Petrified Forest/Sleeping Rainbow

Rating: 
Round Trip Distance: 1.25 - 2.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 5943 - 6226 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 2 hrs.
Trailhead: Main
Fee: $8/vehicle
Attractions: Petrified trees, scenic views





The Escalante Petrified Forest State Park is located on the outskirts of the town of Escalante, Utah. The park has 3 hiking trails, the Petrified Forest trail, the Sleeping Rainbow trail, and the Petrified Wood Cove trail. This post combines the Petrified Forest and Sleeping Rainbow trails into one hike. Besides hiking, the park also includes a campground, picnic area, and the Wide Hollow Reservoir for fishing, boating and other water sports and activities. Visit the parks website for more information on what it has available.


To get to the park drive west on Highway 12 from the town of Escalante and follow the signs to the entrance. The turnoff on Highway 12 is less than a mile from town and the total distance is about 1.4 miles from the city limits.


The Petrified Forest trail is interpretive so be sure to pick up a brochure at the trailhead.


The petrified wood is all on top of the mesa a couple hundred feet above the parking area. A series of switchbacks, that are a bit steep at first, and long gentle grades lead up to the top. Don't be discouraged by the steepness at the beginning. It is only a short distance to the top where it is mostly level hiking. That is unless you decide to also do the Sleeping Rainbow loop which drops down the other side of the hill and climbs back up again. If the Petrified Forest and Sleeping Rainbow trails are more than you can manage then take a stroll along the Petrified Wood Cove trail. It is wheelchair accessible and has some very nice specimens of petrified wood to see.


The scenic views alone make the climb worthwhile. Looking out over Wide Hollow Reservoir in the distance the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park dominate the western horizon.


The Petrified Forest trail begins its loop as it reaches the top of the hill.


The first specimens of petrified wood appear after hiking a short distance around the loop. These trees were buried millions of years ago. The process was much the same for these trees as it was for dinosaurs. They are buried rapidly and cut off from oxygen that would have allowed them to decay. After that minerals either seep in and fill each of the pores or replace them entirely. The different colors in the petrified wood come from different types of minerals that are present during the process.


The Sleeping Rainbow trail begins at the 0.6 mile point of the main trail. The trail isn't really much steeper than the trail was coming up the hill but it is much rockier and primitive. Most of the rocks on the Sleeping Rainbow trail are actually petrified wood which was the whole reason for hiking here anyway. There is also much, much more petrified wood along the Sleeping Rainbow trail so it is highly recommended that you include it in your hike if you are able to.


It's a little funny that most places you visit you are told not to touch the exhibits in any way but here at the Escalante Petrified Forest all you are asked is to not take them with you. Many of the steps in the trail are made of petrified wood so you can't help but to touch them. If you want to stop for a rest the best seat you will find will be a big chunk of petrified wood. How cool is that?


The Sleeping Rainbow trail descends to an area above a spill over where it climbs back up another branch of the drainage. A sign warns of the approaching cliff so that you can get a hold of any youngsters before they get to the edge.


The Sleeping Rainbow trail rejoins the main trail a few hundred feet from where it first branched off.


The Petrified Forest trail continues its loop around the top of the mesa passing several deposits of petrified wood enroute before ending the loop and descending back down the hill.


Petrified wood is fairly common in the southwest and if you do very much hiking you will undoubtedly come across many specimens of it. Collecting small amounts of petrified wood is perfectly legal on BLM and National Forest lands unless posted otherwise. Most places that weren't protected have had the larger pieces carted off so to see big chunks of trees you need to come to somewhere like the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.