Dinosaur National Monument, Northeastern Utah’s biggest secret, is a massive playground for family fun. The 150 million year-old dino fossils and the sheer scale of the surrounding area will bring out your inner five-year-old. At Ecophiles, we love travel that’s about bonding, discovery and adventures the whole family can enjoy – beats booking a pedestrian resort with a pool!
Located in Vernal, Dinosaur Land is on the National Park trail and within easy reach of Yellowstone National Park, Rocky Mountain and Arches National Park. Scenic driving routes, hikes, white water rafting, bird watching, stargazing… there’s much to explore here.
Dinosaur National Monument
Unleash the paleontologist in your kids at the Dinosaur National Monument. Spanning 200,000 acres, the monument preserves 150 million year old dinosaur fossil beds. The Dinosaur Quarry was constructed atop digs where a wealth of fossils from hundreds of creatures was found concentrated in a small space. More than 1500 fossils are encased in the cliff face.
But the Quarry is only part of the attraction, the Dinosaur National Monument is also home to beautiful back-country. Hiking the Fossil Discovery Trail leads to a number of excavated dinosaur bones in the surrounding hills. Other trails showcase the rugged and wild landscape, with richly hued canyons cut by the Green and Yampa rivers. The area is also a treasure trove of petroglyphs and unique rock formations, offering a geological record of billions of years of earth’s history.
Must-visit: Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall
Hiking and Biking
From mountain meadows to desert canyons, trails and panoramic views around Dinosaur Land are never in short supply. Fall, in particular, is glorious for hiking and biking. The trails take in alpine forests, lakes and gorges, offering several spots for selfies to share with envious friends.
Popular Trails: Bear Canyon Bootleg Trail (biking, hiking) for sunsets and views of Red Canyon and Lake Flaming Gorge. Dinosaur Trackway Trail (hiking) for dino tracks. East Park Loop (biking) for wildflower meadows in the Ashley National Forest high in the Uinta Mountains. Red Canyon Rim (biking, hiking) for the gorge carved over the years by the Green River. Battleships Trail is Vernal’s newest hiking trail. There’s also the Handsome Cabin Boy Trail – the name is attractive enough.
Rafting and Boating
Wildlife and bird watching
Your kids will fall in love with nature after spotting birds and wildlife in this area. Handy tip: keep a score card and let the kids compete! The shores of Flaming Gorge reservoir boast the largest nesting colony of ospreys. Keep an eye out for peregrine, prairie falcons, golden eagles, turkey vultures and red-tailed hawks here. A pit stop for migrating birds like songbirds, geese, sandhill cranes, the wetlands of the Green and Duchesne rivers offer great bird watching opportunities.
The big boys like the elk, deer, moose, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are found roaming in Uinta, Blue and Diamond mountains. And if you’re really lucky, you can even catch a fleeting glimpse of bears and cougars in Book Cliffs in the south.
Best wildlife spotting areas: Flaming Gorge, Dinosaur National Monument, Book Cliffs and the Uinta mountains. Five wildlife refuges in the region – Browns Park, Stewarts Lake, Mallard Springs, Ouray and Pariette.
The gallery of primitive art on the cliff faces near Vernal will spark your child’s imagination. The McConkie Ranch petrolyphs are known for their quality and accessibility. The panels cover 200 feet of cliff face – with massive pictographs dating from 1-1200 A.D. and showcase the Fremont Native American culture.
The Nine Mile Canyon – a treasure of ancient Indian art is, in fact, a 40-mile long outdoor gallery of spectacular panels of petroglyphs and pictographs. Off the beaten track, this area encompasses over 1000 panels of more than 10,000 images. Ancient cliff dwellings and remnants of early pioneer cabins remain untouched and preserved here.
Remember ancient art is best experienced with a ‘look, don’t touch,’ rule.