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Dinosaur National Monument Guide — Camping, Quarry, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

Senior Content Contributor

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
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Dinosaur National Monument is a vast park encompassing over 210,000 acres of mountains, canyons, rivers, and deserts along the border of Utah and Colorado. This is where travelers come to see ancient dinosaur bones from over 150 million years ago.

Not only can you see and feel the incredible fossils of prehistoric animals here, but you can also hike and whitewater raft, stargaze, watch wildlife, and capture stunning photos of the landscape and animals that call this place home. Each year, close to 300,000 travelers come to explore this incredible monument. 

How To Get to Dinosaur National Monument

Where Is Dinosaur National Monument?

Dinosaur National Monument is located on the border of Colorado and Utah. This national monument spreads over 210,000 acres of mountains, deserts, and rivers flowing deep into canyons. The closest city to this park is Vernal, Utah. 

Dinosaur National Monument Open Hours and Seasons

The outdoor areas at Dinosaur National Monument are open year-round, 24 hours a day. The visitor centers at the Quarry Exhibit Hall are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the spring and fall, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter, and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the summer. These buildings are closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day and may close in some circumstances, such as weather. 

Nearest Airports to Dinosaur National Monument

There are a couple of airports that can be used when flying to this national monument. The popular options include a nearby regional airport and a major airport that is about 3.5 hours away.

Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)

Salt Lake City International Airport is the closest major airport to Dinosaur National Monument. This option is about 3 hours and 20 minutes from the park. Over 300 flights depart each day from this airport to 90 nonstop destinations. Airlines served here include Aeromexico, American, Delta, KLM, Spirit, and Southwest.

There are several rental car kiosks where you can rent a car to make the last leg of your journey. A good thing about choosing to fly into Salt Lake City is that you will pass through countless parks and famous landmarks between the airport and monument that you can stop and explore along the way.

Vernal Regional Airport (VEL)

Vernal Regional Airport is a small airport option about 20 minutes away from the national monument and is the closest option. Daily flights are offered to and from Vernal on United via SkyWest. Upon arrival, you can rent a car for the short drive to the monument. 

Driving to Dinosaur National Monument

This national monument is located in Colorado and Utah, so there are 2 ways to get to the park, depending on which side you want to enter. The east side of the park is located in Colorado. This area gives access to the Green River and Yampa River. It’s off Highway 40, 2 miles east of Dinosaur, Colorado. The west side of the monument is in Utah. Visitors from this side will access Highway 40 and then take Utah Highway 149. 

Taking the Train to Dinosaur National Monument

There is no train service to Dinosaur National Monument.

Taking the Bus to Dinosaur National Monument

There is no bus service directly to Dinosaur National Monument, but there is an option that can get you close. Greyhound has a station in Vernal, Utah, about 20 minutes from the park. This is a great way to enjoy the journey and not have the added stress of driving to the area.

Getting Around Dinosaur National Monument

The best way to get around at Dinosaur National Monument is by private vehicle. There are several sights to see, and the best way to access those is by driving, parking, and then exploring. The National Park Service offers printable and interactive maps to help you map out your excursions. 

What To See and Do in Dinosaur National Monument

There are so many things to see and do in Dinosaur National Monument. From discovering ancient fossils to white water rafting, hiking, and exploring petroglyphs of the past, there’s something that will interest every visitor.

Echo Park

Echo Park
Image Credit: NPS

Echo Park is in the heart of this national monument. The Yampa River flows into the Green River in this location and winds around Steamboat Rock, an enormous geologic feature of the park.

This area of the monument offers many opportunities for hiking and learning about the history of homesteading and ranching in the area. There are also camping, stargazing, and picnicking opportunities. Exciting features of the area are Whispering Cave and the Pool Creek Petroglyphs. 

Hiking

Hiking is an excellent way to experience Dinosaur National Monument. There are several trails on the monument’s Utah and Colorado sides. Popular Utah trails include the Fossil Discovery Trail, the Sound of Silence Trail, and the Jones Hole Trail. Some visitor-favorite trails on the Colorado side are Harpers Corner, Ruple Point, and Gates of Lodore.

