7 Things to do at the National Dinosaur Monument
Dinosaur National Monument is located on the northeastern border of Colorado and Utah and on the edge of the Uinta River basin. Among the natural treasures to be found here are two large rivers, colourful ravines, rock paintings and, of course, Jurassic fossils.
Welcome to Jurassic Park, a fun national dinosaur memorial!
The park offers visitors the opportunity to touch more than 1,500 dinosaur bones in the cemetery. It is a special experience because it is the only place in the world where this is possible! With over 200,000 acres, Dinosaur National Monument has so much to offer that it could take a lifetime to properly explore.
Quarry Showroom – an impressive building!
So if you know the seven most important things to do at the memorial, you can use your time effectively. Whether you’re interested in dinosaur fossils, hiking through spectacular sites and landscapes, visiting the first Native American petroglyphs, exploring settler cabins or rafting on the Green River, there’s something for everyone.
Life in Utah is sublime!
The large number of dinosaur-related sites and activities gives the area and the nearby town of Vernal the nickname Dinosaur Country. However, the monument actually consists of two separate parks. Utah focuses on dinosaurs, while Colorado is wilder and more isolated.
In front of the visitor centre of the quarry there is a beautiful stegosaurus statue from the world exhibition of 1964!
The hardest part of visiting dinosaurs is deciding which prehistoric site, route or attraction is worth exploring! Here are the top 7 things to do in Dinosaur National Monument.
1. Visit to the Quarry Showroom
The showroom of the quarry, located on the Utah side, is probably the highlight of any visit to Dinosaur National Monument. The room is located on the exact spot where dinosaur fossils were first discovered in 1909.
The bone wall, or dinosaur wall, in the quarry’s exhibition area consists of a steep stone wall with hundreds of dinosaur fossils.
The main exhibit is the 80 meter high Wall of Bones. This impressive exhibit includes more than 1,500 fossils, all housed in the rock formation where the animal died millions of years ago. The overview of the huge screen is on the top level, and the bottom level is a closer perspective – you can even touch a few bones here.
2. Walking on the fossil trail
Geology enthusiasts will enjoy this short 1.2-mile (one-way) walk from the visitor center to the quarry showroom. The highlight of the hike is the Morrison Formation, where fossilized bones of turtles, crocodiles and 10 species of dinosaurs have been found.
Walking on the fossil trail is a great way to explore the monument!
The Parkway includes three major stops, including the Maury Formation (fish scales), the Morrison Formation (dinosaur fossils), and the Stump Formation (shell fossils).
The slate wall may not look that interesting at first glance. But about 95 million years ago, erupting volcanoes threw up piles of ash and probably killed a lot of marine life.
Over the years, ocean currents have spread the scales across the area. It can be very rewarding to spend some time here and look for fossils (shiny, golden fish scales) on the rocks.
Morrison Formation | Dinosaur Fossils
Much of the Morrison Formation consists of clay and mudstone. Near the small information board about the Morrison Formation, however, is a sandstone cliff where the trail meets a T. This section consists of river gravel and sand and is about 149 million years old. Fossils of dinosaurs and mollusks are buried in the rock.
Information panel about Morrisons Formation in Dinosaur National Monument.
What is surprising about this rock, aside from the fossils, is that it follows an identical layer of sandstone that was quarried in the showroom of the quarry. However, the scientists did not work on it. Highlights include eight vertebrae and a large femur.
Truncated formation | Fossil bulge
The formation of the trunk shows that the ocean covered the land here about 163 million years ago.
Several fossils have been found in the area, including ichthyosaurs (similar to a giant dolphin), ammonites, snails and belemnites (squid-like creatures).
3. Stepped disc with inclined stones
Many visitors enjoy the 10-mile (easy) drive from the Quarry Visitor Center to Cube Creek, known as the Tilted Rocks tour. Highlights and helpful stops along the way include the petroglyphs at Swelter Hut, Split Mountain campground and picnic area, Green River View, Turtle Rock and Josie Bassett Morris’ cabin.
View of the Green River and the southwestern portion of the monument.
