Dinosaur National Monument Must-Do Guide
Observe Dinosaur Bones at the Quarry
When you first enter the Quarry Exhibit Hall (over the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry) and look at the 1,500 displayed fossils, you can’t help but ask yourself: Did paleontologists really discover the bones as they are presented, or did someone artfully place them here for effect? The answer is that paleontologists discovered the bones just where you see them today. Everything in the quarry is real. The bones are just as nature arranged them more than 150 million years ago, deposited by an ancient stream. Read more about the real story of the quarry. The exhibit is open year-round. (Keep in mind there are no dinosaur fossils on the Colorado side of the monument, only on the Utah side, so see them while you are here.)
The Quarry visitor center is located several hundred yards past the monument entrance station on UT 149 north of Jensen and contains a paleontology laboratory, exhibits and a bookstore. The dinosaur quarry is just past that and can be reached by car, but consider hiking the Fossil Discovery Trail that leaves from the visitor center — or better yet, go on an interpretive hike led by a ranger to really learn and understand what you are looking at as you walk back in time 80 million years!
Read the “Stories in the Rocks”: Visit Petroglyphs and Pictographs
Both petroglyphs, which are forms pecked with a tool, and pictographs, which are forms created with pigments, are plentiful in and around Dinosaur National Monument. You can see them as you drive the monument’s roads, and also hike to them. Though obviously no one can supply answers for all the questions inherent in rock art, during summer a park naturalist provides interpretation based on years of observation, reading and thinking about the many probing questions visitors often ask.
Dinosaur National Monument preserves an incredible array of petroglyphs and pictographs, and the McKee Spring panel offers one such exhibit. But don’t confine yourself to the one panel—search out other areas of rock art, for each is intriguing in its own right. For more information, see our Petroglyph and Pictograph Viewing Guide.
Enjoy the Monument’s Many Day Hikes
Though Dinosaur National Monument is not known for a large system of hiking trails, the monument contains several day hikes to suit just about everyone. More adventurous types can embark on a backcountry hike of any length. The biggest drawback to backcountry hiking is the large amount of water you’ll need — on hot summer days, a gallon a day per person minimum! Make sure to take plenty of water on day hikes too, especially in the heat of summer.
The monument’s easy to moderate day hikes are a great way for families to experience the area. Hikes such as the Fossil Discovery Trail, Sound of Silence Trail, and the Desert Voices Trail offer an intimate look at the amazing geology of Dinosaur National Monument. For more information on day hikes in the monument, see our Hiking Guide.
Drive the Scenic Back Roads
The Tour of the Tilted Rocks is an excellent introduction to the many facets of Dinosaur National Monument. Many visitors tour the quarry first and then drive this short auto tour (an informational brochure is available at the visitor center). The tour leaves the visitor center and leads to ancient rock art, hiking trails, rock formations, excellent views of the Green River, and the Josie Bassett cabin built by one of the area’s most notorious cowgirls. (Josie and her sister, Ann, were friendly with Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch boys, who used this remote place as a stopping-over point on the Outlaw Trail.)
The Island/Rainbow Park Road leads to McKee Spring petroglyphs, Rainbow Park, Island Park, Ruple Ranch, and the petrified sand dunes. Check with rangers or with park personnel at the visitor centers about road conditions, and keep an eye on the weather forecasts yourself. Following rain, this road may be impassable. From the dinosaur quarry to road’s end (at Island Park), the trip is about 31.5 miles one-way. There are no services on this road.
Another recommended side trip is the Jones Hole Scenic Backway. The drive traverses a variety of local ecosystems, from desert sagebrush to alpine aspen grove, before dropping into a narrow canyon at Jones Hole, where an important national fish hatchery supplies trout for Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, and also the trailhead for the Jones Hole Trail. The Jones Hole Scenic Backway is one of the few fully paved scenic backways in the state. Be aware that the road is narrow, however, and may be difficult in winter conditions.
Run Whitewater River Rapids
Both the Green River and the Yampa River offer exciting whitewater rafting trips through Dinosaur National Monument. The difficulty of the rapids ranges from class 1 to class 3. One of the most popular runs accessed from the Utah side of the monument is between Rainbow Park and the Split Mountain Campground, through the rapids of Split Mountain Canyon. A more difficult section of the Green River can be run starting at Gates of Lodore in the north end of the monument. Rapids such as Disaster Falls are a good clue that this section isn’t for inexperienced boaters!
The easiest way to take a river trip is to go with a licensed outfitter. Visit Dinosaur National Monument’s official river rafting page for more information on rafting companies. If you choose to float on your own, a floating permit is required. Permits for single day and multiday float trips are awarded through a lottery system, so apply in advance.