DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
GREEN RIVER CAMPGROUND
Dinosaur National Monument can be a bit out of the way and tough to get to but, wow, if you are willing to make the effort to go, you will be rewarded. Originally declared a National Monument in 1915, dinosaur fossil beds were discovered in 1909 and since that time, it has become one of the highest densities of well-preserved dinosaur fossils on earth.
- Dinosaur National Monument is big, with most of it being in Colorado. If you are looking to see the famous Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall, you will need to head to the small section of the monument that is just outside Jensen, UT.
- It was HOT. We were there in August and the daytime temps were in the upper 90s. If you are going to hike or explore, plan for the heat – bring water.
- The Tilted Rocks Auto Tour is very interesting auto-tour with opportunities to stop and explore along the way. We suggest picking up the guide book for a couple of bucks – it has lots of information.
- If camping at either Green River Campground or Split Mountain Group Campground, you have access to the Green River, which was a nice respite from the heat.
- If we could plan our trip again, we would have added at least an extra day. We would have like to do and see more.
Dinosaur National Monument really does feel like it is “in the middle of nowhere”. We left Rocky Mountain National Park at around 9:00 AM, made our way back into Fort Collins in order to pick up a new camp chair for Ricky from REI (his broke), refueled, and then started on our way. It’s a long but interesting drive. Once you get past the Steamboat Springs Area, traffic really thins out. There were areas along US 40 where we did not see another car for an hour – it really adds to the feeling of being “nowhere”.
Most of the Dinosaur National Monument is located in the NW corner of Colorado. However, if you want to see the dinosaur fossils in the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall, you will need to travel to the small section of the park located in Utah.
Planning a Layover Stop
When we were planning our road trip, we knew we wanted to get to both Rocky Mountain National Park and Grand Teton National Park. Travel time between the two parks is about 8 hours, so we decided to see if we could find a “layover” spot to camp at. This allows us to break up the long drive and stay at another park or campground and see or experience something new. If it looks interesting or is compelling enough, I try to give us two nights at the layover location, which gives us a full day to explore. That is exactly what we did with Dinosaur National Monument.
So, instead of an 8-hour drive to Grand Teton National Park, we had a 6-hour drive to DNM. After our full day at DNM, we would get up early and head out on another 5-hour drive to Jackson, WY, and Grand Teton National Park.
Other parks or destinations we have used as “layovers” are Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Badlands National Park, Colorado National Monument, Bighorn National Forest, and several others.
An Underrated Destination
Based on the research we had done, we knew that Dinosaur National Monument looked very interesting, especially considering the quarry exhibit. What we didn’t expect is how much it would exceed our expectations. Granted, we only spent two nights in the monument, but we could easily have spent two more, and we were only in a tiny section of the park – there’s so much more to see in the park.
We had read how some people feel that Dinosaur National Monument should really be a National Park – not a Monument – and we can see why. We felt it definitely had as many interesting elements or as much merit as other national parks we’ve been to. For example, it doesn’t have the same cultural significance as Mesa Verde National Park or the historical significance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park but it certainly had scientific, geological, and anthropological significance at the same or greater level.
- Auto Tours – we did the Tilted Rocks Auto Tour, which is a 10-mile “tour” that leads to the Josie Morris Cabin. We found this activity to be very interesting with lots of great stops along the way. We purchased the auto tour guide that is available for a nominal fee near the Visitor Center, which provided additional information about each stop along the tour – we really enjoyed it.
- The International Dark-Sky Association classifies Dinosaur National Monument as an “International Dark Sky Park”, meaning you can expect to have excellent astronomical viewing conditions.
Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall & Visitor Center
Upon entering the park via the Fossil Bone Quarry entrance, the first building you encounter is the Visitor Center. It’s a modest but modern building that has a very interesting video presentation and a small museum about the park.
The real gem is the nearby Dinosaur Quarry Hall that is built into the side of a large hill adjacent to the Visitor Center and accessed via a 5-minute ride on a shuttle that originates at the Visitor Center.
The Dinosaur Quarry Hall Exhibit is truly a very unique and interesting experience. The fossil beds were originally discovered in 1909 and since then, DNM has uncovered over 800 paleontological sites and has one of the highest densities of well-preserved dinosaur fossils on the planet.
Green River Campground Info
There are 5 campgrounds distributed throughout the monument/park. We chose Green River Campground due to its location relative to the Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall and Visitors Center and the fact that it is next to its namesake, the Green River.
We found our campsite to be fantastic. Its location on an outer loop next to the Green River provided our family with a great respite from the heat (97 degrees). There was a short walking path that led from the campsite to the river. Although there is a sandy area on the banks that could be considered a beach, we spent most of our time sitting in the water. There’s no doubt that, without the river, our stay would not have been as enjoyable.
Fortunately, due to the relatively small size of the campground, even the campsites located furthest from the river are quite close and the water is easily accessible.