Petrified Forest National Park Backcountry

Much of the backcountry at Petrified Forest National Park is within designated Wilderness, one of the first two designated Wilderness Areas within the National Park System. Wilderness was designated within Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve at the same time as Petrified Forest National Park.What is Wilderness? The concept is different for everyone. Artists may see shapes and color; backpackers anticipate an adventure; legislators define it in legal terms. In general, wilderness is a place where the human imprint is minimal.

In 1964 Congress passed the Wilderness Act, restricting grazing, mining, timber cutting and mechanized vehicles in these areas. Wilderness Areas are protected and valued for their ecological, historical, scientific and experiential resources. The Petrified Forest Wilderness Area consists of over 50,000 acres of mesas, buttes, badlands, and scattered areas of grasslands.


Access to the Painted Desert Wilderness is near Kachina Point, in the northern section of the park. The Wilderness Access trailhead is on the northwest side of Painted Desert Inn. This one-mile trail leads into the Wilderness Area as it crosses Lithodendron Wash. *Painted Desert Inn is currently closed for a rehabilitation project. The nearest services are at the Painted Desert Visitor Center complex.

Overnight camping

For those who wish to stay overnight in the Wilderness Area, a free permit must be obtained at least one hour before the park closes. Permits are issued from either the Painted Desert Visitor Center or Rainbow Forest Museum. Hikers must park their cars in the Painted Desert Inn parking area and use the access trail on the northwest side of the building. Backpackers must hike to a designated zone north of Lithodendron Wash before setting up camp. No campsites are maintained in the Wilderness Area.


Group camping is limited to 8 . Because of the slow rate of decomposition and the fragile desert environment, minimum impact camping is very important. This includes limiting the number of people within an area.

Horseback Riding

Horses are allowed in the Wilderness Areas. No permits are required for day trips. Go to the Horseback Riding page for more information.

Rules, Regulations, and Safety Points:

Collection of plants, rocks, petrified wood, fossils, archeological objects or other materials is illegal anywhere in the park.

No pets, bicycles, motorized vehicles, or firearms are allowed.

No wood or charcoal fires are allowed. Please use fuel stoves.

Bury human waste.

Pack it in, pack it out. Leave no trash behind.

Be aware that elevations average 5,800 feet.

Temperatures vary greatly from extreme heat to bitter cold.

Take all water necessary - one gallon per person per day is recommended during summer months.

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