Best Things to do at Dinosaur National Monument (Utah)
What is there to do at Dinosaur National Monument and is it worth the trip? This prehistoric adventure offers much more than di
We took a family road trip out to the Colorado Utah Border to see this area in the beautiful fall weather. We camped in the park for 2 days, which we discovered could have easily been another day or two. There was so much to do and we had small children along with us.
This article is based on our road trip to Dinosaur National Monument with a baby, toddler, 2 school-age kids, and our dog. (yep you can take your dog and it’s actually quite dog-friendly)
Of course there are dinosaur bones the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. Lot’s of them. In fact, you can see approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones in the quarry wall.
Surprisingly, though, we found that the dinosaur bones and prehistoric tracks were not the most exciting things to do at Dinosaur National Monument.
So what is Dinosaur National Monument known for besides dinosaurs?
Actually, Dinosaur National Monument is also known for petroglyphs and pictographs, Josie Morris homestead, hiking trails and recreation on the Green and Yampa Rivers.
Although this location is named after dinosaurs that once roamed there, many generations of people including prehistoric people, nomadic native tribes, settlers, outlaws and modern families have enjoyed the area.
Based on our
About Dinosaur National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument, located in both Colorado and Utah and is managed by the National Park Service, so our 4th grader got us in for free. (The advantage of lots of kids close in age – you get years of National Parks for free). Otherwise, there is a small $30 per vehicle National Park fee to get in.
The National Park Service offers free Junior Ranger and Junior Paleontology programs. Participants earn a free badge when they complete a booklet of activities.
You can join the ranger program at either Colorado or the Utah side visitor center.
Getting There :
Due to the remote location, you will be driving a little ways. Most likely you will make a road trip to Dinosaur National Monument, whether thats the main stop of one along the way.
The nearest airport is Salt Lake City, 120 miles to the west.
The Colorado side has access to the beautiful deep canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers. This side is known for its recreation and dramatic views. The main entrance to the Colorado side is the Canyon Visitor Center, open from spring through fall, is located just off U.S. Highway 40, two miles east of Dinosaur, CO.
The Utah side is known for the dinosaur fossils and petroglyphs that are easily accessible. Yes, an important fact to remember when planning your dinosaur adventure with kids!
We didn’t realize that our Dinosaur National Monument road trip would take us into Utah.
The main entrance at the Utah side is the Quarry Visitor Center on Utah Highway 149 north of Jensen Utah. This side leads to the famous Quarry Exhibit Hall.
Quarry Visitor Center
As to be expected from the National Parks Service, the welcome center is very educational and you can watch a movie about the history of Dinosaur National Monument and, of course, dinosaurs.
From the visitors center, we took the shuttle up to the quarry. Which is a metal building covering one huge wall of dinosaur bones half excavated and still partially embedded in the rock face
The walkway up to the entrance was marked with educational signs of time periods. I enjoyed reading the signs but the kids were too young to appreciate educational signs when there were REAL dinosaur bones only feet ahead!
Quarry Exhibit Hall
The Quarry Exhibit Hall is built over the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry. In 1909,
The entrance to the quarry building is on the second floor overlooking the whole excavated wall. We came in the cool fall weather, but I am sure in summer I would have apprec
I was amazed at the size of the wall and the bones still embedded.
About 5,000 fossils have been excavated from the quarry and an estimated 1,500 dinosaur bones remain in place. A variety of species like the Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus, Stegosaurus have been found here.
However, I was disappointed that the kids were not that impressed with just standing back while I pointed out fossils on the wall.
I think older kids would be able to take in more
The first floor of the Quarry Exhibit Hall is where you can actually touch the bones and pretend to be a paleontologist. This was the highlight for both the kids and the adults at the quarry.
The closer you look at the wall, the more tiny fossils you can spot.
Outside the Ranger gave an educational talk about the Geology of the area as we looked out over the beautiful Canyon.
We stayed for about 2.3 seconds because, although the information was interesting, it was geared towards adults, not young kids.
Petroglyphs and Pictographs
Ironically, the best thing about Dinosaur National Monument with kids was the 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs.
“Fremont designs include both petroglyphs (patterns chipped or carved into the rock) and pictographs (patterns painted on the rock).”National Parks Service
The ancient rock art has been well preserved and is in great shape compared to the terribly vandalized rock art at Dominguez – Escalante in Colorado.
Many petroglyphs and pictographs are visible right from the road on the Tour of the Tilted Rocks. This is a 10 mile (one-way) route on Cub Creek Road, starting at the Quarry Visitor Center.
We stopped at every
The “Classic Vernal Style” of the Fremont people is characterized by humanlike figures, animal-like figures, and abstract designs. You can recognize bighorn sheep, birds, snakes, and lizards, as well as abstract or geometric designs.
We all had so much fun to walking around, imagining why the ancient people were there and what the art represented.
The kids would run up to the trail along the rock face, calling out – “oh, I found another one!” and “ what do you think this one is?”
If we had time, we would have explored the petroglyphs on the Colorado side too.
The places to see petroglyphs and
- Swelter Shelter – You will see both petroglyphs and pictographs designs. Its a short distance from Quarry Visitor Center along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive.
