One of the most remote parts of Colorado, Dinosaur National Monument is along the area of the country famous for its fossils. I was shocked to learn that the majority of dinosaur fossils, including many of the famous big ones are from the US across much of the mountain region. Much of these areas were part of a great sea that covered the land and preserved so many of these fossils. Dinosaur National Monument is particular exciting, in that there are places you can actually see fossils, where that is lacking in many of the other fossil monuments.
About Dinosaur National Monument
Originally established in 1915 to protect the dinosaur quarry, the monument has expanded especially during 1938 where it was expanded to the rivers and canyons that are also protected within its borders.
The park contains hundreds of paleontological sites and many fossils from dinosaurs including Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, Abydosaurus, Barosaurus, and Ceratosaurus. Some of the most complete fossils were found in this area.
One of the most incredible things they did in the park was preserve the area around the quarry exhibit hall. I don’t know of any other place that allows you to see a cross section of digging and real dinosaur bones still encased in rocks they are found in.
The parks natural wonders beyond the quarry protect some of the most wild areas in Colorado with wild rivers and canyons. The protection of these places is incredible, and it remains an international dark sky location which are becoming far fewer these days (especially ones that are accessible easily to many people).
Sections of the Monument
The park is divided into several areas of the park. There are 4 entrances to Dinosaur National Monument and the park covers over 210,000 acres. So there’s a lot of land and getting between sections of the park can take a while.
This is the namesake of Dinosaur National Monument, the most popular area, and for many the highlight of a visit. This is the area that Dinosaur bones were discovered in the area, and unlike other fossil monuments, you can actually see dinosaur bones. Be sure to explore beyond the Dinosaur quarry to cub creek and the petroglyphs of the area as well. If you only have a limited time and it’s your first visit, you should start in this area of the park.
Located past the Dinosaur Quarry (in the same section of the park), Cub Creek includes lots of petroglyphs, a historic homestead, and hiking. The area requires a bit of driving down a gravel road (accessible even with 2WD cars) and there are several stops and hikes to see the petroglyphs on the rocks. Be sure to check out the lizard petroglyph especially. The homestead is worth a stop, although it is small. There are a few canyon hikes in the area as well.
The other “main” area of the park and the only other with a visitor center. It is more visited than the other sections (other than Dinosaur Quarry) however it still sees few tourists. You’ll get some incredible views along the road and there are quite a few viewpoints you can stop and admire the canyons. Several trails start here, and you can even venture deeper in through some of the trails. Just keep a keen eye out for livestock while driving.
Gates of Lodore
The Gates of Lodore take you to the Green River and gives views over the green river where it enters into Dinosaur National Monument. This is one of the furthest places to drive from the other sections of the park as it is located at the northern tip of the park (and 100+ miles from Dinosaur Quarry). This is also where many of the multi-day rafting trips begin through Dinosaur National Monument.
Echo Park and the road allows you to get deeper into the park than most go. You’ll need a 4×4 car and some gumption to navigate the 13 miles of unpaved road. The road starts in the Canyon area of the park and requires high-clearance 4WD only. During rains and other times it may even be unpassable. It really feels remote while still be “road accessible”.
Rainbow & Island Park
The last of the sections of the park. Rainbow and Island Park are located about an hour north of Dinosaur Quarry. This area gives you incredible views of Green River, some great hiking, camping opportunities, petroglyphs, and more. It feels quite remote and one of the easier sections to visit in addition to Dinosaur Quarry. However, if you don’t have 4WD, I’d choose the Canyon area (in addition to Dinosaur Quarry).
Top Things in Dinosaur National Monument
The National Monument has an incredible diversity of things to see and do. It’s one of the most remote parks in the lower 48 with access to true wilderness and backcountry. You can even get far away and do so many things without needing to enter the backcountry as well.
Experiencing Dinosaur Fossils
Everyone will ask you if you go to Dinosaur NM if you saw dinosaurs, and here’s the spot to do that. Within the Dinosaur Quarry area of the park there is the Quarry Exhibit hall. You’ll walk through a building that encloses a section of rock that still has embedded dinosaur bones within it. You’ll unlikely see another place like this anywhere else in the world. Most of the Fossil National Monuments only have fossils on display in the visitor center. Definitely the highlight and namesake of the park.
The ancient petroglyphs in the area are one of the highlights of Dinosaur National Monument. You can find petroglyphs throughout the park in several areas of the park. Some of the most famous ones can be seen in the Dinosaur Quarry section of the park. Be sure to check out the Lizard Petroglyph in the Cub Creek area of the park. This petroglyph is also the park signature as you’ll see it through the park on signs.