Hot Tip:

If you plan to hike, remember it’s desert terrain. Come prepared with plenty of hydration and sun protection.

Jones Hole Creek Area

Jones Hole Creek Area
Image Credit: Jake McFee via NPS

The Jones Hole Creek area is a wonderful place to tour during a visit to Dinosaur National Monument. This area features a canyon carved by a creek, plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities, pictographs, petroglyphs, and the Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery. 

There are several hiking trails here. The most popular trail is the Jones Hole Trail, which follows the creek for 4 miles. Another trail is the Island Park Trail. This trail leaves the Jones Hole Trail and takes visitors near the hatchery. 

Pictographs and petroglyphs can be seen at Deluge Shelter, which is about a mile and a half from the fish hatchery trailhead. The Fremont people created these historic artifacts over a thousand years ago. 

The Green River and Ely Creek Falls are incredible sites in this area. For those who like to fish, you can cast a line into the Jones Hole Creek, where rainbow and brown trout can be caught. 

Spending an entire day or more in the Jones Hole Creek area with so much to see and do in this part of the monument is easy. Should you need to spend more than a day, backcountry campsites are available to extend your adventures another day.

Quarry Exhibit Hall

Quarry Exhibit Hall is located on the Utah side of the monument. This is one of the highlights of the park and a very popular tourist attraction. The main draw to this facility is the expansive wall of dinosaur bones. Some of the remains that can be seen include bones from the stegosaurus, diplodocus, and allosaurus.

Exhibits and an 80-foot-long mural tell the story of the animals that lived during the Late Jurassic period. This building is open all year, with varying hours depending on the season. It is closed for certain holidays, so check in advance for the opening hours. 

River Rafting

A popular activity at this national monument is river rafting. The Green River and Yampa River wind through this monument and the Unita Mountains, creating a thrilling experience for adventure enthusiasts. Some of the top rafting locations in the monument include Warm Springs, Hells Half Mile, Rippling Brook, and Island Park.

Those who want to participate in the rafting opportunities can choose to go on a commercial guided or private trip. If choosing a private trip, visitors must obtain a permit before heading out. Rafting trips can be done in a single day or a multi-day of 4 to 5 days. 

Visitor Centers

Quarry Visitor Center
Image Credit: Jake Holgerson via NPS

There are 2 buildings serving as visitor centers at Dinosaur National Monument, 1 in each state where the park is located. 

Canyon Visitor Center

Canyon Visitor Center is located on the Colorado side of the monument and is the gateway to the monument’s mountains and river canyons. This visitor center is open daily in the summer and closed during the winter.

There are exhibits and a park film that teach about the natural and cultural history, as well as park rangers who are eager to chat with you and answer any questions. Before heading out, check the on-site bookstore for souvenirs, maps, and gift items. 

Quarry Visitor Center

Quarry Visitor Center is located on the Utah side of the monument. This is the gateway to the infamous Quarry Exhibit Hall and the massive wall of dinosaur bones. This building is staffed with park rangers to answer questions and help you plan your adventures.

There is also a gift shop, exhibits, and a theater that shows the park film. This visitor center is open year-round, with exceptions on holidays. The hours change seasonally, so checking the hours before heading here is wise.

Bottom Line:

Beginning your park excursions at one of the visitor centers is the best way to kick off an amazing experience at Dinosaur National Monument.

Best Times To Visit Dinosaur National Monument

Any time you can visit Dinosaur National Monument is a good time. Some times are better than others to plan a visit, especially if you’re hoping to participate in a specific activity or event.

Best Time To Visit Dinosaur National Monument for Night Sky Viewing

Dinosaur National Monument Night Sky
Image Credit: Jacob W. Frank via NPsS

If you love viewing the night sky and all things astronomy, you are in for a treat at Dinosaur National Monument. This monument has wonderful dark skies and incredible opportunities to check out the stars and learn from the rangers at the Night Sky Programs.