Wildlife along the scenic route includes many bird species, prairie dogs, bison, bighorn sheep and mule deer. The last two kilometres to the hut are not tarmaced, but they are reasonably well paved.
A walk to the left of the Split Mountain campsite car park will take you to a small cave and much needed shade!
In winter, the last few kilometres are difficult to cover on foot. Don’t forget to pick up the Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive brochure at the Visitor Centre. The leaflet clearly identifies the 15 stops along the route and provides some information about each stop. Allow about two to three hours for a scenic drive to Tilted Rocks.
4. Whitewater rafting tour
Dinosaur National Monument’s rivers, the Yampa and the Green, are major tributaries of the Colorado River. Together, these rivers offer rafting enthusiasts an excellent opportunity for sightseeing and whitewater adventure.
Dinosaur National Monumentis a great place to raft!
Both rivers have class III and IV rapids. However, Green River also includes classics like Triplet Falls, Hell’s Half Mile and Disaster Falls. Dinosaur River Expeditions offers both day trips and multi-day trips.
5. Angled track drive
If you want to explore the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument, picturesque Harpers Corner is a good place to start. The 31-mile (one-way) route begins at the Canyon Visitor Center and ends at Harpers Corner. This remote lookout overlooks the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers. Expect to spend about three to four hours for the scenic drive from Harper’s Corner Drive.
View of the memorial from the corner of picturesque Harper’s Drive!
Cut by the strong currents of two majestic rivers, much of the scenic route overlooks spectacular gorges. Other attractions include the half-mile Plug Hat Trail and the 2-mile Harper’s Corner Trail with traffic loops.
The 12 mile drive to Echo Park with views is an interesting addition to the scenic Harpers Corner drive. This is where the two rivers meet. A short one-mile trail offers hikers views of the Yampa, Lodor and Whirlpool canyons.
The confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers!
In addition, the Whispering Cave and Basin Creek petroglyphs are about 1 mile from the Echo Park campground. The trail to Echo Park is difficult to walk on when it’s wet. Therefore, even in good conditions, only vehicles with a large ground clearance of 4×4 are allowed.
6. Enter the door of the Lodor
The Lodore Gate is located in the northernmost part of the monument, in one of the most remote areas of the park. Most visitors to Lodore Gate come to raft on the Green River before heading south.
The only way to get through Lodore’s door is to walk along the water!
Lodore Gate is the spectacular entrance to Lodore Canyon, a deep gorge with breathtakingly steep cliffs, mostly inaccessible by land. Visitors can therefore only enjoy a breathtaking view from the water. Among the most popular rapids are Triplet Falls, Hell’s Half Mile and Disaster Falls.
Visitors who don’t want to raft can also relax by or in the river, take a short hike to enjoy the view of the beginning of the Narrows, or camp near the water. Lodore Gate is more than an hour’s drive from Utah.
Where are we gonna stay? We enjoyed our stay at the Wyndham Vernal/Naples Microtel.
7. Dark sky view
Dinosaur National Monument is designated as an International Dark Sky Association Park. That is, the sky above the monument is of exceptional quality, full of natural darkness. In addition, the Association grants this designation to areas where residents agree to protect the night sky for current and future generations.
TheSplit Mountain campground has benches to welcome visitors to the Night Sky program!
With one of the darkest skies in the United States, stargazing at the Monument is a special experience. Moreover, the Milky Way can be seen here with remarkable clarity. Many visitors to the monument find stargazing as amazing (or even more amazing) as fossils.
Looking into the dark skies of Dinosaur National Monument is a real pleasure!
The Monument hosts night sky programs at Split Mountain Campground and Vodor Gate. Bring binoculars or a telescope to enhance the experience!
Dinosaur National Monument is a fascinating place to enjoy nature and practically travel back in time. This part of the country is an ideal place to explore during a weekend or a longer holiday. In addition, the uniqueness of the region creates a sense of adventure and exploration without having to deal with large crowds or overpopulated cities. A trip here will definitely be an unforgettable experience.
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