- Cub Creek – This is the next stop along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks Scenic Drive. The first panel is an easy walk from the car and another quarter mile moderately strenuous leads to lizard figures
- Deluge Shelter – Much further (44 miles) down the road from the quarry visitor center at the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery you can hike along the Jones Hole Creek Trail for more pictographs
- McKee Springs – located along the Island Park Road from the visitors center is large human-like designs in the area
- Pool Creek – along the Harpers Corner Scenic Drive you can see unusual dot-pattern designs high above the creek from the parking area
Once you have exhausted all the rock art to see here you can Moon travel guides has more suggestions for rock art on the Colorado Plateau.
Note – Anytime you see ancient rock art make sure to follow proper ROCK ART ETIQUETTE
- DO Enjoy the beauty of the rock art by photographing or sketching it
- DO Learn about the people and the style of the art
- DO NOT touch the rock art. Touching wears away the surface and the oils from your skin damage the pigments.
- Do Not chalk, outline, rub or scratch the rocks
- Avoid camping in or near archeological sites
- Just a little warning: damaging an archaeological resource is a felony punishable by fines and imprisonment.
Josie Morris Cabin and Homestead
Tour of the Tilted Rocks ends at the Josie Morris homestead. We learned of the history of Josie Morris (1913-1963) who homesteaded the area and built the cabin by herself.
Just the structure of the house was left but the location was beautiful. Everyone played tag in the grass and had a picnic snack.
I do wish we would have had time to hike the beautiful Box Canyon trail with the kids. This is an easy 1/2 mile hike for families with young children, but we just ran out of time and daylight.
Hiking Trails in Dinosaur National Monument
Fossil Discovery Trail
This is a 1.2 mile trail that joins the Quarry Visitor Center to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. The trail has steep sections and is a little rocky but short. As you hike you can see fossils exposed in the dinosaur quarry.
This trail was closed due to icy conditions when we were there in the fall.
Tip: Take the shuttle to the Quarry Exhibit Hall and walk back down this trail to the visitor center.
Box Canyon Trail
As mentioned above, we were right at the trailhead for Box Canyon Trail but just ran out of daylight.
Box Canyon Trail is only a half mile roundtrip out and back. It is at the end of the Cub Creek Road on the Tour of Tilted Rocks Auto at Josie’s Cabin. The trail is perfect for children and follows a shady box canyon.
This trail starts from the Green River Campground and follows the Green River north. It actually connects the North end of the Green River campground to the south end of Split Mountain campground. This trail is dog-friendly and has views of the Green River valley and Split Mountain.
We only did a portion of the
This area is the high desert which can be very hot and dry in the summer but the fall was beautiful for hiking.
Although you can choose from short hikes to extended backcountry hiking, we stayed to short easy hikes just off the road.
Unlike other National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument allows off-trail hiking but we did not take advantage of this opportunity.
We did take advantage of the Green River Trail that allows dogs, though.
The geology is so interesting in the area that watching the trail ahead was difficult. We were either looking out into the distant geologic formations or staring at the ground.
We found some very interesting rocks and fossils that we took pictures of and asked the Rangers about.
Camping in Dinosaur National Monument
You can camp at one of the 6 established campgrounds available, 3 on the Colorado side and 3 on the Utah side. Plus backcountry camping is allowed with a free permit for backpackers and boaters.
Green River Campground
Restrooms are available with flush toilets but no showers.
Although no hookups were available, we were happy to have a warm place to sleep in the cold September nights. For more information the NPS camping website
The campground is located with along the Green River and our site (No. 10) had River access. The kids played in sandy beach and splashed in the water.
Split Mountain Campground
This campground is near Green River Campground and for groups of 8 to 25 people when the Green River Campground is open. Anyone can camp here when Green River is closed in the winter. The campground also has river access and hiking trails.
The cost is $40.00 per site, per night when water is available and less in the winter when water is not available.
Dinosaur National Monument is more than a prehistoric family adventure!
You will find so many fun things to do in Dinosaur National Park.
Kids can discover more than dinosaur bones… you can experience finding petroglyphs, pictographs, homesteads, fossils, hikes, rafting, playing in the Green and Yampa Rivers… and more. More ideas for Dinosaur National Monument with kids are here.
Planning a trip here: Check out these resources:
We have an ultimate packing checklist for families with kids, toddlers, and babies
As part of your road trip to Dinosaur National Monument you will find our articles helpful:
- 17 tips for a Road Trip with Toddlers
- Winter driving safety checklist
- Make a DIY travel binder to keep kids occupied in the car.
Awesome Trips has helpful tips for planning a National Park vacation.
Planning on flying into the area? The closest airport is in Salt Lake City. Get the best tips for finding cheap flights for your whole family.
From there you will drive or road trip.
What intrigues you most about Dinosaur National Monument with kids? What are your tips for visiting with kids?
This is such a fun way to explore with your kids! The views look beautiful!
Thanks! The whole trip was so educational!
Thanks for this review. I am planning to go to Dinosaur National Monument with my 15month while my husband and niece are rafting. Would you say the trails were relatively safe? I’m hoping to pass a few people. I don’t want to be on a trail alone with my little one. Afraid of running into unfriendly animals. 🙂 Thanks in advance!!
The trails we hiked were very safe. If you go in on the weekends or anytime in Spring/Summer you should pass people. The hikes to the petroglyphs and at the homestead are short and lots of people. Its easy to make noise and talk out loud while hiking with toddlers. If you keep your little one close, or better yet in the pack, both of you will be safe.