Earlier this week we covered a Bucket List of 20 outdoorsy places every Montanan should visit at least once in their life. Most of the 20 spots on that Montana must-see checklist are places to you can drive to easily. If you're more adventurous, the Gallatin Petrified Forest in southwestern Montana should be on your bucket list.

An upright petrified tree trunk in Montana
Petrified Forest. Credit Canva

Finding petrified wood in Montana is easy.

If you're a geology dork like me, always looking for interesting rocks, fossils, and unique formations around our awesome state, you probably have a bucket full of petrified wood. I see pieces every time I'm on the Yellowstone River. Or anywhere there is gravel, for that matter. Large pieces of petrified logs are frequently found in parts of eastern Montana, but finding upright, petrified trees isn't quite so easy. 

Google map
Gallatin Petrified Forest. Credit Google Maps.

You can hike into the Gallatin Petrified Forest from two directions.

The Gallatin Petrified Forest covers thousands of acres in the rugged peaks of the southern Gallatin Range; essentially the mountainous area between Big Sky and Chico. MontanaHike.com is an excellent reference if you'd like to explore Montana's Petrified Forest from Tom Miner Basin in Paradise Valley.

Close up of a petrified tree trunk
It's a tree! It's a rock! It's both! Credit Canva

Montana's Petrified Forest is Very Unique.

Arizona has the most famous petrified forest in the US, where giant chunks of ancient, stone logs are scattered across the desert landscape at the National Park. Montana's Gallatin Petrified Forest is special because a number of the petrified logs remain upright. This is a rarity, wrote the Forest Service is this easy-to-read outline for kids of why our petrified forest is so special. The USDA notes,

These are the 50-million-year-old remains of redwoods, pines and sycamores which make up the Gallatin Petrified Forest, where fossilized tree trunks are preserved in so much detail that cellular structures may be seen under a microscope and growth rings are often visible to the naked eye.

Geologists believe that 72 volcanoes erupted in this area long ago, burying layer upon layer of forest and trees (some upright) up to 2,000 feet thick!

bear spray
"Hey, don't steal our rocks." Credit Canva

Bring bear spray if you go.

Visitors to the Gallatin Petrified Forest are strongly encouraged to pack bear spray and know how to use it. The trailhead from Tom Miner Basin begins at 7,100 ft elevation and while there is an interpretive trail, hikers should plan on exploring the cliffs and surrounding areas (potentially rugged hikes) to discover some of the best examples of upright petrified tree trunks.

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permit required for collecting small pieces
Credit Canva

Can you keep a souvenir from the Gallatin Petrified Forest?

Yes. BUT. Please be respectful. The Forest Service does allow individuals to collect "small samples" that are lying on the ground but "petrified trunks preserved in place must not be damaged or disturbed." You do need an inexpensive permit to collect a sample, available at any Custer Gallatin National Forest Office.

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