If you were expecting a lush green forest, you won’t find that at the Historic Blue Forest Trail. The only trees here are petrified. But what you will discover is a kaleidoscope of colors layered into the strata of this landscape and an endless array of shapes carved by time in this ancient river system. This route leaves the beaten path to climb over and around some of these impressive formations along an unmaintained path originally constructed by the CCC. Maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a divine dose of solitude in this beautifully barren place.
This trail begins at Blue Mesa and ends at the main road in Petrified Forest National Park, but the last half a mile near the road is uninteresting, so one good choice is to start at Blue Mesa, break off the paved path to see the best of the Blue Forest Trail, then return to the path to complete the Blue Mesa Loop. All the statistics listed in this guide are for the one way hike.
Blue Mesa Trail
From the Blue Mesa parking area, you’ll get your first view of the magnificent blue mesa formation you’re about to explore.
Make your way down a paved path, which is quite steep and unsuitable for strollers or wheelchairs. As you descend the trail, you’ll begin to be immersed among the eroded dunes and colorful layers, which seem to change at every turn.
There are a few interpretive signs along the way explaining some of the geology. At the fork, you can go either left or right to begin the loop, but if you’re going one way to the main park road, I’d suggest going left because it’s the longer segment before the junction with the Historic Blue Forest Trail.
Though petrified wood is not the main draw of this trail, there are some excellent examples here, including this very large piece still mounted on its pedestal.
At a turn in the path, you’ll see the beginning of the Historic Blue Forest Trail, heading off along a wash between the dunes. Look for existing footprints to know you’re in the right place.
Historic Blue Forest Trail
Almost immediately, you’ll begin ascending one of the dunes on a sometimes precarious but mostly defined path. There are mildly exposed edges, narrow ridgelines to traverse, and loose gravel, so those with fear of heights may find it a bit unnerving. It’s getting real now, and you may find yourself thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening!”
Soon you’ll be atop the dunes getting the views most people miss. In every direction, there’s something different to discover. A field of small white mounds, dark colored canyons in the distance, dramatic blue and purple dunes beside you. It’s a feast for the senses.
There’s even a nice example of a long log, perched high upon its pedestal.
I thought I took a million pictures, but none seem to be able to do it justice, so I’ll leave you with this one that captured a moment of me taking in the vast desolation before me.
Eventually, the trail descends to the valley floor, where you can hike another half a mile to the Historic Blue Forest Trailhead or turn around and head back to the paved path where you can complete the Blue Mesa loop back to the parking area at the top.
Map & Directions
Location Petrified Forest National Park, Holbrook, Arizona
The park can be entered on the north end or the south end, depending on your direction of travel, though the south end is closer to this trail.
South Entrance From Holbrook, take Highway 180 east to the park entrance on the left, and follow the park road to the turn for Blue Mesa. Turn right and follow the road to the Blue Mesa Trailhead. Alternatively, keep going on the park road to the Historic Blue Forest Trailhead.
North Entrance From Holbrook, take I-40 east to the exit for Petrified Forest National Park. Follow the park road to the turn for Blue Mesa. Turn left and follow the road to the Blue Mesa Trailhead. Alternatively, follow the main park road to the Historic Blue Forest Trailhead, just before the turn for Blue Mesa.
Fees/Passes There is a fee to enter Petrified Forest National Park, or you can use your America the Beautiful pass.
Trailhead Facilities None, but you can find restrooms and water at the visitor center.
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