Painted Desert Rim Trail, Painted Desert Inn at Kachina Point, Petrified Forest National Park - Painted Desert, Arizona

Painted Desert Rim Trail - 1.0 miles

Painted Desert Inn at Kachina Point

The Painted Desert

The Painted Desert

Round-Trip Length: 1.0 miles (the trail may also be accessed from the Tawa Point Parking Lot)
Start-End Elevation: 5,826' - 5,840' (5,840' max elevation)
Elevation Change: +14' net elevation gain (+130' total roundtrip elevation gain)
Skill Level: Easy
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: Yes
Related Trails:

Painted Desert Rim Trail - 1.0 Miles Round-Trip

The Painted Desert Rim Trail runs atop the north-facing rim of a lofty escarpment, below which the Painted Desert Unit sprawls across the horizon. The rim houses a small oasis of plants, shrubs and trees that are otherwise rare throughout the Park.

Stunningly beautiful in all directions, the high perch on which you're traveling yields commanding views of the entire district where rolling, colorful badland formations are interspersed with vast grasslands and lengthy washes.

A good topographical map will help identify key landscape features such as Pilot Rock (6,235') to the northwest, Chinde Mesa (6,004') directly north and Lithodendron Wash, which runs SW to NE through much of the district.

The colorful badland hills, flat-topped mesas, and sculptured buttes of the Painted Desert were carved from the Chinle Formation - a mass of sedimentary rocks laid down during the mid to late Triassic Period, 200 - 230 million years ago.

Sedimentary layers of the Chinle Formation - revealed by millions of years of erosion - include the Blue Mesa Member, Sonsela Member, Petrified Forest Member, and Owl Rock Member.

The Sonsela and Owl Rock Members are the most prevalent Chinle Formation sedimentary members in the Painted Desert Unit. Color bands are the combined result of mineral presence and water levels at the time of sedimentary deposition.

High water levels deprived carbon and iron minerals of oxygen, producing grey, green and blue hues. Reddish tones formed when the water table fluctuated, allowing iron-based minerals such as hematite to oxidize, or rust. White bands are nearly pure bentonite clay, which was once volcanic ash.

Water percolating through the mudstone causes subtle changes as well, helping to intensify and broaden the badlands' color pallet.


On a packed dirt path, the trail begins on the east side of the Painted Desert Inn at Kachina Point, and ends at the Tawa Point Parking Lot. Interpretive signs discuss the area's unique geology, ecology species and man's interaction with both over time.

Upon completion, visitors should venture a few dozen yards out to Chinde Point - a paved interpretive path leading to the Park's most northern and unimpeded overlook of the Painted Desert Unit.

Hikers can access this surreal landscape via the Painted Desert Wilderness Access Trail, which leaves from the west side of the Painted Desert Inn.

The maintained trail drops .5 miles on steep switchbacks to the wilderness floor (5,547'), where numerous unofficial and un-maintained social trails and routes then branch out in almost every direction.

Speak to a Park official for rules, regulations and preparations before venturing out.

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Interactive GPS Topo Map

Key GPS Coordinates - DATUM WGS84

  • N35 05.020 W109 47.350 — 0.0 Miles: Painted Desert Inn - Trailhead

Worth Noting

  • Cliff edges are deceptively unstable and should be avoided, especially when wet.

  • This area is highly exposed, and visitors are strongly encouraged to seek cover immediately when storms threaten. Seasonal monsoonal weather patterns bring above average lightning strikes.

  • Pilot Rock - at 6,235' - is the highest point in the Park.

  • Shortgrass prairies and small pockets of high desert ecosystems cover a majority of the Park. The Park's ecological environment is technically classified as an Intermountain Basin, Semi-Desert Shrub Steppe and Grassland.

Camping and Backpacking Information

  • Backcountry Camping is permitted within designated Wilderness Areas. A free backcountry permit is available from one of the visitor centers during operating hours. Permits may only be obtained in-person, 1 hour before Park closing.

  • Backpackers must be at least 1 mile from maintained trails, roads and developed areas.

  • No wood or charcoal fires are permitted anywhere in the Park.

  • In the Painted Desert Unit, backpackers must hike north of Lithodendron Wash (1 mile from the access trailhead) before setting up camp. A good topographical map will help you identify this landscape feature.

Rules and Regulations

  • Collection of plants, rocks, petrified wood, fossils, archeological objects or other materials is illegal anywhere in the park. Rules are strictly enforced and violators are subject to significant penalties.

  • Pets are permitted on maintained trails, but must be kept on a leash at all times. Pets are not allowed within Wilderness Areas, nor on the Wilderness Access Trail near The Painted Desert Inn. Pets are not allowed in buildings unless they are service animals.

  • Horses are permitted in designated wilderness areas.

Directions to Trailhead

The Desert Rim Trail has two access points and trailheads.

The Tawa Point Trailhead is located 1.7 miles from the north entrance station on Park Road.

The Kachina Point Trailhead is located 2 miles from the north entrance station on Park Road at the Painted Desert Inn.

The trailhead is located on the east side of the Inn.

Contact Information

Petrified Forest National Park
1 Park Road
P.O. Box 2217
Petrified Forest, AZ 86028
928.524.6228 (phone)
928 524.3567 (fax)

Trip Reports

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