There are hundreds of miles of both inbound as well as backcountry trails within the park. You’ll get to see the variety of landscape throughout the park, low valleys, washes, canyons, petroglyphs, and dinosaur quarries. This is one of the highlights of the park. Just be careful. The park has many remote areas and does not get a lot of visitors, so it can be easy for good and bad to be alone.
Hikes to consider:
Harpers corner is a great reasonable length hike in the Canyon Area of the park. One of the best views of the canyons can be seen from the hike. I think it was also one of my favorite hikes as well as you can really get some beautiful views of the green river and canyon. The hike is a 2 mile out and back hike to a outcropping viewpoint. You can’t get all the way to the end (I believe the area is unstable) however, the views even from here are wonderful.
Box and Hog Canyon
Two short hikes in the Cub Creek area of the park. Each of the trails start at opposite sides of the parking lot by the homestead (hog canyon is the trail next to the homestead). Each takes you close to the canyons in the area. If you are a novice and/or pressed for time, Box Canyon is the easier of the two. It was also my favorite of the two. However, you can do each pretty quickly in less than an hour. 1.7 miles total.
Sound of Silence Trail
One of the top hikes in the Dinosaur Quarry area of the park. The Hike takes you through some beautiful rock and desert areas and through a “wash”. Washes are seasonal rivers that occur in desert regions. The area is beautiful and not very well trafficked. 3 mile hike. You can extend further if you prefer with the desert voices trail to create a longer loop.
Fossil Discovery Trail
One of the easiest trails and very accessible is the Fossil Discovery Trail. If you do it right you can even do it one way (I recommend taking the bus up and the trail down). You’ll wander through the landscape of the dinosaurs. Unfortunately, there’s not much to see, other than a few mussel fossils. Most of the offshoots just stop along the cliffs as well. Quick and easy trail for all skill levels.
Camping in the park was a highlight for me. It feels very far from everywhere, the stars, and location just seems incredible. You can find both set campgrounds within areas such as Dinosaur Quarry as well as more remote campsites that require long hikes or drives down 4WD roads to reach.
Dinosaur National Monument is characterized as an international dark sky area. The stargazing here is just incredible and hard to describe. Sadly I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the stars, but being able to see truly dark skies and just an innumerable amount of stars. There are shrinking number of remote places like Dinosaur NM that can still be accessible by road.
I did not get a chance to raft, however there are many outfits that do single and multi-day rafting trips throughout Dinosaur National Monument. The Green and Yampa rivers are popular rafting spots and truly wild in areas. You’ll raft through soaring canyons and get to camp and stay in truly remote areas. Just even seeing dinosaur national monument is incredible, getting to spend days in remote areas of the park is spectacular. The Yampa is also the only free flowing river remaining in Colorado.
Best One Day Itinerary
Even though I spent multiple days in Dinosaur National Monument, most people only stop as they are passing through to other places. So to help you plan here’s my thoughts on the best one day itinerary.
If you have only one day within Dinosaur National Monument, concentrate your time in the Dinosaur Quarry area of the park. There’s enough to see and do in this area without having to spend hours driving to other sections.
The first stop should be the Dinosaur National Monument Visitor Center. Here you can get information on the various sites, bus schedules etc. From the Visitor center you can take the shuttle up to the dinosaur quarry. Here you’ll pass through a building that encloses a section of rock that still has dinosaur fossils embedded. One of the best things they did is preserve this for all to see. If you took the bus up, walk down via the Fossil Discovery Trail back to the visitor center.
From here drive a mile down the road and stop at the Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs. This is a short walk up to several petroglyphs on the rock.
Drive another mile to the Sounds of Silence trail, the 3 mile trail that will take you through the desert landscape and a wash. If you are feeling adventurous you can extend a few extra miles with the desert voices trail.
Continue down the road stopping at any of the overlooks you like. I would recommend stopping at the one overlooking the green river at least. You’ll eventually see a fork in the road. Take the left one that will become a gravel/dirt road. This is the entrance to the Cub Creek Area.
Cub Creek protects several petroglyphs and a homestead. You’ll see several pull offs for petroglyphs along the route here. If you stop at any (and you should), make sure to stop at the lizard petroglyphs. There are several cool petroglyphs in the area, be sure to walk past the lizard area to see several more.
Continue to the homestead area. You can wander around several of the buildings here. There are a few more down the trail towards Hogs Canyon. If you have time it’s worth exploring hogs and box canyons. Box Canyons is the shorter and easier of the trail. The trail start at opposite ends of the parking lot.
At this point I would head back out the way you came. If you have any additional time, you can check any of the additional overlooks you may have missed. Or if you have a lot of time you can head on to the Canyons area or Rainbow/Island Park areas.
Where to Stay
Dinosaur National Monument Camping
There are several campgrounds within the Dinosaur National Monument. Many allow reservations and its certainly recommended. However, since its not one of the most popular NP sites, there are often still free spots at the last minute. I noticed several free campsites even when I was there on a weekend in late summer.
