Dinosaur National Monument is located in Vernal, Utah, and this area is know as the Dinosaur Capitol of the World. There is a lot to see and do in this small national monument including seeing fossils and hiking. This post focuses on the Utah access points, but there is also a Colorado side to this national monument.
Stop at the Visitor Center when you arrive. There is a small display about the history of the area and a gift shop. There are also restrooms. Make sure to pick up a Junior Ranger booklet for your children to complete. You will also find information about the shuttle to the quarry. Depending on the time of year, sometimes a shuttle is required to access the quarry because parking is limited. You can find info at the Visitor Center or on the Dinosaur National Monument website.
The highlight of this adventure is the open quarry. Though the dig is no longer in use, over 1,500 bones representing 100 individual animals and 10 species have been excavated. About one-third of the dig has been left as a tourist attraction, and it is amazing. It makes you wonder how all those dinosaur got in the same place and were preserved for 149 million years.
Fossil Discovery Trail
There’s a really nice hike before you leave the quarry area. It’s short and you can spot fossils on the side of the trail. Leave your car parked in the quarry lot and walk down the road about 50 yards. You’ll see a sign for Fossil Discovery Trail. Hike down the hill and turn left where the trail splits. After a short distance, the trail ends at some clam fossils. Go back to the main trail and continue down. Turn left again at the Morrison Formation. This short but precipitous trail has fossils embedded in the rock on your left. Look closely, and they’ll be everywhere. We didn’t follow this trail any further, but it does loop back to the Visitor Center. If you are required to ride the shuttle, you could hike back to your car instead of waiting for the shuttle.
Cub Creek Road
There are other things to see at Dinosaur National Monument, too. There is a short drive on Cub Creek Road with a stop at some petroglyphs and a few hikes.
Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs
As you drive east of the Visitor Center, be sure to keep an eye out for Swelter Shelter, which is a short walk to some petroglyphs left by the Fremont people a thousand years ago. The rock formations of layers and striations are really cool to see. There are several other petroglyphs, too.
At the end of the paved road, you can continue on a dirt road out to Josie’s homestead. The drive is a little bumpy, but our van made it easily. Josie lived in a dirt floor cabin with an outhouse, a small pond, and a lot of cattle (the latter outside the cabin, of course). There are two short hikes, both to box canyons where Josie kept her cattle. If you don’t want to hike, you can enjoy walking around the homestead.
The shorter hike is just a quarter mile each way and is appropriately called Box Canyon. It doesn’t narrow down like some of the more famous box canyons, but our kids really enjoyed shouting and listening to the echo (other hikers beware!) This hike starts across the road from the homestead behind the bathrooms and garbage cans. It is a quick, easy trail for families.
Hog Canyon starts by the chicken coop at the Josie’s Homestead. There is a trail that heads off into the fields. This trail is about 1.5 miles long and is flat and easy. We walked past cows along the way and enjoyed the beautiful fall colors when we visited in October. The trail ends in a Box Canyon, and we walked all the way until we couldn’t go any further. After looking around for a few minutes, we headed back to the homestead.
Jones Hole Road
At the end of Jones Hole Road, you will arrive at the Jones Hole Fish Hatchery. The fish hatchery is not part of the national monument, but it is a cool spot to check out. The Jones Hole trail starts just below the fish hatchery and heads back into Dinosaur National Monument. This trail hikes to where Jones Hole Creek meets the Green River, but we hiked the first 2.25 miles to Ely Creek Waterfall and back (so 4.5 miles RT). The trail is flat, easy, and beautiful.
Deluge Shelter Petroglyphs
Along this trail you will pass the Deluge Shelter Petroglyphs. Make sure to watch for the signs along the way. The petroglyphs are 1.5 mile down the trail, making the roundtrip hike to them 3.0 miles. Once you cross the bridge, keep an eye out on the right for a side trail. If you hike this far, you should definitely continue to see Ely Creek Falls.
This waterfall is a small waterfall, but it’s fun because you can walk right up to it, and even walk to the top. We loved the hike to the falls, and we loved the waterfall, too. There were even some bighorn sheep along the trail. We also appreciate that most of this trail is shaded. The Ely Creek Falls trail was 4.5 miles roundtrip.
We can’t wait to go back and explore more of Dinosaur National Monument. There are many other areas we haven’t had a chance to see yet. If you venture to this area of Utah, be sure to check out our post about Things to do in Vernal.