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Calling All Paleontologists! 10 Places to Find Fossils in Colorado

Calling All Paleontologists: 10 Places to Find Fossils in Colorado | CosmosMariners.com

When I was in the 2nd grade, my teacher introduced a dinosaur unit, and I fell in love. I soon checked out every book on dinosaurs in the small school library, and I determined my favorite dinosaur (protoceratops, if you were wondering). Just over 2 decades later, and I'm still fascinated by the giant creatures that once called our planet home.

While we were on our recent road trip from Nevada to Colorado, I realized that we'd be heading straight into some of the best dinosaur territory that the U.S. had to offer. My inner 2nd grader rejoiced and immediately started researching.

What I found are all perfect activities for the entire family, so buy those plane tickets, start searching Colorado cabin rentals, and get ready for some dino-mite fun! Here's where to find fossils while you're in Colorado.

Dinosaur Ridge

16831 W. Alameda Parkway
Morrison, Colorado

Located just outside of Denver, this is a dinosaur fan's dream come true. On the Dinosaur Ridge trail, you can see partially excavated fossils, check out the fossilized footprints of these massive creatures (seriously awe inspiring!), and learn about the geological changes that made this area so rich in prehistoric fossils. The 2 mile hike is well signposted and usually takes around 2 hours.

Dinosaur Journey Museum

550 Jurassic Court
Fruita, Colorado 

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This museum might be small, but it packs a mighty punch. Here, you'll get to see just how massive a T. Rex skull is and compare your height to the leg of a brachiosaurus (hint: you're going to feel tiny in both places!). There are lots of interactive elements to this museum, including an earthquake stimulator and moving dinosaur models, which makes it perfect for younger wannabe paleontologists.

Triceratops Trail

1400 Jones Road
Golden, Colorado

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This trail is a part of the larger Dinosaur Ridge property, but is well worth its own entry. On this 1.5 mile loop trail, you can see 3D footprints, which were pressed down by the dinosaurs and then excavated from the bottom, forming a reverse cast. This trail is also a great place to teach young paleontologists about the prehistoric plants that once covered this part of Colorado since there are several excellent examples of fossilized plants here as well.

Note: the trail is really bumpy in places, so leave the strollers in the car, and make sure your kids are extra careful about where they step.

Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center

201 S. Fairview Street
Woodland Park, Colorado

Take a peek into what paleontologists do to prepare their finds for the public at this beautiful museum. Check out a triceratops skull, see the scales of a fossilized compsognathus, and try your hand at an dinosaur dig in the children's area. If you're interested in fossils beyond the dinosaur sort, you can find the preserved remains of prehistoric fish and pterosaurs, too. There's even a place to watch the paleontologists work as they scrape, extract, and assemble the delicate skeletons.

Garden Park Fossil Area

3501 Garden Park Road
Cañon City, Colorado

Some incredible discoveries have come out of this area, including complete Allosaurus and Stegasaurus skeletons. Garden Park was one of the earliest paleontological sites in the U.S., so the discoveries here literally shaped the field as it was getting started. A major row occurred in the Garden Park area between two leading scientists of the day, and visitors can walk through their quarries and see the advances each camp was making.

Denver Museum of Nature and Science

2001 Colorado Boulevard
Denver, Colorado

The Prehistoric Journey exhibit is worth the cost of admission alone since visitors have the ability to watch animatronic dinosaurs duel, learn about prehistoric flora, and get handsy with actual fossils. The exhibit provides a holistic approach to its dinosaurs: instead of showcasing a few impressive fossils and being done with the affair, the exhibit helps visitors learn about the evolution of prehistoric species, early climate changes that made life possible, and the habitats that supported the massive dinosaurs in their prime.

Note: while the dinosaur section of the museum is fantastic, you shouldn't miss out on the other great exhibits here, too. We spent a half day here and still didn't see everything!

Picket Wire Canyonlands Track Site

Trailhead: Withers Canyon near La Junta, Colorado

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Get toe to toe with fossilized dinosaur footprints here! The trail to get to the largest dinosaur footprint site in North America is a scenic 3 mile (roundtrip) jaunt along the Purgatoire River; if you've got a few hours (and plenty of water), its well worth the effort. There are also local driving tours that you can take to get you to the site more quickly if you've got kids who won't last the entire trek.

You'll also see the Rourke Ranch on your way, which might be a great opportunity to talk with your kids about ranching and its importance in this area.

Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience

44895 W. U.S. 50
Cañon City, Colorado

This site teaches about the process of finding and exhibiting dinosaur fossils, but also has a can't-miss Dinosaur Wild Walk with animatronic versions of these reptiles that are seriously realistic. The scientists behind the Paleo Lab are the real deal: what you see in the lab are fossils that were excavated from the Garden Park Fossil Area (see above).

Red Rocks Park

18300 W. Alameda Parkway
Morrison, Colorado

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While you probably know Red Rocks for its ampitheatre, this park also has a rich geological history as well. This area (which is close to Dinosaur Ridge, mentioned above) was where the first Stegosaurus skeleton was found. (By the way, that's Colorado's state fossil!) Although full fossilized skeletons haven't been found here in recent years, scientists still occasionally find fragments of everything from a plesiosaur to a mossaur here.

Dinosaur National Monument

4545 Highway 40
Dinosaur, Colorado

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Another massive dinosaur themed site, this is a must-do if you're interested in fossils. There are over 1,500 fossils embedded in the cliff face here, and you can get incredible close to see them. If you're interested in getting a guided tour, show up for one of the free ranger-led Fossil Discovery hikes. 

Plus, this site is in Dinosaur, Colorado, and that's definitely another reason to go!

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Are you interested in dinosaurs or fossils? Which of these sites would you like to visit the most?

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Calling All Paleontologists: 10 Places to Find Fossils in Colorado | CosmosMariners.com


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