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Everything You Need to Know About California’s Petrified Forest

Everything You Need to Know About California’s Petrified Forest

California’s Petrified Forest is a unique gem in Calistoga, the other one being the Old Faithful Geyser. Here's everything you need to know.

Palig Dzadourian


3 min read

April 18, 2022

Ever wondered what it would be like to trudge through the remnants of an ancient forest? To be able to touch a memory of the past and take in the splendor of our planet. Well, you’re in luck, because California is home to one of the largest and oldest petrified trees in the world; a glimpse into how Earth’s environment looked millions of years ago.  Get ready to jump into a time machine and enjoy one of the coolest sights to see in California’s forests. So where to get started?

The Origins of The Petrified Forest

Fossilized state of the ancient redwood trees found in the petrified forest, a true relic of the past.

The term “petrified forest” doesn’t exactly appear in our everyday vocabulary, as it’s quite a rare phenomenon. What exactly is it? To put it simply, petrified forests are ancient trees that have been fossilized due to natural disasters occurring at the time. They are essentially a very well-preserved set of trees from ancient times. The petrified forest found in Calistoga, California is the result of the volcanic activity of the now extinct volcano called Mt. St. Helena. When this volcano erupted millions of years ago, the thick volcanic ashes that reached the forest buried the trees under them, rendering the area devoid of oxygen and causing the accumulated water to evaporate from the wood. This phenomenon allows the void spaces and pores of the trees to be filled up and turn the wood into stone, hence the fossilized state of the trees.

This petrified forest was buried for an estimated 3.4 million years until it was discovered by Swedish homesteader Charles Evans in 1870, which then led to scientists arriving at the site to examine this peculiar finding. The trees were identified as ancient Redwood trees and were used as grounds to carry out studies of prehistoric fossil records. Throughout the years, petrified Oak and Pine trees were also discovered around the area.

Directions to the Petrified Forest

Finding the forest is relatively easy, you just have to drive up the windy Calistoga road and the signs will lead you to it. Once you reach your destination, you will see a house that has been renovated into a gift shop where you can purchase your ticket to start your adventure. The admission fee varies from $12 for adults to $6 for children over 6. Once you’ve purchased your tickets you will be given a map of the forest to help you navigate yourself and discover the ancient petrified forest.

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Entering the forest of the ancient Redwoods

There are multiple trails available to take, the map will help you decide which one’s more to your liking. Guided tours are also available, but if you decide to undertake this adventure on your own, signs with detailed explanations will guide you through the forest. Some remnants of volcanic ash are located at the beginning of the trails. Every tree is marked on the handy map they give you, and each of them has different moods to it, they even have their own names!

Although the trails are a bit on the rougher side, it is perfectly safe to bring your children along for them to discover the wonder of these ancient Redwoods on a family road trip. The marked areas on the map will give an added feeling of participating in a treasure hunt, keeping your kids entertained and excited. Dogs are also welcome, as long as they are on a leash.

All in all, this trip is sure to be both an educational and exciting one. It’s not every day that you get to say you’ve seen and touched a tree from prehistoric times after all.

What else to do near the Petrified Forest?

There are so many things to do at the petrified forest, hiking and exploring aside.

Once you are satisfied with the amazing forest, the gift shop is open to all visitors. The shop offers a variety of merchandise, including T-shirts, tote bags, sweaters, Amethyst pyramid and Fluorite slab crystals, even honey that comes from Sola Bee farms: a farm that produces 100% raw honey with no additives. They are the perfect memorabilia to keep with you to look back on one day.

The Old Faithful Geyser

A glimpse into what awaits you once you encounter the majestic geyser.

While you are in the area, why not take a few more hours to go visit another breathtaking site? The Old Faithful Geyser of California is amongst the most recommended places to visit in Calistoga, as it is a unique attraction. It may seem a little underwhelming when you first arrive there, but once the geyser explodes into an impressive blow of steam, you are guaranteed to be blown away. Part of the experience is to be in anticipation of when the geyser will erupt, as it only does so once every 15 to 30 minutes, there is no set timing. The peaceful and beautiful scenery surrounding the Old Faithful Geyser will keep you company while you wait for the moment of truth.

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