Escalante Petrified Forest State Park in Escalante is a beautiful place to spend half a day in Garfield County. There is a large reservoir that is cool and deep, as well as some pretty amazing petrified wood. This state park has campsites for camping, and there is also a Junior Ranger program for children. Make sure to ask about the program when you pay the entrance fee into the park.
A small Visitor’s Center greets you at the entrance to the park, which is located just west of Escalante along scenic Highway 12. They have an interpretive brochure for the trail, so make sure to ask for it as it points out interesting places to stop along the away. The first thing that you’ll want to do is check out the petrified wood. This requires a one-mile strenuous hike. Especially since the sun is unforgiving in this portion of southern Utah. We recommend morning or evening for this hike.
The hike begins around the corner from the Visitor’s Center in a small parking lot. The trail climbs swiftly through the sage and passes a low balanced rock within the first 100 yards. From there, the ascent becomes more gradual, but you still climb for the first half of the hike. This trail is a lollipop, so you’ll return this same way after coming to the junction. It’s about a quarter mile to the junction, and at least 100 lizards will greet you before you reach a sign recommending that you go right, but you won’t even see one little piece of petrified wood before you get that far.
Shortly after the junction and the overlook of the town of Escalante you’ll find the first petrified log. It’s large and half buried, but you can clearly see that it is different than other rocks. Sadly, you can see that people have tried to chip and scavenge it, which is strictly forbidden by park rules. This part of the hike is nice and flat. You can walk around the plateau looking for petrified wood.
As you go along the lollipop, you’ll see petrified wood more and more frequently. It stands out quite easily because it is much more colorful than the other rocks. Eventually, you come to another junction. There is a second trail leading to other petrified trees that adds .75 to the hike. This trail is called Sleeping Rainbows and is listed as strenuous. We didn’t go on this trail, but Dad did, and he took a few pictures because the ranger said that the best petrified wood was on the Sleeping Rainbows trail. The trail was definitely narrower and less defined, but it leads to some nice samples including a stump that sits upright.
If you don’t take the Sleeping Rainbows side Trail (which we wouldn’t recommend for small children under 8), you will continue along the lollipop and find petrified wood all along the way. This part of the hike is flat along the top, and then you’ll head back down the steep climb that you came up. Luckily, you’ll be going down instead of up!
After you complete the hike, you can cool your toes in the reservoir. We took swimsuits and had a picnic on the tables right next to the dock. The boys splashed around just a few feet away in the cool water. There is a small dock that you can walk on and use to jump into the lake. It really was a gorgeous evening picnic. There are also fish in the lake, so if you are so inclined, you may fish as well.