Green Mountain Campground: 80 sites, Dinosaur Quarry Area, Utah. One of the more popular campgrounds and close to the dinosaur quarry. Beautiful location on the Green River. Reservations Recommended, although there are sometimes available spots even on weekends. $18
Echo Park Campground: 22 sites, Canyon Area, Colorado. Located along the Green River. This site requires 4WD to access. First come first serve (group campsite can be reserved). $18
Split Mountain Group Campground: 4 sites, Dinosaur Quarry Area, Utah. Group camping only (8 – 25 persons). Along the Green River. There’s also a trail that walks along the river between both sites. $40
Gates of Lodore Campground: 19 sites, Gates of Lodore Area. First Come First Serve. $10
Deer Lodge Campground: 7 SItes, Deer Lodge Area, Colorado. Eastern most campsite, and area of the park. Popular boat launch area. All Sites First Come First Serve. $10
Rainbow Park Campground: 4 sites, Rainbow Park Utah. Site is located down a rough unpaved road (impassable when wet). No Potable Water (must filter all water). All Sites First Come First Serve. $6
Free Backcountry Permits are available within Dinosaur National Monument. There is availability of Dispersed camping throughout much of the monument. There are two established backcountry camp sites as well at Ely Creek and Jones Hole Creek along the Jones Hole Trail. On this trail you must camp at either of these locations. Reservations are required for these campsites. Check out the Backcountry Camping Page for more details.
Vernal to Jensen Utah is the best place to find lodging and hotels in the area. You may have luck as well with AirBNB sites in the area too. So here are some hotels to consider.
The park has two main visitor centers as well as rangers stationed at the quarry exhibit hall (information but not as much as the visitor center). The Quarry Visitor center is located in Utah, with the Canyon Visitor center in Colorado.
Quarry Visitor Center
Address: 11625 E 1500 S, Jensen, UT 84035
Hours: 9am – 6pm (summer), 5pm (shoulder season), 4pm (winter)
The visitor center in the dinosaur quarry area of the park. Located in Utah this visitor center is located down the hill from the Quarry Exhibit center. The visitor center has information about hikes, store, exhibit, passport stamp, and is the location for the shuttle to the quarry exhibit hall.
Canyon Visitor Center
Address: 4545 US-40, Dinosaur, CO 81610
Hours: 9am – 5pm; closed winter
The canyon region visitor center and only one in Colorado. The site has information on hikes, the park, as well as bookstore and some exhibits. There are no dinosaur fossils in this part of the park.
The park is open 24/7 for access to most of the areas of the park. This is obviously since much of the park has camping and hiking opportunities.
Many of the visitors centers close by 5 or 6pm during the summer and 4pm in the winter.
The quarry exhibit hall closes around 5:30 pm in the summer and 4pm in the winter. The visitor center at the quarry will stay open as late as the exhibit or 30 minutes later in the summer.
- Private Vehicle – $25.00
- Motorcycle – $20.00
- Per Person – $15.00 (non vehicle)
Annual (America the Beautiful) or Access Passes are accepted at the park for entrance.
Pets are allowed in many areas of Dinosaur National Monument. Dogs must be leashed at all times within 100 feet of developed areas (roads, campgrounds, parking lots, etc.). Pets are not allowed on all trails. However pets are allowed on the following trails/areas.
Pets are allowed on the following trails along the Harpers Corner Road (Colorado side): Plug Hat Butte and other trails at the Plug Hat Picnic Area, Canyon Overlook, Echo Park Overlook, and Iron Springs Bench Overlook.
Leashed Pets are allowed on the Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs as well as the River Trail (Dinosaur Quarry Area).
National Park Passport Stamp
Website: Official NPS Website
The park is located in the northwest corner of Colorado and on the northeast corner of Utah. The majority of the park is located in Colorado, however the key dinosaur areas mostly fall within Utah.
The Dinosaur Quarry area is located close to town of Jepsen, the Canyon Area, Dinosaur Colorado. Gates of Lodore is close to Wilson’s Place, CO, the eastern end is close to Craig Colorado.
You will need a car no matter where you are coming from or going to within Dinosaur National Monument. We recommend a 4WD vehicle if you are planning to maximize your time and ability to see things within the park. There are several “4WD only” roads within the park and even some of the 2WD roads would be better with more clearance/ruggedness.
Route US-40 is the main road that passes along the south of the park and allows you to reach the majority of entrances to Dinosaur National Monument.
Dinosaur National Monument is not convenient to major airports. Hayden Airport (HDN) which is also the access to Steamboat Springs is about an hour from the end of Dinosaur NM and about 2 hrs. from the Canyons Area of the park. Grand Junction (GJT) is also about 2 hrs. south of Dinosaur NM.