In 1915, the 80-acre Carnegie Quarry, excavated under Paleontologist Earl Douglass for the Carnegie Museum, was protected to create Dinosaur National Monument. Today, the monument covers 210,000 acres of gorgeous country. While the park is not protected as wilderness, it is managed as such until Congress acts on the recommendation to formally declare it as wilderness under the Wilderness Protection Act.
Here’s are the best sites to see along the Southern edge (Gates of Lodore and Island Park Road not included) of the monument.
8. Mountaintop Seashells
Sign post 14 might be missing along the Harper’s Corner Trail but with a little patience, you can still find the brachiopods (clam-like shells) and crinoids (“sea lillies”) embedded in the rock. Why are they on a mountain, 7,500 feet above sea level? And in the the middle of a continent? Walk the trail to the end to find out!
The Harper’s Corner Trail begins at the end of Harper’s Corner Road. There is very little elevation change along this 1-mile interpretive walk but take your time to read the guide along the way; it’s packed full of interesting facts.
7. Desert Voices Trail
Why is it important to protect lands? What can we do to help? How long does litter last? This trail tackles these questions and many others while guiding you through incredible scenery. The short trail caters to adults and children; for a longer hike, connect with the Sound of Silence Trail to create a 6.5-mile loop.
Hint: The mileages posts on park signs are confusing and contradictory, likely due to some recent re-routes. According to our GPS and keen sense measured distance, the loop is in fact 6.5 miles. Take plenty of water because it’s hot and exposed out there!
6. Fossil Discovery Trail
Forget “Where’s Waldo?”, let’s play “Where’s the Fossil?”! This short 1.5-mile trail links the Visitor’s Center with Quarry Exhibit Hall and lets you get up close and personal with fossils. Take the free trolley to Exhibit Hall and walk back down.
The trail has 3 stops; first, check out the clam shells at the Stump Formation. Run your hand lightly across the surface for an awesome audible experience. Then head to the bone wall; like Quarry Exhibit Hall, this wall is part of the Morrision Formation and rich in dinosaur fossils. Three bones are highlighted for easy viewing but there are many more so hang out search for more. Finally, head to the shale pile of the Mowry Formation to search for fish scale impressions.
Hint: take the last trolley out and enjoy the walk back unimpeded. Just remember, its still hot and exposed in early evening!
5. Quarry Exhibit Hall
We already told you to take the free trolley to this site. This is the spot that first garnered so much recognition. The rich quarry of the Morrison Formation made Earl Douglass a famous man and it’s clear to see why once inside. The wall is very impressive and the computerized guides and other showcases help to explain what the heck you are looking at! Enjoy the air-conditioning for awhile as you gaze at skulls, spinal columns, and huge leg bones of these massive animals.
4. Giant Lizard Petroglyph
Tour of the Tilted Rocks, stop 14, has some impressive petroglyphs. From the turnoff, you can see a giant lizard etched into the rock face. With a short .3-mile climb, you can see much more rock art; lizards, flute player, santa claus. There are many rock art sites in the park but this out-of-the-way spot is worth the drive.
3. Echo Park Road Petroglyphs and Whispering Cave
If you encounter clear weather and have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, the drive down Echo Park Road will be worth the effort just to see these unique creations. We have seen many rock art sites in our travels but this was our favorite. There are not many but they sure are unique.
A little further down the road you will find Whispering Cave. Notice the drastic difference in temperature as the air is forced down this fissure. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot bats resting on the cave wall. Please give these little creatures their space.
2. Bends in the Yampa River
If you have a 4wd vehicle, take the scenic drive along the Yampa Bench Road. The bends in the river at Castle Park Overlook and Harding Hole Overlook are breathtaking. The road does get a bit steep and curvy at points and is impossible when wet. There are no facilities along the 18-mile stretch through the park and an additional 50 miles to Dinosaur or 70 miles to Craig for gas. Make sure you bring plenty of water and are fueled up before you start your drive.
1. Ruple Point Trail
Named after a rancher (visit the ranch on Island Park Road, North of the quarry), this 9-mile round-trip is relatively easy but boasts the best view of the Green River and Split Mountain Canyon that we found. But that’s not all! A prairie dog family also lives on the trail. About half a mile from the trailhead, if you stand very still, you might get lucky and get to witness these adorable guys running around. The trail is their home so be respectful; stay on trail, don’t bother them, and certainly do not feed them.
Well that’s our list, but visit more sites if you have the time. A lot of the land surrounding the National Park is managed by the Burea of Land Management and offers great remote camping opportunities; be sure to check out a map before leaving home. Rainbow Park, about 27 miles from the Quarry Visitor Center, also offers 3 primitive campsites along the Green River at no charge; bring in your own water or a purification system.
Visit our National Park Service Guide for more hikes in our national parks.