Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park Trail Guide

Last Updated on May 21, 2024

Looking for a unique and uncrowded experience for a day outdoors in Washington’s dry and sunny landscape along the Columbia River? If so, Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is the ideal place to explore and see petrified wood – Washington’s state gem!

A close up of petrified wood with a small amount of grass growing in a hole. It is brown and white streaked
Petrified Wood in Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park – Washington’s State Gem!

Filled with unique history and geology, this is a must do for any Washingtonian. This area of Central Washington had a completely different climate in the past. Millions of years ago it was wet and swampy here which is impossible to imagine when you see how dry it is today. Next came the lava flows and more recently – during the last ice age – epic floods that created most of the landscape we see today.

I’m going to describe two different hiking areas in this article – the Interpretive Loop and the Backcountry trails..

On the backcountry trails, you can hike up to 5 miles round trip with about 800 feet of elevation gain. On the interpretive loop (about a mile away) the hike is 3 miles round trip with about 200 feet of elevation gain.

This area around the state park and the Columbia River is the homeland of the Wanapum People. The nearby dam, one of the many built on the Columbia in the 20th century covered important village sites and history in the lake that is now visible as part of the river near the park. Check out the petroglyphs near the Visitor Center by the river (different location than the trailheads) created by Wanapum People and moved here when the dam was being built.

Parking PassDiscover Pass (required at all three parking locations described in this article)

Dog Friendly: Yes on leash

Cell phone coverage: Good

Restrooms: Pit toilet at the Interpretive Trails, No toilet at the backcountry trailhead, Flushing toilets at the Visitor Center

Accessibility and Mobility: The interpretive trail is paved for the first half mile, however it does go a bit uphill and the pavement has a lot of cracks in it. The rest of the interpretive trail is gravel and dirt and more narrow. It goes up to the ridge and around but is never particularly steep. The backcountry trail is mostly on a closed road, it is wide and goes up and down a bit and has some flat parts. Some sections are rocky and some are sand or dirt.

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Where is Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park?

Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park is right in the middle of Washington State in the small community of Vantage on the west bank of the Columbia River.

It’s almost exactly half way between Seattle and Spokane on I-90. The short distance from the freeway makes this an excellent road trip stop.

What is the best time of year to hike in Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park?

Technically you can hike here all year, though it is brutally hot in summer and there is absolutely no shade. It can be cold, icy and windy in winter. In my opinion the best time to hike here is in April when it’s sunny and warm but not yet hot and the wildflowers are blooming!

Anytime in the spring or fall should have pleasant temperatures and plenty of sun. There is no water or shade and it can be very windy here.

Where do you park?

At the Visitor Center for the park there is a small parking lot and there is also a parking lot at the interpretive trails. There is not a parking lot at the backcountry trailhead, there is room for a couple cars on the gravel and more on the edge of the road. You need a Washington Discover Pass to park at all three locations.

For the Interpretive Trails, from I-90 take the Vantage Exit (136). Head North on Main Street (left if going Eastbound, right if going Westbound on I-90) which becomes Vantage Highway. In about three miles you’ll see the parking area for the Trees of Stone Interpretive Trail on your right.

For the Backcountry trails, take the same exit but turn right on Recreation Road. This is after Ginkgo Avenue (which goes to the Visitor Center) but before the Interpretive Trail. In about half a mile you’ll see a trailhead sign and a gate on the left. This is where you park. The road continues a bit farther and dead ends at Rocky Coulee Recreation Area, where there are pit toilets and a boat launch.

Trail Description – Interpretive Trails

This is the trail for you if you want to see petrified wood in it’s original location – though the wood is protected by metal frames.

A metal grate over a specimen of petrified wood and some grass along a trail
One of the specimens of petrified wood, preserved along the interpretive trail

Don’t be put off by this, when you get up close you can look through the grid and see just fine! You can also see lots of other petrified wood over at the visitor center.

There is a shorter paved trail here, though I will caution that it is not truly accessible because a lot of the pavement is cracked and broken.

Overall there is about a three mile loop that loops around the park past lots of protected and labeled specimens of petrified wood. You’ll climb up a couple hundred feet and then come down again as you complete the loop.

If you don’t want to do the whole loop, within half a mile you can see some of the protected wood.

The trail is gravel and dirt where it is not paved and winds along the hills with good views of the surrounding area and wildflowers in spring – generally in April.

Trail Description – Backcountry Trail

This is my favorite place to hike in Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park BUT just a heads up that you will not see petrified wood on this trail. It’s easy to see that by adding the interpretive trails or going to the visitor center to see petrified wood.

This hike is more about appreciating the sun and wide open views of this part of Eastern Washington and it is an especially wonderful spring hike to enjoy the beautiful wildflowers along the trail.

Bright yellow flowers above a trail in a dry hillside with some volcanic rocks on a sunny day
Bright yellow balsamroot bloom in April along the Ginkgo Petrified Forest Backcountry Trail

From the gated road/trail, head gently uphill (ignore the other closed road that doesn’t go up) and continue to follow the closed road. It winds above the edge of canyons and along ridges and hills for about 2.5 miles, gaining a total of about 800 feet of elevation. It is never super steep, but it climbs at times and other areas are more flat, especially in the middle section along the ridge.

The views get better and better, you can see the Columbia River as well as the surrounding hills. You can turn around at any point, however at around the 2.5 mile mark there is an even bigger view in more directions.

A dog on a leash on a wide trail on a high dry meadow with a few yellow wildflowers on a sunny day
About two miles from the Trailhead on the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park Backcountry Trail

There are sections of rocks along the road as well as sections of gravel and dirt. Those who are sensitive to walking on rocks may not love some sections, but the rocky sections don’t last for too long.

Visitor Center

An important note is that the main visitor center is NOT at either of these trailheads – but it’s a must do on your way (or way back from) the trail.

The Columbia River at Vantage seen from above with rocky cliffs and dry hills on both sides
View of the Columbia River from the Visitor Center

Don’t miss the petroglyphs created by the Wanapum People that were moved to this location when the dam was being built that would have covered them underwater under the new lake. Not all were saved but they are amazing and easy to miss! They are located below the visitor center, take a short (unmarked) path that goes behind and below the main building.

A series of Petroglyphs in black rocks. There are some animals that look like antelope and people and a shape of the sun
I was bummed that there was not more specific information available about this beautiful petroglyphs.

There are also flushing toilets here as well as a big overlook over the river and many specimens of petrified wood.

When you’re on Main Street/Vantage Highway (which you continue on for both trailheads) turn right on Ginkgo Avenue and it will take you straight there.

Where to stop after your hike

The beach at nearby Wanapum State Park is a good option for camping or swimming if it’s a hot day, and I highly recommend Winegar’s for ice cream in Ellensburg!

Electric Vehicle Charging

There is fast charging in Ellensburg (25 miles west) and Quincy (25 miles east).

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Jennie Flaming
Hi! I'm Jennie. I’m a fourth generation Seattleite. I lived in Alaska for many years and I still spend lots of time there every year visiting friends and working as a tour director. I've been a guide for many years in both Alaska and Washington, am a field editor for the Milepost and host the Alaska Uncovered Podcast about Alaska Travel as well as the Washington State Hiking Podcast. I love to share the places I love with visitors, newcomers and my fellow locals. I’m so glad to have you here!