Driving the 28 miles (45 km) from one end of the park to the other takes about an hour.
We recommend you decide which end of the park interests you and spend time there, saving the rest for another visit. The highest concentrations of petrified wood are found in the southern end of the park, while the northern end showcases the human story and Painted Desert vistas.
Visit Rainbow Forest Museum & Visitor Center to check out the paleontological exhibits and watch the park film.
History and Culture Tour
Coming in the north end be sure to stop at the Mid-century style Painted Desert Community Complex. There is a self-guided brochure if you ask at the visitor center.
Drive two miles into the park—note some of the names of the overlooks as they reflect some of the park’s history and our various neighboring tribes. Tiponi and Tawa come from the Hopi language while Hozho and Nizhoni are Navajo (Dine).Stop at the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark. Right now—due to the pandemic—it is closed, but at least walk around the Pueblo-Revival style building. It is a lovely edifice in a beautiful setting. The building is related to homesteading, Route 66, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and our indigenous heritage of the area.
Continue into the park another four miles and stop at the Route 66 historic alignment where you can find a 1936 Studebaker.
Drive another five miles through the shrubland and shortgrass prairie to Puerco Pueblo. You will also cross the BNSF railroad tracks, built in the area around 1880 for the Santa Fe line. It remains a busy route with over 80 trains a day! Early in the 20th century there was a depot in the nearby community of Adamana where people could stay in a hotel and take a tour to the “Chalcedony Forest”. It is a ghost town now with little remaining. John Muir stayed there in 1904-1905.
Puerco Pueblo was built by the Ancestral Puebloan people. There are exhibits along the trail and in the mini museum halfway along the loop. There was a CCC camp located across from and later to the south of Puerco Pueblo in the 1930s.
In another mile, take the spur to Newspaper Rock. Many of the petroglyphs there are contemporary with Puerco Pueblo.
Continue another couple of miles and park at the east (left) side pullout at the Tepees. The exhibit recalls the first real paleontological research in the park.
Drive to Rainbow Forest, another 12 miles, and visit the museum. The district is history, the lodge (now a gift shop) was built in the 1920s, while the museum and most of the homes were built in 1931. That was the same year the park was visited by Albert Einstein. Later the homes and other features would be added onto by the CCC. One of the CCC camps was located to the east of Rainbow Forest. Rainbow Forest was also the heart of the original national monument set aside by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.