I really loved these camping spots at the South gate of The Petrified Forest National Park.
There are two locations across the street from one another, one paid, one free. We stayed on the paid side, as it was evident to us they were well cared for.
Hosts were very nice. I hope to stay again in our way home. Gift shop has some lovely specimens of petrified wood.
I am just like everyone else, I LOVE a good FREE campsite and along the way I have learned about so many of them, but in two trips by this one I didn't know it existed then BOOM there it was and I suddenly questioned how I had passed by it and never known!
Sure like all good campsites which are free there are a few negatives, this one being that there are ZERO amenities. NONE!!! But when I had attempted to camp in the petrified forest there weren't any there either so no big deal.
So how did I miss it?? Well upon first glance it just looks like a picnic area with some covered tables next to a gift shop and there isn't a welcome wagon just rolling out to say "hey come stay here". it is one of those places you have to know is there to know it is there if that makes any sense.
A fellow traveler told me about it and when I glanced I noticed some boondockers there but then upon a more careful evaluation there were tent campers in the distance. SCORE!!
If you aren't able to camp without then this won't work or you at all, but if you are ready for an adventure then here you go, close to the park and perfect for getting in those early morning sunrise photos. We always wonder how they do it… well this campsite is a BIG reason some of the photographers are there for those amazing money shots.
- Come prepared, you won't have a store with all your extras until you get into Holbrook so be ready for anything.
- Don't get to close to the residents, they give you the stink face but you have every right to the land, if you don't believe me, do your research on the BLM website!
- Take your camera, you will want to make sure you get your late evening and early morning shots that are once in a lifetime.
This is BLM land, so it is free to camp here. There are picnic tables with covers, and cement pads at some sites. If you camp close to the permanent resident on the other side of the fence she will grouch and swear at you so there is that. The smell of cow poo is strong at times. But if you're going to the Petrified Forest this is THE place to stay, as it is close and conveniently located. Can't beat free either. I've stated here twice now and my kids love it. Big pieces of petrified wood on site you can touch and sit on even.
Car camped here overnight and drove into Petrified Forest National Park in the morning. There were a few other cars and campers there, and there was easy access to water and plenty of parking spaces. The gift shops open at varying hours themselves, but it's best to leave a day or two to fully explore all this underrated park has to offer! Lots of interesting relics from the 50s and 60s in the gift shop area itself.
The Petrified Forest National Park does not have its own car camping campground (there are only backcountry backpacking sites, requiring permits, gear, walking, skills, etc). This rather touristy campground is right outside the National Park. It is pretty basic and incredibly it is totally free. It does have electric hookups for a small fee, The sites are large and out in the open with no shade…dismal in the hot AZ sun! There’s a teepee village you can also use, would be a big hit for kids. The gift shop has some snacks and lots of interesting geological trinkets. At night it is beautifully dark.
Rating this place was a little bit tricky. I can't really give it four stars because there are ZERO amenities here, BUT this place is completely free. Yep, you heard me, F R E E. Bear this in mind as you contemplate staying here.
We stayed here overnight before heading into Petrified Forest. The nearest official campground is the KOA in Holbrook, and they wanted to charge me an arm and a leg to camp there. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any problems with KOAs in general, I just wasn't that interested in paying 30 bucks to pitch my tent in an RV park, when there was another option that was closer to the park and, you know, not $30. Plus, I won't lie, there's a part of me that loves to discover little off the beaten path places (some of which may even earn the moniker "sketchy"), especially on road trips. So I figured, oh, what the heck, why not?
You really can't be any closer to Petrified Forest without being in the park, where you have to camp in the backcountry (which is totally, completely, 100% recommended by the way). Night time is a wee bit tricky as the restrooms are in the gift shop that closes at night (but both are owned by the same people??). But, whatever. We were prepared for that in advance. There's also no potable water, so prepare for that as well.
Other than that, this place really isn't that bad. It's quiet (almost eerily so), reasonably well kept, and abounding in quirkiness. If you're in an RV and can handle a night of essentially boondocking, stay here! There are covered picnic tables, cement tipis, very strange dinosaur sculptures, and a LOT of free petrified wood, which is totally fine to snag as it's outside of the park. This was a fun addition to our road trip, and I will definitely stay here again for the accessibility, the price, and the kitsch.