The giant, ancient creatures that once roamed the Earth continue to fascinate us eons after they died out. Some of the most popular films and TV shows of all time, such as Jurassic Park, The Flintstones, and The Land Before Time, confirm our dino-fandom, and many paleontologists hypothesize that dinosaur fossils inspired mythical creatures across multiple cultures, such as dragons, cyclopes, griffins, jackalopes, and even unicorns.
Fortunately for dinosaur enthusiasts, many locations across the U.S. provide opportunities to see and even dig for fossils and bones. Here are eight places in the U.S. where you can see the impressive remains of dinosaurs both big and small.
Dinosaur National Monument (Colorado and Utah)
With a name like Dinosaur National Monument, you know you’re in the right spot for fossils. The 210,000-acre park spans a vast region stretching from northwestern Colorado to northeastern Utah. On the Utah side, head to the Quarry Exhibit Hall where you can view a wall containing roughly 1,500 dinosaur bones.
You’ll enter a striking glass building abutting the wall and walk along a comfortable mezzanine to spot allosaurus, apatosaurus, camarasaurus, diplodocus, stegosaurus bones, and more. Unlike most dinosaur fossil exhibits, no curator or paleontologist arranged this wall — an ancient stream deposited the bones here more than 150 million years ago. Visitors can even touch 149-million-year-old bones in some sections and see exhibits that chronicle the dinosaurs’ natural behavior.
Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center (Morrison, Colorado)
You won’t need to go far into a remote area to see hundreds of dinosaur tracks and bones at Dinosaur Ridge, located about 30 minutes west of Denver in the town of Morrison. First, you can stop by the main visitor center, which features a small exhibit hall displaying T-rex teeth, a triceratops skull, fossils, other bones, and a kid-friendly outdoor simulated dig site.
However, the more impressive attraction is Dinosaur Ridge Trail, just up the road from the Discovery Center. You can walk, bike, or take a guided bus tour along the two-mile (round-trip), paved trail to see over 300 dinosaur footprints fossilized in the rock. Many of the tracks were made by ornithopods, hadrosaurs, and therapods over 100 million years ago.
A little farther up the trail, look for “brontosaur bulges,” or tracks made by massive sauropods. At the end of the trail, you can touch Jurassic-era bones from apatosauruses and stegosauruses. Viewing the bones and tracks on foot or by bike is free, but the bus tour charges a small fee. You can also make reservations to walk the trail with a volunteer guide or geologist.
Dinosaur Valley State Park (Glen Rose, Texas)
For the opportunity to walk on dinosaur tracks instead of seeing them from afar, visit Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, about 80 miles southwest of Dallas. The park has mapped five main track sites, and the park website offers downloadable map files. The largest site, called the “Ballroom,” because the tracks’ arrangements look as if the dinosaurs were dancing, contains several sauropod and theropod footprints you can walk on.
The track sites primarily lie in the Paluxy Riverbed, so it’s best to visit during the summer when the water flow is low (but not after rainstorms that stir up sediment). It’s helpful to wear water shoes and have a hiking pole since the rocks can be a little slippery. When the riverbed is dry, many tracks fill in with gravel and are harder to spot.
Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry (Elmo, Utah)
Head to a remote area in central Utah called the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry to see the world’s densest concentration of Jurassic-era dinosaur bones. As part of Jurassic National Monument, the excavation site is where paleontologists have uncovered more than 12,000 bones from at least 74 individual dinosaurs, such as the bones of carnivorous allosauruses, along with marshosauruses and stokesosauruses. The quarry is still an active working site where scientists conduct research, but visitors can explore hands-on exhibits and see preserved bones in an excavation pit.
Dinosaur State Park (Rocky Hill, Connecticut)
Housed under a geodesic dome, Dinosaur State Park just outside Hartford in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, contains 500 fossilized dinosaur tracks, most likely made by theropods, such as dilophosauruses, about 200 million years ago. The park opened after an excavation team accidentally unearthed about 2,000 tracks in 1968.
In addition to displaying the tracks using special lighting and sound effects, the exhibit center includes a mural depicting the region and its dinosaur inhabitants during the late Triassic period. A discovery room with hands-on activities and fossils is also onsite. A lush arboretum surrounds the exhibit center with more than 200 plant species that existed when dilophosauruses created the tracks. From May through October, visitors can make a Plaster-of-Paris mold of one of the tracks to keep.
Montana Dinosaur Center (Bynum, Montana)
Instead of merely viewing dinosaur tracks or bones, you can dig them up at the Montana Dinosaur Center (also known as Two Medicine Dinosaur Center) in Bynum, about 90 miles south of the Canadian border. The center offers a one-day expedition that begins with hands-on instructions at an inactive dig site where you’ll learn how to identify fossils and map surfaces. Then, you’ll participate at an active site where you’ll dig for bones.
For younger children who aren’t quite ready for a full-day expedition, the center offers a half-day program that teaches fossil identification and provides opportunities to see dinosaur bones without having to dig. In addition, the museum has plenty of fossils on display and views of the working excavation site. All expeditions require reservations, which are typically available from June through September.
Geological Survey Public Fossil Digs (North Dakota)
The North Dakota Geological Survey’s Paleontology Department runs public dig expeditions at three locations from late June through August. Beginners are encouraged to register for the easier Medora dig, which takes place in the 60-million-year-old Sentinel Butte Formation rocks near Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. The fossils here were primarily left by swamp-dwelling dinosaurs when the region was underwater.
To see more sea creature fossils left by mosasaurs, giant squids, turtles, fish, and more, check out the Pembina Gorge dig at the 80-million-year-old Pierre Formation near Walhalla in northern Montana. If it’s big land-roving dinosaurs you’re after, register for the third option — 67-million-year-old Hell Creek near Bismarck. This site contains tyrannosaurus teeth, triceratops and edmontosaurus bones, plus sea dwellers, such as crocodiles, champosaurs, turtles, fish, and more.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center (Thermopolis, Wyoming)
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis caters to dino-loving people of all ages, offering a variety of hands-on activities. The museum contains 58 mounted skeletons and hundreds of fascinating dioramas and displays. If you want to get your hands dirty, the center offers a variety of programs, including dig outings for all ages and experience levels.
The “Dig for a Day” program takes place in one of the center’s active dig sites (all within a 10-minute drive), where you might find apatosaurus, camarasaurus, and diplodocus bones, as well as allosaurus teeth. The center’s half-day morning or afternoon “Shovel Ready” programs are a good option if you want to see what a dig is like without the full-day commitment. The dig programs require some relatively strenuous hill climbing at 4,500-foot elevations, so participants must be physically capable.