The best time to visit for night sky viewing is in September. There are several opportunities for Night Sky Programs during this month. Stargazing and observing the moon through telescopes is a magnificent way to enjoy this national monument. 

Best Time To Visit Dinosaur National Monument To Avoid the Crowds

Exploring this monument without crowds is a wonderful experience as you can explore at your own pace. December is the best time to visit Dinosaur National Monument without dealing with crowds. It is quite cold this month, so bring plenty of warm clothing and cold-weather gear. 

Best Time To Visit Dinosaur National Monument for Ideal Weather

Weather can easily make or break a vacation, so research the typical weather when you plan to visit. If you’re seeking the best time for ideal weather, plan to visit in September. The low temperatures are in the 50s, and the highs reach the mid-70s, perfect weather for hiking and exploring. There are typically just 4 days of rain this month, so rainfall is rare. But just to be safe, pack a rain jacket.

Cheapest Time To Visit Dinosaur National Monument

If you want to plan a trip to this national monument while going easy on your budget, plan to come from mid to late September. Once summer travel has ended and schools return to session, the park sees a dip in visitors, which means the surrounding towns have cheaper accommodation rates. Flights are also less costly at this time of year.

Annual Events in Dinosaur National Monument

There aren’t any annual events that are held at Dinosaur National Monument. From late May to mid-October, several ranger-led events are held. These events include Night Sky Programs, Junior Ranger Programs, Geology Talks, and Campground Programs. Participating in these events is a great way to learn about the natural and cultural history of the monument. 

Where To Stay in Dinosaur National Monument

There is a multitude of lodging opportunities in and near Dinosaur National Monument. Whether you prefer camping or a luxury hotel, you can find the perfect option. Take a look at the accommodations in and near this national monument. 

Inside the Park

Camping Dinosaur National Monument
Image Credit: NPS

The only option for lodging within the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument is setting up under the stars for the night. This national monument has 6 campgrounds with over 120 sites available for those who enjoy a stay in the great outdoors.

The Utah side has 3 of the monument’s campgrounds, and the others are on the Colorado side. Each campground offers stunning views, hiking trails, and the opportunity to see the wildlife that calls this monument home.

The most popular campgrounds at this national monument are Green River Campground and Deerlodge Park Campground. Both of these are open year-round. Green River is located along the banks of the river, nestled into a grove of cottonwood trees. Deerlodge Park is 51 miles east of the visitor center and on the Yampa River. 

Other campgrounds within the park include Split Mountain Group Campground, Echo Park Campground, Rainbow Park, and Gates of Lodore Campground. 

Towns Near Dinosaur National Monument

There are several options for visitors who want to stay near Dinosaur National Monument. There are options on both the Utah and Colorado sides, so be sure to determine which will work best for your needs.

Rangely, Colorado

Rangely is an excellent place to stay on the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument. It takes about 20 minutes to get to this town from the monument. Lodges, hotels, campgrounds, and inns are some of the accommodation options; whatever your lodging preference, you can find the perfect choice here. 

There are only a few restaurants in this town, but there’s something for every palate. Coffeehouses, Mexican restaurants, and family-owned diners are where most people dine during their stay. Each restaurant is unique and loved by locals and tourists alike. 

When you aren’t touring the park, there are plenty of other things to do in Rangely. Many visitors enjoy touring the Rangely Automotive Museum or Rangely Outdoor Museum, picnicking by the reservoir, and touring the local wineries.

Bottom Line:

Book a stay in Rangely for a great place to set up a base camp on the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument.

Vernal, Utah

Vernal is the closest town to the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument. This town is about 17 miles from the park and has several lodging, dining, and recreation options. Accommodations range from well-known hotels, locally owned motels, and budget-friendly inns. There are also several options for private rentals throughout the town. 

This town has dozens of restaurants with a wide variety of cuisine. Whether you crave authentic cultural foods, a sizzling slice of pizza and hot wings, or a juicy burger, there’s a solution here.

Recreation and entertainment abound here. Natural history parks, museums, live theaters, golf courses, and whitewater rafting are available. If you’re looking for a home base when visiting this national monument, look no further than Vernal. This town has everything you could need and more.

