If anyone in your family loves dinosaurs, then it's hard to ignore the appeal of Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, Utah. I have been to Dinosaur National Monument a few times, but my kids had never seen it until we visited last summer. At ages 10 and 7, they were the perfect ages for this fun Utah destination.
There are two visitor's centers at Dinosaur National Monument, the Quarry Visitor Center in Utah and the Canyon Visitor Center near Dinosaur, Colorado. The Quarry Visitor Center has been recently re-built and it offers some informative exhibits, films and a gift shop. If you are visiting between May and September, plan to take a tram from the Quarry Visitor Center to the Quarry Exhibit Hall.
Don't forget to pick up free Junior Ranger Booklets for kids ages 5-12 at the Ranger Desk before you board! If your children complete the activities in the booklet and return them to a ranger at the Visitor Center, they will be sworn in as Junior Rangers and be given free souvenir Junior Ranger badges.
We have not visited the Canyon Visitor Center in Colorado. There are no fossils near this visitor center and it is only open during peak season.
The Wall of Bones
The Quarry Exhibit Hall is the main reason most people visit Dinosaur National Monument. Where else can you see more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils, preserved in the same piece of rock for 149 million years? The quarry is not an active paleontology site, but has been preserved as a historic site.
The wall of bones is big, the fossils are easy to see, and everyone in the family is likely to be impressed. On the lower level of the hall, there is a section of the wall where visitors can touch the fossils. The bones are large and clear, and low to the ground, so this section is especially good for kids.
The exhibit hall was recently re-built. It protects the quarry and makes it accessible to visitors. Rangers are usually on hand to answer questions about the quarry. There are also several museum and interactive exhibits to help visitors learn more about the fossils at this site.
The Quarry Exhibit Hall is located a quarter-mile from the Quarry Visitor Center, and due to limits on parking space, most visitors will be required to take an open-air tram from the visitor center to the quarry during peak season (May-September).
After visiting the Wall of Bones, take the self-guided auto Tour of Tilted Rocks that starts at the Quarry Visitor Center. Printed guides are available for a small fee at the visitor center or at a self-service post near the park entrance. I recommend purchasing the guide.
The guide will inform you about wildlife, unique rock formations, petroglyphs and historic sites along the road. There will be many opportunities to get out of your car and take short walks to get a closer look at the points of interest. Keep an eye out for wildlife! On a trip here with my husband 10 years ago, we stopped to read the map guide about prairie dogs. On cue, an adorable prairie dog popped out of the ground next to our car and posed for photos!
There are several other auto tours through the park. Learn more about them at the Dinosaur National Monument website.
Josie's Cabin is located at the end of the Tour of Tilted Rocks, and it is worth a visit. Josie Bassett Morris lived on her own in this cabin from 1914 until her death in 1964. Her homestead became part of Dinosaur National Monument soon afterward.
Josie was a colorful character, and her story is told at the Quarry Visitor Center and in signs at the cabin. You can wander through the cabin, which never had electricity or running water. It isn't much to look at today, but it's easy enough to believe that it was once a cozy home in what is still a beautiful place.
Josie's Cabin is a good place to bring a picnic. The Box Canyon Trail starts at Josie's Cabin, and it's a good short hike for families. It is a flat, shaded, one-mile round trip trail to the scenic box canyon where Josie kept her livestock.
Look for ancient petroglyphs and pictographs throughout Dinosaur National Monument. Do you know the difference? Petroglyphs have been pecked or chipped into the rock, while pictographs are painted. If it has been scratched into the rock, instead of pecked, it is probably a fake.
There are a few petroglyphs located along the Tour of Tilted Rocks, and the printed guide will tell you where to look. The most impressive petroglyphs we saw were part of our rafting trip. On the drive to the put in, our guides led a short hike past several large 1200-year old petroglyphs.
In addition to the historic quarry, Dinosaur National Monument also protects the ecosystem and unique geology of the Green and Yampa Rivers. The best way to see the river and the beautiful scenery that surrounds it is by taking a commercial rafting trip. We took a one-day trip with Adrift Adventures, that was fun for families with kids ages 6 and up. Read more about rafting in Dinosaur National Monument here.
A pass to Dinosaur National Monument was included in the fee for our rafting trip. If you will be rafting, check to see if this is the case for your trip and plan your visit to the Quarry Exhibit Hall and other attractions for after your rafting trip to avoid paying the park fee twice.
Good to Know
Where: On the Utah/Colorado border, just off of Highway 40. Vernal, Utah is a good base for visiting the monument.
When: Open year-round except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Access to some roads may be limited during the winter. Peak season is May-September.
How Much: $20 per vehicle (updated June 2016)
How Long: 2 hours to 2 days
Amenities: visitor center, gift shop, restrooms, picnic areas, campground
Planning a trip to Dinosaur National Monument?
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