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Photography Hikes: Petrified Forest National Park

brown vintage car on brown dirt road during daytime

Christmas is one of the best for photography hikes, but in this blog, we’re not going to suggest any of the usual suspects when it comes to wintery scenery. While national parks like Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountains can guarantee you some quintessential, Christmassy shots, Petrified Forest offers something a little different. You just have to check the weather forecast first.

The Hiking Trail: Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest is a national park in northeastern Arizona, famous for being a hub for geology, paleontology and archaeology – and for having the coolest name out of all of America’s national parks, but that’s beside the point. While there are many great hiking trails around here, we’re going to do something different again and suggest them all. Whether it’s the Blue Mesa Trail or the Painted Desert Rim Trail, the route you take doesn’t really matter that much, so long as you’re in Petrified Forest at the right time of year.

Why It’s Good

The reason we say this is because Petrified Forest – which is a wasteland of vibrant, eroded hills – can give you some gorgeous photography shots that no other national park can. Seriously, these shots are so good you’re going to want to upload them to Facebook in a single click – and maybe even a photo book in 2 clicks

That’s because, between the months of October and March, Petrified Forest often experiences light snowfall, painting what looks like a desert landscape into something completely different. For the photographer, this creates a juxtaposition that is too good to resist. With red, orange, and deep yellow colors being dusted in white snow, you can snap shots that are full of drama, intrigue, and winter magic. 

What to Look Out For

Winter is also the time when wildlife becomes more prominent, with many animals coming closer to the hiking paths and roads looking for shelter. You won’t see many reptiles, amphibians, or summer birds, but you will catch several types of mammals on your travels. These include:

  • Mule Deer
  • Pronghorn
  • Coyote
  • Porcupine
  • Bobcats
  • Golden Eagle
  • White-Crowned Sparrow
  • Dark-Eyed Junco

Photography Tips

We mentioned before that snowfall is one of the most beautiful phenomena in Petrified Forest National Park, but you need to know how to capture it effectively. Here are a couple of photography tips to do just that.

  • Timing is Crucial

During photography hikes, many photographers choose to walk during the golden hours of the day – shortly before sunset or shortly after sunrise. When it comes to Petrified Forest, however, it’s all going to depend on the weather. During the day, snowfall can be brief, and the effects are even briefer. In this baron landscape, the snow quickly melts, and it’s the resulting moisture that makes the rocks and hills so vibrant. 

  • Manually Set Shutter Speed

Make sure you’re in the right place to take advantage of this moment – where the snow is thin and melting and the landscape shines a multitude of colors and shades as a result. If you’re there when the snow is falling, you’ll have to raise your winter photography game even further. Make sure the shutter speed is low, and the images are not overexposed – decrease the exposure on your camera’s settings to avoid the scenery appearing too bright. 

Photography Challenges

We can’t help but love a challenge, so we’re going to recommend a couple while you’re in Petrified Forest. Of course, the real challenge is capturing the park in the snow, so these are just add-ons!

  • Capturing a Pronghorn

The American Pronghorn is one of the most beautiful animals to spot in the park, and it’d undoubtedly be the first picture you upload to our photo book maker if you capture one in the snow. If you get one in your line of sight, make sure you are well hidden to take the shot. Compared to other national parks, Petrified Forest is not as often visited – with an average of 645,000 visitors per year compared to Yellowstone’s 3.29 million – so the animals are not as used to people. The last thing you will want is for an animal to scarper after waiting hours for the shot!

  • Capturing the Car

It’s not just animals you can find hidden in Petrified Forest. Just where Highway 40 crosses to Park Road, there is a trail that leads to an old, abandoned 1932 Studebaker – a vintage car just sitting in the middle of a barren wasteland. No one knows how or why it got there, but over the years, it has become a must-see for visitors looking for something a little different. It’s truly a surreal sight, but it makes a perfect subject for your Petrified Forest portfolio!


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