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!
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
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!!