Are you a “Jurassic Park” fanatic? Have you been first in line at the movie theater for all six premieres? Or maybe you have a child that asks for dinosaur figures every Christmas or checks out books about where dinosaurs once lived from the library.
For any dinosaur enthusiast, there are 10 places in America you have to visit to see numerous fossilized trackways. Your visit might even inspire a budding paleontologist! Let’s take a look so you can start trip planning today.
Are There Dinosaur Fossils and Footprints in America?
There are countless locations across the United States with preserved dinosaur fossils and footprints. Some are open to the public, while others remain sites for study and research.
You don’t have to visit museums to see these amazing finds. You can visit the actual sites and see these fossils and footprints embedded in the sediment. In fact, new discoveries are being made.
Eric Roberts, head of earth and environmental science at James Cook University in Australia, says, “We are in the Goldilocks window for finding fossils in the Late Cretaceous of Western North America because the rocks have been recently uplifted, geologically speaking, due to uplift of the Colorado Plateau, coupled with a generally arid/semi-arid climate across much of the region—meaning that the exposed rock record is conspicuously poorly vegetated, allowing for enhanced erosion and fossil discovery.”
So many fossils have been found in the western part of the U.S. because the timing was just right for preserving these fossils. Widespread volcanic activity has produced huge amounts of sediment, which means fossils have been recently uplifted and eroded.
Is a Footprint of a Dinosaur a Fossil?
A fossilized footprint of a dinosaur is indeed a fossil. They’re a type of trace fossil, evidence of the dinosaur’s activity but are not part of the animal itself.
The process of fossilization actually begins with the dinosaur’s steps millions of years ago. First, the creatures have to step in sediment that’s pliable enough to record their footprints.
But it also can’t be washed away. Then, new sediment fills in the original impression and hardens, making a cast. As the layers of sediment build up, pressure turns them to rock and preserves the print for future generations.
What Do Dinosaur Footprints Tell Us?
The size and shape of dinosaur tracks won’t tell us what kind of dinosaur made them but rather the type of dinosaur that made the tracks. The geographic location and age of the rocks help narrow down the particular species. Dinosaur footprints help experts determine whether a bipedal or quadrupedal dinosaur made a trackway.
For example, according to the Natural History Museum in England, “Theropods, such as Tyrannosaurus, Baryonyx or Velociraptor, had narrower and longer footprints than ornithopods. Theropod footprints typically have long, slender toes and a V-shaped outline. Ornithopod tracks lack distinctive claw marks and generally have a more rounded appearance with wider digits.”
Trackways also help experts learn about how dinosaurs moved. How long a dinosaur’s stride was, how fast a dinosaur was moving, and whether or not they were traveling in groups are all things scientists can learn. Parallel tracks may suggest herd behavior, while other trackways may suggest chase scenes between prey and predators.
10 Best Places to See Dinosaur Fossils and Footprints in America
Throughout the country, there are areas with dinosaur fossils and footprints. These discoveries have helped scientists, geologists, and paleontologists learn more about our country’s history. They can be places of learning and wonder for you, too!
1. Dinosaur Valley State Park
Address: 1629 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, Texas 76043
About: Just a short drive from Fort Worth, Dinosaur Valley State Park is home to the Paluxy River. There are 20 miles of trails and camping available at the park.
Visitors can also swim, paddle, fish, or bike. There are horseback riding (guided) and horse-drawn wagon rides for a fee by Eagle Eye Ranch Carriage Company.
What to See: You can walk in the dinosaur tracks on the riverbed of the Paluxy River. Note that they aren’t always visible due to recent weather conditions. Attend a Ranger program to learn more about these ancient creatures.
2. Dinosaur Footprints Wilderness Reservation
Address: Route 5, Holyoke, MA 01040
About: Open April 1 to November 1, Dinosaur Footprints in Holyoke, Mass., has a small roadside turnout for about seven cars. Route 5 runs along the Connecticut River, and the trail leading down to the dinosaur footprints offers a lovely vista where you can stop and enjoy the scenery. The footprints are 200 feet or so down a hill from the turnout parking.
What to See: Paleontologists believe the earliest known dinosaurs left these prints. Interestingly, the entire Connecticut River Valley region was once a mix of subtropical wetlands and shallow lakes.
The Paleontologists discovered these dinosaur footprints in 1802, and since then, they’ve found numerous prehistoric footprints in the region. The flat sandstone surface makes it easy for visitors of all ages to see, touch, and experience these dinosaur footprints.
3. Clayton Lake State Park and Dinosaur Trackways
Address: 141 Clayton Lake Road, Clayton, NM 88415
About: In northeastern New Mexico, guests enjoy boating, picnicking, fishing, birding, and hiking at Clayton Lake State Park. There are also 26 campsites and the Star Point Observatory.
What to See: The Clayton Dinosaur Trackway is a trail that leads to over 500 fossilized footprints made by at least eight different dinosaurs. Millions of years ago, New Mexico was underneath the sea. This was when the embedding of the dinosaur footprints happened.
