There’s something magical about dinosaur fossils. While they’re sure to capture a kid’s imagination, plenty of adults also find them fascinating.
But you don’t have to go to the movies or spend the afternoon in a museum to see these prehistoric remains. There are plenty of places where you can see dinosaur footprints and fossils while enjoying the outdoors.
So if you want to see some ancient history firsthand, we’ve rounded up the best spots across the country.
About Dinosaur Fossils and Footprints
It takes a unique set of circumstances to make fossils. The most common is a mudslide or volcanic eruption that quickly buries remains. As the organism decomposes, the dirt and rocks around it create a mold.
If groundwater enters the space and fills the cells of the dead creature, naturally occurring minerals form crystals in the mold, creating a dino-shaped fossil. Footprints have a similar story. The impression they leave is filled with softer sediment that eventually washes away.
Dinosaurs roamed the Earth for a long time. So long that many of the most popular giants were extinct before later varieties. Paleontologists have uncovered dinosaur fossils and tracks on every continent. That’s right; some even made their way to Antarctica!
While it may take some natural luck to make fossils, there are lots of places where we can enjoy signs of prehistoric life across the U.S. Here are some of the most exciting sites open to the public.
#1 Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas
This state park outside Fort Worth is one of the best places to see dino prints worldwide. With over 1,500 ancient footprints around the river bed, you can capture a glimpse of a prehistoric world. The site includes high-quality sauropod tracks and some footprints left by a giant ancient predator.
Dinosaur Valley offers several camping options. Some sites have electrical hooks up, while others are primitive. You can swim, hike, and learn about ancient life while you enjoy the beautiful river valley. Tours and other special events are available for guests to enjoy, so check the calendar to make the most of your trip.
Know Before You Go: Many footprints are only visible if the water level is low enough. Check for alerts on the park’s website before you book your trip.
#2 Dinosaur Ridge, Colorado
A unique jewel in dinosaur history, this site is home to the discovery of the first Stegosaurus fossil. They also have well-preserved T-Rex and triceratops tracks. The footprints are both “innies” and “outies,” like belly buttons. The innies are impressions, while the outies stick out of the rock.
The two-mile hike is the highlight. You can take in the tracks and the bone bed, where you can still see the impressions left by the Stegosaurus. Just be sure to bring plenty of water. There aren’t any facilities along the trail. When you need an indoor break, check out the natural history museum for some educational fun.
#3 Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut
You don’t have to be in the Southwest to get your dinosaur fossil fix. Dinosaur State Park is in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, south of Hartford.
You also don’t have to wait for the weather to cooperate. The Exhibit Center offers an indoor experience for year-round dino fun. Of the 2,000 tracks discovered at this site, 500 are in a geodesic dome for protection.
The tracks were likely created by the Dilophosaurus, famous for his fancy frill in the Jurassic Park movies. But just like a lot of movie magic, there’s no evidence supporting the filmmakers’ creative way of imagining the dinosaur.
If you love plants as much as you love dinosaurs, you may want to wait for warm weather. The Arboretum features a two-mile trail that showcases rare plants associated with a direct link to the plants that lived in ancient times.
#4 Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado and Utah
This historic site features a lot of fascinating history. Located in the scenic Yampa River Canyon, Colorado’s whitewater rafting industry started here. Additionally, you can see over 1,500 fossils preserved in the cliffs around the canyon where the river carved through the rock. Petroglyphs and pictographs left by the Fremont people are easy for visitors to observe.
In addition to rafting, you can try your hand at fishing and backcountry backpacking. For a more relaxing visit, take the scenic route along Harpers Corner Road, a 32-mile one-way drive with beautiful vistas. Kids can also participate in free Junior Ranger and Junior Paleontology programs.
Dinosaur National Monument is on the border of Colorado and Utah, where the Green and Yampa Rivers merge. Boondocking is available nearby, though not within the monument’s boundaries. However, there are some paid campgrounds located in the park with amenities.
Pro Tip: Want to try boondocking by Dinosaur National Monument? Use these 22 RV Boondocking Tips.
#5 Jurassic National Monument, Utah
This spot, located at the site of one of the most impressive sources of dinosaur fossils, will be a hit with the whole family. Paleontologists uncovered over 12,000 bones, including an egg, with many more yet to be discovered.
Because of the ongoing research, you can get firsthand education at the visitor center. It also boasts a complete Allosaur skeletal reconstruction and a wall-mounted Stegosaur. Outside, the rugged scenery is excellent for hiking, but bring water and good shoes.
You’ll have to plan your visit seasonally. The park closes at the end of October and reopens in April. Additionally, the quarry is in the northern San Rafael Swell in Price, Utah. It’s a remote area far from gas stations, restaurants, or emergency services. So make sure you have everything you need before you arrive.
You can camp on BLM land or visit one of the developed campsites.
#6 Bull Canyon, Utah
Whatever was happening that created the unique, jagged terrain across Utah must have been suitable for making dinosaur fossils. The state has many excellent sites to enjoy. Bull Canyon lies just east of Moab and not far from the Colorado border.
The site has a short hiking trail with a beautiful overlook that can be an actual test for anyone with a fear of heights. While the route is easy and has a gravel path, there’s poor cell service and an elevation of 8,500 feet. But catching sight of some well-formed theropod tracks preserved in rock is worth the effort.
You can combine this trip with several other track sites in the Moab area, including the Copper Ridge Dinosaur Tracks, the Dinosaur Stomping Ground, and the Willow Springs Dinosaur Tracks. There are plenty of RV parks and campgrounds in the area to choose from.
#7 Clayton Lake State Park, New Mexico
Fishing and other lake activities are always a hit, but what if you need a little extra science to entice you? Clayton Lake offers plenty of both day and night. You can view dinosaur tracks near the dam’s spillway after a short hike.
Meanwhile, you can check out the observatory at night for some truly great night sky views. The small town is right near the border of Texas, far from any city lights. So you can enjoy undisturbed viewing of the Milky Way and your favorite constellations. Plus, their computer-guided telescope has a viewing screen for some extreme close-ups. They also offer personal telescopes to observe stellar sights.
You can also enjoy hiking with glimpses of unique wildlife, including bald eagles and the infamous Canadian goose. Rent a lux cabin or stay at nearby campgrounds or RV parks and take all the time you need to enjoy the lake.
Is a Trip to View Dinosaur Fossils Worth It?
While movies are fun, nothing brings out the imagination like seeing dinosaur fossils in nature. You can almost hear the giant lizards crashing on the ground. With no screens around, you’ll also enjoy a unique opportunity to live in the moment and bond with your family. All very worthwhile if you ask us.
Any of these spots make a great place to learn about ancient history and take in a beautiful view. So wherever your trails take you, enjoy the time with your family and make the memories last.
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