Where To Eat in Dinosaur National Monument

There aren’t any restaurants or dining options within the boundaries of Dinosaur National Monument, but there are plenty of options in the towns near the park. Should hunger strike, you are just a short drive from a delicious meal. Check out some of the top restaurants close to this park. 

Antica Forma

Antica Forma is a well-known Italian restaurant in Vernal, about 20 minutes from Dinosaur National Monument. This restaurant serves authentic Neapolitan-style pizza and pasta.

Salads, made-to-order pizzas, and signature pasta dishes are just some of the items found on the menu at this restaurant. Customers rave about garlic bread, asparagus soup, calamari, lasagna, and margherita pizza.

Antica Forma is a great place to unwind and refuel after a long day exploring the park. Be sure to take some time to enjoy this remarkable restaurant when visiting Dinosaur National Monument. 

Vernal Brewing Company

Vernal Brewing Company is located in downtown Vernal, about 16 miles from Dinosaur National Monument. This gastropub and brewery is a top-rated restaurant.

The menu features unique culinary creations, including sandwiches, pizzas, pasta creations, and fresh salads. Popular menu items include the cheese steak fries, the bacon mushroom Swiss burger, and the Mediterranean pizza. Dozens of craft beers on tap are the perfect accompaniment for your meal. 

For a gourmet meal you won’t forget and a refreshing drink to end your day, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to dine at Vernal Brewing Company when visiting this area of Utah.

Dinosaur National Monument Facts

Deluge Shelter Pictograph
Image Credit: NPS

1. The New National Monument Was Established in 1915

President Woodrow Wilson established the Dinosaur National Monument on October 4, 1915. It was originally 80 acres and built to protect the Carnegie Quarry. 

2. The Fremont Are Indigenous Inhabitants

Artifacts and evidence show that people have lived in the area for at least 10,000 years. It’s believed that some of the main inhabitants were the Fremont people, and the petroglyphs and pictographs found within the monument’s boundaries are attributed to this group. Descendants from the Fremont still reside in the area.

3. The Park Expanded in 1938

On July 14, 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expanded the park by 200,000 acres. 

4. Fossils Are on Display

Over 1,500 dinosaur fossils can be seen on the cliff face at Quarry Exhibit Hall. Not only can you see these ancient fossils, but there are several places where you can touch them. These fossils are believed to be 150 million years old. 

5. A Famous Paleontologist Discovered Significant Fossils

In 1909, a paleontologist, Earl Douglass, came to the Dinosaur National Monument area on a mission from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. His objective was to find intact dinosaur bones and send them to the museum for display. He searched for many weeks and discovered the first bones of what is now called Carnegie Quarry. This rock formation held over 350 tons of fossils and became one of the most significant paleontological finds in the 20th century. 

Final Thoughts

With so much to see and do at this national monument, you can rest assured that visiting this fantastic park will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. There’s something every traveler will enjoy at this park, from incredible hiking trails and discovering prehistoric fossils and petroglyphs to fishing and camping.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to enter Dinosaur National Monument?

The fee for entering Dinosaur National Monument is $25 per private vehicle, $20 for those entering on motorcycles, and $15 per person for individuals who enter on foot. These passes are good for 7 consecutive days. Visitors with NPS interagency passes such as the America The Beautiful annual pass can enter the monument at no additional cost.

How much time is recommended to explore Dinosaur National Monument?

This massive national monument can take up to a couple of weeks to explore. Most visitors will spend a day or 2 at this park, but spending a full week is ideal with so much to see.

What is the weather like at Dinosaur National Monument?

The weather at Dinosaur National Monument varies throughout the year. The winter temperatures can get as low as the mid-30s, and the summertime highs reach nearly 90 degrees. It typically rains 3 to 5 days of each month.

Is camping in RVs permitted at Dinosaur National Monument?

The campsites are open to both tent camping and RVs. There aren’t any hookups, so be prepared to make adjustments if you are accustomed to those.

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About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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