Gallatin Petrified National Forest, Montana

The Gallatin Petrified Forest is located just north of Yellowstone National Park in Tom Miner Basin, and is a remarkable forest of trees preserved in stone. This section of the Gallatin Forest in Montana is considered an amazing fossil resource due to its multi-layered petrified forests consisting of preserved, upright trees.

These trees date back 50 million years and have a total thickness of over 2,000 feet. The remarkable fossil resources and the geologic history of the surrounding area make it something of a unique spot.

Montana has uncovered many links to prehistoric eras, and it was the erupting volcanoes that dotted the landscape during the Eocene Epoch that preserved these forests. This area is unique in that trees petrified by volcanic activity and still standing upright where they grew are actually incredibly rare.

Yet the volcanic material buried the trees at the Gallatin Petrified Forest and literally turned them to stone where they grew. There are numerous opportunities for off-trail exploration at the site, including an interpretive trail, and the 10,000-ft Ramshorn Peak is also within the vicinity of the Petrified Forest.

wood custer national forest

Gallatin Petrified National Forest Stats

  • 25-acre area
  • Accessible year-round (Best time Spring through Fall)
  • Elevations of 8,700 ft
  • Tom Miner Campsite & RV Park

Recreational Activities in the Area

recreational activities

Many people who come to the Gallatin Petrified Forest stay at the nearby Tom Miner Campsite. The trailhead at the campground actually leads directly to the main interpretive trail that explores some of the petrified wood treasures that are in the area.

The trailhead that leads to the Petrified Forest Trail is also a major access point for various backcountry trips. Trail #120 leaves Tom Miner and stretches just over 2 miles to the Buffalo Horn Pass where it connects with trails running north, south, and west.

There is some fishing in the area, although most of Tom Miner Creek flows through private property where fishing is prohibited. The campground is actually on Trail Creek, a tributary of Tom Miner, where a few native cutthroat trout can be found.

Many people looking to do a spot of casting will actually head to the Yellowstone River, where there are much better fishing opportunities to be had.

Trail Routes in the Petrified Forest

routes in the petrified forest
Image: Routes in the Petrified Forest

The Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail (Gallatin National Forest, Tom Miner Basin)

The U.S. Forest Service has an Interpretive Trail of 3.4 km which highlights and details some spectacular examples of natural history by way of the petrified trees. The trail has an elevation gain of 196 m, and you can get there with a quick hike from the Tom Miner Campground.

The destination includes various caves in the volcanic rock containing petrified trees as old as 55 million years. The trail features a great forest setting, is accessible for all skill levels, and is used mainly for hiking and walking. It is best sometime between June and October, and pets are allowed.

petrified forest interpretive trail
Image: Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail

If you are driving to the trail, head north for 16 miles on Highway 89 from Gardiner, or south for 37 miles on Highway 89 from Livingston, and then turn west onto Tom Miner Road.  Follow this road for 11 miles to the Tom Miner Campground.

You can drive through the campground, and park on the west end in the large parking lot, for which there will be a fee. From the parking lot, you go through a gate followed by a picturesque meadow. Deer, elk, and even grizzly bears can be seen along this trail if you’re lucky, so be sure to bring protection against bears.

After about one-third of a mile, the clearly-marked Petrified Forest Interpretive Trail becomes apparent and then you turn right, continuing into the forest.

The various informational plaques along the trail explain the silicon dioxide-based formations that permeate the trail, which include amethyst, opal, and rose quartz. The signs also remind that no rocks, gems, or petrified wood along this protected area should be removed.

The grade increases as you continue, although it isn’t especially difficult. After a short hike uphill in the forest, you arrive at a massive conglomerate containing quartz and amethyst crystals, as well as some petrified wood fragments.

The trail also gets narrower after a while, until you see the end of the interpretive trail. If you still have the energy to spare at this point you could go a bit further, and although the terrain is more like off-trail hiking there are still a few other discoveries to be made.

Other Main Attractions in the Region

petrified wood on the tom miner trail
Image: Petrified Wood on the Tom Miner Trail

Tom Miner Campground

The Tom Miner Campground is located in the south-central Montana vicinity of the Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone River close to Gardiner and within the Gallatin National Forest.

The grounds contain a total of sixteen campsites dotted around the region, which are available on a first-come-first-served basis. The trailhead from the campground will lead you all the way up to the Interpretive Petrified Forest Trail, as well as into various other trails and areas of the Gallatin forest.

custer gallatin national forest

One of the main attractions of the area that people come to the campsite for is the Petrified Forest and its Interpretive Trail, as well as the various other hiking and recreational outdoor pursuits that are in abundance. This is within the vicinity of Yellowstone National Park and the Yellowstone River, a dream terrain for anyone who loves the great outdoors.

scenery mt washburn trail

The campground itself is located at the end of Tom Miner Creek Road. This is the road that connects to US 89 about 16 miles north of Gardner, and 35 miles to the south of Livingston.

As the campground doesn’t operate any booking or reservation service it is quite common for it to get quite full during the warmer months – so try and arrive early to secure a site if that is your intention.