It’s an easy hike down from the painted desert inn down and into the wilderness. Permits are free and easy to obtain. Ask for a wilderness hiking booklet as well, it’s very well made and can help orient yourself in the vast wilderness as well as offer hiking options and specific destinations and points of interest.
Once you’re out there - you’re out there! No amenities and you only have what you packed!
Indian Route 12 runs north to south and bisects the wheatfields lake and the main campground areas. Overnight camping and fires are discouraged along the lake but people get away with it. There is sporadic night traffic on the roadway throughout the night and it is sometimes loud. The campsites are hit and miss. Some have old dilapidated picnic tables and along with sandstone fire rings or barriers. The roads to the campsite are not graded and over time roads have been created through campsites with no regard.
There are 3 compost type toilet facilities at various parts of the lake. No running water. There are some trash receptacles but most leave their trash in piles next to the receptacles because the chutes to the receptacles are about 12x12 and wont accommodate a large trash bag. There are numerous stray dogs in the area that take advantage of the trash piles.
Fishing: I have only seen small rainbow trout. Stockers from the Navajo Hatchery in Toadlena NM. There is no motorized access to the east side of the lake as it was blocked off years back by metal tube barriers.
Too many rude fishers and kids running around unchecked. Fiddling with your fishing area and fishing gear.
Dispersed Camping was wonderful here. Permits are available at the visitor center. We walked down into the wilderness area behind the painted desert Inn. Beautiful views, an easy hike out, and no one else around
Stayed here two night so we could hike and horse back ride in canyon de Chelly. This campground could be better the grasse in the site needed to be mowed. It’s a nice location close to the opening of the canyon and horseback rides are across the street. Be careful what you leave out theft here is a problem, we had our bumper hitch stolen while we were in town shopping.
In my second trip to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert we wanted to explore the opportunity to try a little dispersed camping. We checked out the park and inquired about permits, which are free and were ready to take on the adventure head on.
What we were not expecting was the WIND!! Lots and lots of wind!! In this area there are not large ares of coverage from the elements. Very minimal in fact so it made it a bit harder than we had thought it would be in selecting an area we felt comfortable even attempting to make a home for the night.
On other trips to the same location we have had wind but never like this! Since there are no barriers to block it camping cannot be comfortably done in these conditions.
We opted to throw in the towel and try again next time.
What we did gather from this however was that the park staff is very friendly and helpful in regards to setting up your adventure and issuing permits. The park itself has sites to numerous to list that are of interest for doing this style of camping. And the biggest one of all, without camping you CANNOT get sunrise or sunset pictures because of opening and closing times of the facility.
- Check wind advisories in area before traveling to the location
- Pack a lower profile tent which does not grab the wind as much
- Bring a headlamp because it is a true dark sky when you are camping here, you can see nothing at night!!
After we paid the park entrance fee ($16, I think), we picked up our FREE back country permit from the visitors center first thing. There we were told we were going to be the only people in the desert that night.
After we did all the road side attractions by car, we headed to the trial head at the Painted Desert Inn. About 1.5 hours before sun set, we backpacked into the Painted Desert from the Inn visitors center where there is water and toilets available. The trail that goes down about 200 feet via switchbacks then ends in a magical lunar landscape of red dirt and petrified pieces of tree. Once you get to the end of that trail, you just have to walk 1 mile in any direction to camp. We hiked a for about an hour across amazing desert-scape and found an incredible plateau to camp on top of. We had a fantastic view of the surrounding dessert without being able to see any man-made structures!
While it is definitely back country camping with no water, electric, toilets, defined sites or anything, it is the most amazing camping I've ever done! There's no light pollution so seeing the stars and the milky way is is no problem. It's so quite, my husband said all he could hear all night was his tinnitus.
It was beautiful, magical and remote. I would go again and again. There's so much to explore and so far you can go. We even found out you can bring your dog with you in the desert!
The only downside is you have to pack in all your water with you, making a multi-day trip a little harder.
- The most fantastic and magical backpacking you can imagine
- So remote and peaceful
- You can see the Milky Way (it was my first time seeing it).
- You can bring your dog!
- Incredible lunar landscape! You get to live out fantasies of being part of the Apollo 11 mission
- No amenities in the desert (no water available to pump from natural sources either)
- No showers for when you get off the trail
You should camp in the Painted Desert. Seriously, do it!!
… As far as campgrounds go, I would not choose this spot. It is close to a scenic national monument and is located right at the entrance and is easy to get in and out of. That is where the positives end. It is sparse and fairly packed. It doesn't have a ton of vegetation as it is in the desert so expert dirty and hot. The monument itself is worth experiencing but I wouldn't plan for it to be a destination, just a pit stop. I won't stay here again.
So open and wide in this state park, the sky is beautiful and the rocks are orange. I remember going here when I was younger and to revisit is just amazing. I would defiantly recommend this state park to anyone.