4. Dinosaur State Park
Address: 400 West Street, Rocky Hill, CT 06067
About: Dinosaur State Park opened in 1968, two years after the discovery of the dinosaur tracks. Exhibits inside showcase the prehistoric period of the dinosaurs, while trails outside give visitors a chance to walk the same grounds as these giant creatures. The park is open year-round from Tuesday to Sunday.
What to See: Five hundred of the 2,000 tracks are in the Exhibit Center’s geodesic dome. You can’t see the remaining 1,500 tracks as they’re buried for preservation. Paleontologists believe Dilophosaurus is the dinosaur that made the tracks inside the Exhibit Center.
5. Dinosaur Ridge
Address: 16831 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465
About: Home of one of the world’s first Stegosaurus discoveries, Dinosaur Ridge has numerous trails and exhibits for visitors to learn about these prehistoric creatures. A gift shop is also onsite.
Offering all kinds of learning opportunities, from digging and mining to guided tours, Dinosaur Ridge continues to be a place where there are discoveries of new fossils and footprints.
What to See: In the Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center, visitors can view dinosaur tracks, fossils, and replicas. The Dinosaur Ridge Trail is a paved section of West Alameda Parkway where you can see more than 300 dinosaur tracks. It’s just over a 2-mile round-trip.
6. Picket Wire Canyonlands
Address: (Forest Supervisor Office) 2840 Kachina Drive, Pueblo, CO 81008
About: Over 150 million years ago, the Purgatoire River Valley was part of an enormous shallow lake. Dinosaurs roamed the area and left their footprints at Picket Wire Canyonlands, the largest dinosaur tracksuit in the country.
Guests can make the long hike in to view these footprints or can book an audio tour. If you’d rather drive, the audio tour is the only way to access the canyonlands, and high clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are required.
What to See: In the canyons of the Comanche National Grasslands are over 1,900 prints in 130 separate trackways. They extend across a quarter mile of bedrock along the banks of the Purgatoire River. Starting at the Withers Canyon Trailhead, the entire trail is 11.2 miles round-trip.
7. Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite
Address: 44° 27′ 44.7605″ N 107° 48′ 56.3026″ W
About: The Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite is the largest one in Wyoming. First discovered in 1997, there was renovation with a new boardwalk, interpretive signs, picnic tables, benches, trails, an upgraded access road, and graveled parking for up to 15 cars and three buses in 2002.
What to See: Hundreds of tracks are at this site, with many more yet to be discovered. You’ll need a four-wheel drive vehicle during wet conditions to make the drive down the access road, but the boardwalk is easily accessible for all visitors once you arrive.
8. Skyline Drive Colorado
Address: Skyline Drive, CO 81212
About: Skyline Drive is a 2.5-mile paved drive northwest of Cañon City. Not for the faint of heart, it travels along a narrow razorback ridge with hairpin turns and drops of several hundred feet. But the pullouts offer amazing views overlooking Cañon City, Florence, Fremont Peak, and the surrounding landscape.
What to See: In one location on Skyline Drive, visitors can see the 1999 discovery of a dinosaur tracksite from the early Cretaceous Period, approximately 107 million years ago.
Just north of Cañon City and Skyline Drive on Red Canyon Road is a 3,600-acre area called Garden Park Fossil Area. It has been producing significant dinosaur fossils for nearly 125 years and provided many of the Jurassic dinosaurs on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History.
9. Bull Canyon Overlook Interpretive Site
Address: 38.615951, -109.223488
About: About an hour outside Moab is the Bull Canyon and Fisher Mesa. Just before FR207 turns into a dirt road, there’s a parking lot on the left. This area is part of the Manti-La Sal National Forest.
What to See: The interpretive site is a dinosaur tracksite and a scenic overlook with beautiful views of the canyon. There is a short gravel trail to the dinosaur tracks from the parking lot. Dating back to the Jurassic period, about 200 million years ago, it’s believed the area was then a shallow sea.
10. Igloo Creek in Denali National Park
Address: Parks Hwy, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK
About: The first evidence of dinosaurs found in Denali and Interior Alaska was in 2005. It’s a cast, a bump on the rock, not an indentation. Since this discovery, there have been findings of hundreds of sites with thousands of trace fossils, and there are new fossils found every year.
What to See: Visitors can see some of Denali’s fossils on display at the Murie Science and Learning Center. Although there are many sites under study in Denali, visitors can access the tracks along the main park road. Other locations are limited in reach.
Is It Worth Visiting Dinosaur Fossil and Footprint Sites?
If you come across a sign along your route directing you towards a dinosaur tracksite, it’s worth it to take a small detour and add an hour or so to your day. However, since many of these sites only take a few minutes or up to an hour to peruse, it’s not usually worth making a special trip.
The exception is Dinosaur Ridge and Dinosaur State Park. You might be able to spend half a day exploring all areas of the facilities. Most stops will just be walking down a trail to view the fossils.
If you have a child who loves dinosaurs, is there a better way to connect them to these ancient creatures than by taking him to the places where they actually walked? They can put their hand inside the fossil to capture just how large these beings were.
But even if you’re not a dinosaur enthusiast, stopping at one of these sites will blow your mind. You’ll consider how much our world has changed and just what life might have been like millions of years ago.
Have you ever visited a dinosaur tracksite before?
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