Things to do at Dinosaur National Monument: Camping, hiking and more

Do you like national parks but hate crowds? Same. Big fan of dinosaurs? U.S. too! Let us teach you about Dinosaur National Monument, a beautiful country of adventure on the border of Utah and Colorado. It sits at a connection point between perennial favorites like Yellowstone, Arches, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Park. But maybe because of the vastness of its desert location – or maybe because it hasn’t been granted “official” national park status – you’ll have the place all to yourself to explore its stunning scenery. and its amazing (pre) story.

The Dinosaur National Monument is unique in that in addition to the outdoor hikes and great views, you can see one of the densest collections of dinosaur bones and animal fossils in the world. Plus, there are petroglyphs, secluded camping, and river rafting surrounded by striped desert mountains on both sides. Here are the best things to do on a very interesting trip to the region.

It’s just you and some old dinosaur bones here. | Zack Frank / Shutterstock

Have the place for yourself

With its mild climate (temperatures only get truly freezing for a few weeks in December), Dinosaur is a pleasant visit just about any time of the year. That being said, if you’re not the type to enjoy scorching heat, avoid late July or early August when the park sizzles at just under 100 degrees.

The park is quite remote, located almost exactly between Salt Lake City and Denver. While the majority of the park is on the Colorado side of the border – and many make the understandable mistake of visiting the small town of Dinosaur – the most anticipated attractions (i.e. dinosaurs) can be found actually in Utah, near the town of Jenson. .

dinosaur footprint
You know you want to touch the footprint. | Rottana / Shutterstock

Touch very, very old bones at the dinosaur fossil quarry

Without a doubt, the main draw is the Quarry Visitor Center, where you can see dinosaur bones up close and in some cases even touch them. To get there, park at the information center and souvenir shop, then take the shuttle to the quarry.

Things quickly get impressive: it was once a choke point in an ancient river and as a result the bodies of hundreds of dinosaurs flowing in said river have accumulated and have been preserved some 149 million years ago. later. Today we can see around 1,500 bones belonging to late Jurassic greats like Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Diplodocus and Apatosaurus, as well as fossils of various plants, insects and small reptiles.

The quarry is comfortably located inside and experienced rangers are on hand to answer any dinosaur-related questions.

Rafting through Split Mountain Canyon. | National Dinosaur Monument

Rafting, hiking and scenic driving at Dinosaur National Monument

While dinosaur bones are certainly the main attraction, there is plenty more to see and do throughout the park.

Hiking opportunities abound, perhaps the most popular of which is the Harpers Corner Trail, a three-mile round-trip hike that will take you to the epic views that Harpers Corner itself has to offer. If you’re looking for something a little more difficult, the 9.5-mile round-trip Ruple Point Trail will take you to great views of Split Mountain Canyon and the Green River.

You can also traverse the Split Mountain Canyon via full-day or multi-day rafting trips. Departing from the Lodore Doors Trail, these excursions are offered by private companies and must be scheduled in advance.

For a rafting trip with an exclusive view of the route, you can cross the Green River from the north until you reach the archaeological district of the Castle Park. Here you will find ancient indigenous residential ruins built 3,000 years ago and accessible only by surfing the river. There are also several much newer residential sites of scattered 19th century settlers.

There are also several driving loops through the park that provide spectacular views from the comfort of your vehicle. For the most part, these are two-lane paved highways that can be used by any car, but there are a few rough roads that are just 4x4s.

Definitely a room with a view. | Adventure_Photo / E + / Getty Images

Camp in a starry dinosaur cemetery

While there are countless camping options in the area, the park itself has six campgrounds with around 120 sites. Prices vary depending on the season as well as the availability of water.

The Green River Campground, conveniently located on the lush banks of the Green River, is a popular option, being the closest to the quarry. It is also close to the Split Mountain boat launch, where rafters disembark after passing through the park’s winding and majestic canyons. If you want to stay closer to the rafting launch point, Gates of Lodore Campground is located near the northern launch sites.

Another popular option is the Echo Park Campground right in the center of the park, where you can enjoy stunning views of the iconic Steamboat Rock. It is also close to the Fremont petroglyphs.

fossilized art
It’s like an outdoor art exhibition. | milehightraveler / E + / Getty Images

Find fossilized human-made art

Speaking of petroglyphs, there are a lot of them. Dating as far back as 1500 BC, these petroglyphs and pictographs are the works of the Fremont, Ute, and Shoshone peoples. The images depict lizards, bighorn sheep, birds, snakes, human figures, as well as an array of abstract patterns such as circles, spirals, and lines.

You can see these prints from near and far from five different locations. Some are relatively easy to reach, like the Swelter Shelter near the Quarry Visitor Center, which only requires a 200-foot walk. Others require a moderate hike on relatively short trails, while one is inaccessible in wet weather.

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Nick hilden is a travel, fitness, arts and fiction writer whose work has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Men’s health, the Daily beast, Vice, big, and more. You can follow his strange adventures via Instagram Where Twitter.