Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
Best time of year: Year-round
Last hiked: 2015 October
Obscurely tucked away behind the grander adventures of the southern Utah region is a little state park that preserves a treasure chest of petrified wood. It’s relatively overlooked which means the trail can have plenty of quiet moments. And since it’s also in a state park, you’ve got an optional place to camp for the night.
Escalante Petrified Forest Trail Description
The trail begins rather steeply as it ascends a ridge next to the main visitor area. Once near the top, the trail forks to the right, where the returning trail comes in from the left. It’s up on this ridge that you begin to see some of the petrified wood lining the trail. The first one or two specimens could possibly go overlooked, so keep a sharp eye out.
A short distance up the trail there’s another fork where you can complete the main loop, or make a .75 mile detour to hike the Sleeping Rainbow Loop. As the ranger on duty described it to me, "That’s where the good stuff is," and he was right. All different shapes, sizes, and colors of petrified wood are all over the trail just waiting to be examined and appreciated, ranging in small pebble sized rocks, to massive boulders of petrified wood that you can sit and rest on. Iron, manganese, and other elements create a kaleidoscope of earthen colors in the larger rocks.
This particular part of the trail can be very steep in places, so if you’re not comfortable with a more strenuous hike, avoid taking this loop.
After the Sleeping Rainbow Trail connects back up with the main trail, it stretches over a plateau where you ultimately wind up overlooking the state park facilities, campground, and Wide Hollow Reservoir. Most of that water is being used for the cattle nearby the park. When you drive by and see the dozens of cattle along the road, remember that it takes over 800 gallons of water to yield one pound of beef. I’m not against meat, just smarter choices for meat. Bison would be a much better choice here, and elsewhere in the desert. Rant complete.
The trail winds along the crest of the ridge, then connects with the main route to bring you back down to the parking area.
From Escalante, Utah, head west on Highway 12 for 1.5 miles, then take a right onto Reservoir Road. Follow that for 0.6 miles and veer right into Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. The trailhead will be to the right of the parking area immediately after the fee station.