THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
Eager to explore the U.S.? Our trip finder will help you find the perfect destination.More
A nonstop drive through the park (28 miles) takes only 45 minutes, but you can spend a half day or more exploring if you stop along the way. From almost any vantage point you can see the multicolored rocks and hills that were home to prehistoric humans and ancient dinosaurs.
Entering from the north, stop at Painted Desert Visitor Center for a 20-minute introductory film. Two miles in, the Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark provides guided ranger tours. Drive south 8 miles to reach Puerco Pueblo, a 100-room pueblo built before 1400. Continuing south, you'll find Puebloan petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock and, just beyond, the Tepees, cone-shape rock formations.
Blue Mesa is roughly the midpoint of the drive, and the start of a 1-mile, moderately steep loop hike that leads you around badland hills made of bentonite clay. Drive on for 5 miles until you come to Jasper Forest, just past Agate Bridge, with views of the landscape strewn with petrified logs. Crystal Forest, about 20 miles south of the north entrance, is named for the smoky quartz, amethyst, and citrine along the 0.8-mile loop trail. Rainbow Forest Museum, at the park's south entrance, has restrooms, a bookstore, and exhibits. Just behind Rainbow Forest Museum is Giant Logs, a 0.4-mile loop that takes you to "Old Faithful," the largest log in the park, estimated to weigh 44 tons.