest area and eventually ends at Hwy 180.

The Rainbow Forest Museum is located on the south end of the park and contains exhibits and information on geology, history and paleontology. Don't miss the several archeological sites containing remains of old homesteads. People have inhabited the Petrified Forest area for over 13,000 years 1. Petroglyphs can still be seen on rocks. Go to our page on the Petrified Forest to see our photos of petrified wood and petroglyphs.

The park offers several picnic areas and hiking trails. To encourage visitors to more thoroughly enjoy the area, new back country trails are available.

For maps and information on hiking and exploring the area, go to:

Looking at the Painted Desert, it is easy to imagine it as it once was - an inland basin. Wind and running water carved the features of what is now known as the Painted Desert. Environmental conditions at the time the sediments were originally deposited, plus various minerals in the rocks, created the vivid colors of the Painted Desert. Water from thunderstorms and melting snow continue to erode and carve the landscape. Three inches of soil can be washed away in 10 years 1. People have inhabited the area for thousands of years; learn about their history and cultures by visiting the visitor's center.

To read the fascinating history of how this area was formed, and the people who have made this area their home, go to: .

Tiponi Point (slide 4 top of page) is a good place to stop for photos and take in the vastness of the Painted Desert.

The vivid blue sky, brilliant white cloud formations, multi-colored desert, green foliage and brightly blooming flowers create a colorful display.

As in all Arizona travel, take plenty of water and sunscreen. There is not a lot of shade on these trails; so take a wide brimmed hat and a good pair of sun glasses. Respect the area. Don't collect anything and don't leave anything behind.

Information Source
1.  "Petrified Forest." National Park Service: US Department of the Interior

Fabulous Reviews Of Nearby Places:
Grand Canyon
Sunset Crater National Monument
Lava River Cave
Petrified Forest
Walnut Canyon Cliff Dwellings
Meteor Crater

Painted Desert
Painted Desert
Painted Desert
Painted Desert
Painted Desert
Painted Desert


Located east of Flagstaff along Interstate 40. Continue east past Holbrook. Take exit 311 and go north to the Visitor's Center to pay fee and collect maps and information. The south end of the park connects to Hwy 180.


Petrified Forest National Park: maps and information about park activities, fees, etc.

phone: 928-524-6228; website:

accessible travel

accessible trail Painted Desert Inn
Spectacular views can be seen from the road by car both in the Painted Desert area of the park and in the petrified forest area. Puerco Pueblo can be accessed by a paved, accessible trail. Crystal Forest contains a paved, accessible path that allows close access to petrified wood.

The restroom at the visitor's center has a large, wheelchair accessible stall, as do the Painted Desert Inn and Rainbow Forest Museum. There are no family style (private) restrooms.

Fully-trained service animals are permitted in all park facilities, along park trails, and in the wilderness area. A free, braille guide book is available. A new, accessible ramp is being built into the Rainbow Forest Museum (October 2014). For full information on accessibility, go to: .

Left: Painted Desert Inn accessible trail

Visit accessible travel for more information.

travel with children

Painted Desert
Please - STAY ON TRAILS. For the safety of your children and the environment, keep your children on the paths. Do not allow children to climb on historic rocks containing petroglyphs. In many areas (see photo at left), steep drops along cliff edges are not blocked by barriers - keep children away from the edges. Caution: lightning, high winds and flash floods can occur in summer months.

Restrooms, phones and picnic areas are located throughout the park, such as the Painted Desert Visitor Center, Rainbow Forest Museum, and Painted Desert Inn National History Landmark.

Visit travel with children for more information.

travel with pets

Pets must be leashed at all times and are allowed ONLY on paved park roads. Watch pets carefully; cliff edges without safety barriers exist in many areas.

NEVER leave a pet unattended in a vehicle - temperatures can be extreme in Arizona. ALWAYS clean up after your pet. Take water and food for your pet.

Per the park website (October 2014) fully-trained service animals are permitted in all park facilities, along park trails, and in the wilderness area. Animals must be leashed and physically restrained at all times.

Visit travel with pets for more information.

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