Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located on Utah Scenic Byway 12 in the heart of the picturesque Grand Staircase-Escalante country. This park offers many adventurous activities for the warm spring and summer seasons, which include small craft boating, fishing and hiking trails. There are plenty of shade trees for lazy afternoon picnics and there is a lakeside campground too. The star of the show in this area is the vast petrified forest and upon arrival it will be easy to see why this is the namesake of the park. Next to the big parking area is an outdoor display of large petrified logs that came from the hills a few hundred feet above.
The Petrified Forest Trail is located next to the parking area and there is an information kiosk at the trailhead that is best to read before starting the trek. The most important rule to remember is petrified wood collecting is illegal in this area, but there are several rock shops nearby where a souvenir pieces of ancient fossilized wood can be brought back home. Staying on the trail is important too, because this helps to preserve the delicate high desert environment. Other than these little details, packing plenty of water is highly suggested, because dehydration easily occurs in this high elevation.
The start of the Petrified Forest Trail immediately traverses a few steep switchbacks on the way uphill that are guaranteed to to leave a visitor winded, so it is best to take it slow since the air is thin. This actually is no problem because there are so many beautiful views of the lake way up above ground level and stopping to take it all in is the natural thing to do. After walking over the lower ridge line, there is one last steep rocky staircase section to negotiate before getting to the top of the mesa. Once on top, the pathway is fairly flat and smooth, so the rest of the hike will be easy.
The petrified wood immediately comes into view on top of the mesa and some of the large petrified logs are cordoned off where they lie in state. The flora along this trail is interesting too, especially during late spring when the cactus are blooming. With every few steps, more and more petrified can be seen and some display a rainbow of colors from mineralization. Every piece of petrified wood tells a story and the tree rings can actually be counted on some, which indicates how old the tree was when it fell over. There is also a spur trail up top which goes to a remote area that offers majestic panoramic views, but this trail has a moderately high difficulty level.
The Petrified Forest Trail meanders all over the mesa top before circling back to the downhill staircase chute. Going downhill back to the parking lot is the easiest part, but plenty of time will be spent admiring the panoramic views that were missed while trekking uphill. There are also several large petrified logs to check out on the downhill stretch and raptors can often be seen soaring in the sky. The Petrified Forest Trail certainly is one that will be remembered for years to come and plenty can be learned about natural history along the way!
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