Petrified Forest is one of the country's most overlooked and underrated National Parks. Located in northeast Arizona, the park is roughly 146 square miles and split into two "halves," the southern "rainbow forest" and the northern "painted desert." There are no campsites in the park, and despite being small by national park standards - you could easily spend the whole day exploring.
My wife and I had quit our jobs and decided to spend the summer road tripping around the country. We made a "pit stop" of Petrified Forest on our way to the Grand Canyon, but the few hours we spent there made it one of our favorite destinations. Had we not run out of daylight, we could have spent several more hours exploring.
We entered from the south and started out at the Rainbow Forest Museum to take in some great history and science behind the park's plethora of petrified wood. Left over from the late Triassic period, these fallen trees have slowly turned to stone through permineralization. Over the eons minerals slowly replaced the organic matter, giving the trees a colorful and glossy appearance. The visitor center also has some great dinosaur displays, including the skull of a Phytosaur that once roamed the park. Who doesn't love dinosaurs? As we moved north through the park, the petrified wood became less common and we entered the badlands. If you have only a few hours to see the park, be sure to hike the Blue Mesa trail for some great views of the Painted Desert.
Only about three and a half hours from the Grand Canyon, and 20 minutes from Holbrook, Petrified Forest is an absolute must see!