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Surprisingly, the dinosaur bones and prehistoric tracks were not the most exciting thing at Dinosaur National Monument with kids.
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Although this National Park 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.
We took the kids to see some dinosaur bones, but wow, there is so much more to see!
Dinosaur National Monument, located in both Colorado and Utah 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 $25 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.
The Colorado side has access to the beautiful deep canyons of the Green and Yampa rivers. This side is known for 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!
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!
Dinosaur Bones and Quarry
The entrance to the quarry building is on the second floor overlooking the whole excavated wall. I was amazed at the size of the wall and the bones still embedded.
However, I was disappointed that the kids were not that impressed with just standing back while I pointed out fossils on the wall.
The first floor 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.
The rock art has been preserved and is in great shape compared to the terribly vandalized rock art at Dominguez – Escalante in Colorado.
Many 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 pull out to walk up to the ancient rock art left by the Fremont people.
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.
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.
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 with Kids
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.
We camped at in our RV at the Green River campground which is 4 miles east of Quarry Visitor Center. Although no hookups were available, we were happy to have a warm place to sleep in the cold September nights.
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.
Dinosaur National Monument is more than a prehistoric family adventure!
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
Awesome Trips has helpful tips for planning a National Park vacation.
Planning on flying into the area? Get the best tips for finding cheap flights for your whole family.
What intrigues you most about Dinosaur National Monument with kids? What are your tips for visiting with kids?
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