The sprawling 210,000 acres of Dinosaur National Monument offer something for just about everyone, from an exciting visit with the dinosaurs that used to call the area home to fly fishing in rushing rivers, rafting, camping, sightseeing, boating, hiking, skiing and snowmobiling and discovering petroglyphs and pictographs created by the region’s first human residents.
Straddling the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers, Dinosaur National Monument sits on the western border of Colorado and eastern Utah.
Millions of years ago, this region was home to the dinosaurs who give the monument its name. The confluence of the Yampa and Green rivers through the arid landscape drew the first human settlers about 10,000 years ago. European settlers followed in the 1700s, building homesteads and putting down roots.
In 1909, paleontologist Earl Douglass, on a mission for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, thrilled himself and the museum by unearthing and sending thousands of dinosaur bones to Pittsburgh. Six years later, President Woodrow Wilson named the 80 acres around the dig a national monument. In 1938, the monument was expanded to 210,000 acres.
A good place to start your visit to monument is at the internationally known Carnegie Quarry near Jensen, Utah, a paleontological “dig” displaying some 1,500 dinosaur fossils. This is the centerpiece of the monument that has contributed specimens to museums around the world. Following a five-year renovation, the Quarry Exhibit Hall has reopened with its wall of dinosaur bones displayed inside a soaring glass-walled space, along with exhibits of life during the Jurassic period.
There are two scenic drives through the monument. The 10-mile Tour of the Tilted Rocks begins at the Quarry Visitor Center and winds by petroglyphs and pictograph panels, the cabin of solitary settler Josie Bassett Morris and walls revealing the park’s 150 million geologic history. At 31 miles, the Harpers Corner Scenic Drive shows off the monument’s beauty from lofty overlooks and offers hiking trails to even more spectacular views. There are also several unimproved roads recommended only for high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles.
Dinosaur is flush with hiking trails, some accessible to wheelchairs, with intriguing names like Sounds of Silence Trail, Fossil Discovery Trail and Hog Canyon Trail. During summer months rangers lead guided hikes and activities. Bicycles are welcome on any road in the monument (but not on trails). There are many fishing sites, requiring a license from whichever state you are in.
River rafting is one of the most popular ways to enjoy the beauties of the monument. Private rafting is allowed, but fees and permits are required within the park. Keep in mind that many portions of the Green and Yampa rivers are not for duffers, running to Class III and Class IV rapids. Several companies offer guided raft trips.
In winter, cross-country skiing is allowed around the park and snowmobiles are allowed on portions of park roads.
The park is a great spot for wildlife watching. More than 1,000 species of animals and plants exist in Dinosaur, and once-endangered peregrine falcons soar through the canyons.
Pets are welcomed to the park, but must be on-leash and are not allowed in buildings or on hiking trails.
There is no lodging inside the monument. Advance reservations are recommended for stays in the nearby towns of Dinosaur and Rangely, CO and Vernal, UT. No food or gas is available in the park.
The park does offer six campgrounds, three in Colorado and three in Utah, with a total of 133 sites. Fees vary from free to $25 a night. Water is available only at some sites, and only in the summer. Other amenities are limited. There is one small designated backcountry camping site in the monument, at the confluence of Jones Hole and Ely creeks. Reservations are required (435-781-7700). At-large camping is allowed anywhere in the backcountry of the park, but its a rugged experience best for seasoned campers. A free backcountry camping permit is required.
Entry to the park is $10 per car and $5 per motorcycle, bicycle or visitor on foot.
Dinosaur National Monument
Colorado Welcome Center
Utah Welcome Center