5 Places to See Dinosaur Fossils in the U.S.
One sunny morning in May, I found myself alone in Denver, Colorado with a rental car and a few hours to burn. I made my way along the freeway to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where I found a paved hiking trail boasting fossilized dinosaur footprints.
For the next three hours, I remembered why I was enamored with dinosaurs as a child. I fell in love all over again. It’s one thing to read about these massive lizards in science books, but it’s quite another to compare the size of your shoe to the gigantic footprint of a Jurassic giant.
On your next trip, bring natural history to life with a dinosaur encounter! The U.S. offers many attractions where you can view dinosaur fossils—or even participate in a dino dig.
Dinosaur Ridge Trail, Denver
Dinosaur Ridge Trail, just outside of Denver, Colorado, is the perfect place to explore the beauty of the Rocky Mountain foothills. This hike would be worth the visit just for the beautiful view. However, it offers something much more exciting—real dinosaur footprints and fossils!
The crisscrossing Cretaceous period tracks in the cliff belong to both dinosaurs and prehistoric crocodiles. Along the trail, you’ll also get the chance to see fossilized bones.
The hike is wheelchair accessible. It’s also free, although tour guides are available for a fee. You can also purchase tickets to the visitor center, an exhibit hall that gives you the chance to take a peek at more dino fossils.
Badlands of South Dakota
Upon arrival at the Badlands of South Dakota, my family was greeted with a sign saying that any dinosaur bones should be left alone and reported to the park.
Dinosaur bones? I thought we were just going hiking. I spent the entire trip checking every ivory-colored rock for signs that it was once part of a t-rex.
I didn’t find any fossils, but that doesn’t mean you won’t. Badlands National Park in South Dakota is made up of geological formations that have eroded over time to expose the rocks (and fossils) underneath. Every day, the elements erode the land a little bit more, bringing to light things that have been buried since prehistoric times. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to stumble upon a newly-exposed skeleton!
Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
If you want to see Dinosaur bones up close, head to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. Here, you’ll have the chance to view the 1,500 fossilized remains that are still embedded in rock. You can even touch some of them!
The wheelchair-accessible exhibit hall is built into the cliff face that houses the fossils, protecting them from the elements and allowing people to visit during all weather conditions. While you’re in the park, enjoy its outdoor excursions and petroglyphs as well.
Moenkopi Dinosaur Tracks, Arizona
Nobody knows what dinosaur made the Moenkopi tracks near Tuba City, Arizona, but whatever it was must have been enormous! While the Moenkopi (also known as Moenave) Dinosaur Tracks on the Navajo Nation are far from other popular destinations, they’re worth a visit if you’re heading to Four Corners or looking for offbeat adventures near the Grand Canyon.
If you want to get up close to dino fossils without ropes and glass, this is the place to do it. You can touch the fossilized footprints and follow their paths when you visit. Admission to the attraction is free. However, the site is a source of revenue for the local community, so it’s a good idea to hire a guide or buy handmade goods sold at the location.
Montana Dinosaur Center
Do you dream of being a paleontologist? Your dreams can come true, even if just for the summer! The Montana Dinosaur Center runs real dino digs for the public from May to September every year. Join the pros and work in an actual paleontological site to find and clean prehistoric fossils.
There’s no age limit for joining the dig, and you can choose to be a scientist for a half-day, all day, or for as many days as you want. You’ll also get the chance to see a skeleton of a diplodocus on display at the center.
Dinosaur attractions always inspire a sense of wonder in me. While we’ll never experience what the earth was like all those years ago, these bones and footprints give us a small glimpse into a long-gone world of giant lizards. Immerse yourself in the mystery of a bygone era—any of these dinosaur destinations will make a memorable addition to your next vacation.
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Breana Johnson is an American expat living on the Caribbean Island of Sint Maarten. She surfs, snorkels, and spearfishes when she’s not tutoring local kids or writing. If she could have any job title in the world, it would be Professional Hummus Taste Tester. For now, she’s settling for freelance travel writer. You can catch up on Breana’s adventures at her blog, www.3rdCultureWife.com. PODCAST FEATURE Listen to Breana on St. Maarten Travels that Transformed Lives