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The 6 Best U.S. National Parks for Dinosaur Fans

Whether you’re a child or just young at heart, there’s something incredible about dinosaurs. These prehistoric beasts with razor-sharp teeth and larger than a house size, capture the imagination of almost every kid and are still a major source of cash at the box office. However, you can also enjoy dinos while spending time outdoors at these best U.S. national parks for dinosaur fans.

Here’s a look at parks with fossils and plenty of prehistoric history.

Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument
The Quarry Exhibit Hall. (Source: NPS)

No dinosaur list would be complete without mentioning Dinosaur National Monument. The park sits on the northern border of Utah and Colorado. Visitors to this National Park Service site can also see more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils on a cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall. The room lets visitors get close to fossils of dino favorites like a stegosaurus. Plus, you’re even allowed to touch some of the fossils.

Outside the exhibit, visitors to this national monument can also check out more recent history (at least compared to dinosaurs) with well-preserved petroglyphs. The site also offers hiking, river rafting and camping.

Big Bend National Park

big bend national park
Fossil Discovery Exhibit in Big Bend. (Source: NPS)

Over 90 dinosaur species have been found in Big Bend National Park. The desert park in far west Texas even recently opened an exhibit based on the fossils found there. However, the fossils go back even before the dinosaurs, when that chunk of Texas was underwater. Later, the dinosaurs would call the area home long before today’s arid climate. The Fossil Discovery Exhibit is self-guided and open to the public daily from dawn to dusk.

While visiting Big Bend, you can hike in the desert or head into the Chisos Mountains for some greener trails. Visitors can also enjoy the Rio Grande river that carves through the landscape and separates the U.S. and Mexico. 

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National park
A replica of the dinosaurs that once roamed the area. (Source: NPS)

If there’s a park people associate with fossils, it’s Petrified Forest National Park. The area is full of petrified wood, and visitors will find petroglyphs and the remains of the Puerco Pueblo village. The park is packed with history. However, dinosaurs only make up a small portion of that history.

Even the park’s website acknowledges this, saying, “Most visitors to the park are surprised to hear that dinosaur fossils are rare finds in the park. This rarity is most likely due to aspects of fossil preservation and not due to a scarcity of dinosaurs in the Triassic.”

The dinosaur remains in the park are not the massive reptiles you imagine but much smaller and almost bird-like. 

Visitors to Petrified Forest can head to the Museum Demonstration Lab, where real paleontologists are working to uncover fossils.

Besides fossils, the park in Arizona has plenty of hikes to check out. 

Badlands National Park

Badlands National Park
The Big Pig Dig. (Source: NPS)

There are few cooler ways to see fossils than to take a hike. This is precisely what you can do at Badlands National Park. The fossil exhibit trail is a boardwalk with displays of fossils found in the South Dakota park.

More than 19,000 fossils have been found in the park, many during a massive dig that took years to uncover. Researchers called it the “Big Pig Dig” and believe these ancient creatures gathered in the area during a drought near a watering hole. After they died, they were covered by the earth for millions of years until it was discovered again in 1997.

However, despite fossils of ancient reptiles, mammals and fish, you won’t find a lot of dinosaur bones here. Either way, this is a must-stop for anyone who’s a fan of ancient animals. 

When you’re done looking at fossils, you can see plenty of living wildlife like bison, bighorn sheep, and the prairie dogs that sprawl across the grasslands. 

Fossil Butte National Monument

Fossil Butte National Monument
Fish fossils on display. (Source: NPS)

Fossil Butte National Monument is a lot like Dinosaur National Monument but not as ancient, and it;s full of fossilized fish. This may seem strange as the National Park Service site sits in the southwest corner of landlocked Wyoming, but the fish fossils tell stories of a different time and landscape. 

The park’s fossil exhibits include primitive fish, turtles, cave fish, and more. 

The park also has miles of hiking trails and is just under a three-hour drive to Grand Teton and other outdoor destinations.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
A fossil on display. (Source: NPS)

Like Fossil Butte, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is full of fossils, but not necessarily dinosaurs. However, the area in Nebraska was a significant find for paleontologists as the fossils of Miocene-age mammals. Cattle ranchers made the discovery more than a century ago, and researchers got to work to find one of the most significant fossil finds from that era. The creatures that roamed have an almost Dr. Seuss look to them, with carnivores like the beardog and the dinohyus, a bison-sized pig.

The national monument also preserves more recent history with artifacts and information about the Lakota people.

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