Dinosaur National Monument- Utah/Colorado’s Hidden Gem
Was anyone else obsessed with dinosaurs as a child? I know Eric and I were! We both grew up watching The Land Before Time, playing with dinosaur figurines, and soaking up all of the dinosaur facts. There’s just something so fascinating, even as an adult, about imagining dinosaurs roaming this earth. Dinosaur National Monument will bring out the child and the nature lover in you! Straddled on the border of Colorado and Utah, this National Monument has a little bit of everything. There are scenic drives, river raft trips, hikes, and of course, the main attraction, DINOSAUR BONES!
Where we stayed
There are 6 established campgrounds in the Dinosaur Monument area. These are great options to stay in. We prefer to stay in BLM land or National Forest land and dispersed camp. This way we have more privacy and are able to let our dog off leash. Between the Utah and Colorado side there is BLM land. We found our spot on iOverlander. Check out our post for all the ways we find free campsites. Dinosaur National Monument is designated as an International Dark Sky Park so you will definitely want to stay up for some star gazing. We saw the comet NEOWISE from our camp spot! The campgrounds here have no services so you are not missing much if you choose to stay in BLM land. As always when camping, and especially when dispersed camping, follow Leave No Trace Principles.
This is where you will see the most dinosaur bones in the monument. The wall of fossils is in a covered exhibit hall just up the hill from the visitors center. There is a shuttle from the visitor center. If you have a pet with you or are handicap, you are able to drive to the Quarry Exhibit yourself and forgo the shuttle. Our beagle, Joni, joins us on our van travels so we were able to drive up the hill and park at the Dinosaur Quarry. The exhibit hall is home to one of the best excavations of Jurassic Period dinosaur bones, twenty nearly intact dinosaur skeletons have been removed from this site and are on display all around the country. More than 1,500 fossils remain at the quarry, dating back to 149 million years old! There are two stories to view the wall from, on the lower level, you are even able to touch a few of the bones!
Fossil Discovery Trail
This trail is 1.2 miles one way. It will take you from the Dinosaur Quarry to the Visitor Center. If you took the shuttle up to the Quarry, you can do the hike one way back to your car. We skipped this trail as it was the heat of the day and we would have had to hike out and back. It can get very hot at Dinosaur National Monument, so be sure to bring lots of water. On this trail, you will find fossilized clams, dinosaur bones, and fish scales.
There are several sites where you can see petroglyphs from the Fremont people that date back over 1,000 years. They can be seen on the Utah side on 149 between the Visitor Center and the Green River Campground. They can also be seen on the Colorado side down the road to Echo Park.
During the heat of the day, this is a great place to escape and cool off. Driving past the visitor center, you will reach the Green River Campground. There are several spots along the river to wade in the water. After our tour of the Dinosaur Quarry, we drove down to the river and set up for the afternoon. We spent our time swimming and hiding out in the shade as we watched rafting trips go by.
Though there are no dinosaur bones on the Colorado side, there is plenty to explore here. Start at the visitor center where you can find a bookstore and information from the ranger. From there, the scenic road is open seasonally.
Harper’s Corner Road
This is a beautiful 31 mile scenic drive. There are 23 distinct layers of rock formations throughout the monument and many of the layers can be seen here. Due to tectonic forces, these layers have been pushed up and exposed by erosion. These are the same forces that have exposed the various fossils that have been found in the area. Over the drive, there are several scenic overlooks and trails. At the end of the road, there is a 2 mile roundtrip hike to Harper’s Corner Overlook. From here you can see the Green River below.
We opted not to drive down this road. Though our 2WD likely would have been OK to make it down the road, we didn’t feel like shaking our van apart. If you do make the trek, it is a 14 mile drive down a rough dirt road. The ranger told us that the hardest part of the drive is the switchbacks at the beginning. Always ask about road conditions before driving down. There are petroglyphs as well as the Whispering Cave, a cave that remains 60 degrees even in the heat of summer. There is also a seasonal campground at Echo Park near the river.
We would have loved to do a rafting trip here! The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and there is a great variety of rapids. There are two companies that are permitted to do single day trips and a variety of companies that do multi day trips. The closest to the area is Adrift Dinosaur in Jensen, UT. They offer a 6 hour trip through the Green River featuring Class III rapids. They also offer multi day trips from The Gates of Lodore or the Yampa River featuring Class IV rapids. Another option for single day trips is OARS Dinosaur out of Vernal, UT. They also offer a trip through Class III rapids.
Besides the obvious, DINOSAUR BONES, there is a ton to do in Dinosaur National Monument. Whether you take just half a day to explore the Utah side, or a few days to see it all, you are sure to have a blast. We hope our tips have helped you to plan your trip. Now we want to know in the comments below, what is your favorite dinosaur? Eric’s is the Stegosaurus while Ashley’s is the Brachiosaurus.