Vernal “Dinosaurland” Utah
- Vernal, Utah truly is Dinosaurland with dinosaur murals, sculptures, tracks, and themed businesses throughout the small town. Since 1951, Vernal has been offering dinosaur hunting licenses authorized by Al O’Saurus, Deputy Lizard Warden. Each licensed hunter is eligible to kill: 1 adult male Tyrannosaurus Rex, 1 Diplodocus Giganticus weighing more than 5,000 pounds, 2 male stegosaurs, and 4 pterodactyli without young. Although Vernal is the only place in the world to legally hunt dinosaurs, no kills have been reported.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Dinosaur, Colorado, 33 miles from Vernal, Utah, is also a convenient location for dinosaur hunting, but we highly recommend Vernal instead. With 1 motel and only a couple restaurants in Dinosaur, CO it feels a bit desolate compared to Dinosaurland.
- Dig for fossils at the Morrison Dig exhibit, roam among 14 life size dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Garden, or learn about the many footprints and fossils discovered nearby at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. Learn through interactive exhibits, activities, educational films, paleontology research at the Fossil Lab, and more. The museum is open daily 9:00am – 5:00pm. Admission is $6 per adult.
- Vernal Brewing Company, across from the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum, offers flights of 4 to sample the 10 beers on draft and a menu of appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and burgers. Although this brewery isn’t dinosaur themed, grab some cans to go and check out their website for more information on the #drunkdinochallenge.
- Cobble Rock Park in downtown Vernal features an amphitheater, fountains, and dinosaurs!
Red Fleet State Park
- From Vernal, Dinosaur Trackway trailhead is about 1 mile past the entrance to Red Fleet State Park on the right. Although the trail is in Red Fleet State Park, the $10 per vehicle entrance fee isn’t required to access the trail.
- Follow the 3 mile round trip trail marked with black dinosaur footprints to see 200 year old dinosaur tracks exposed in the Nugget Sandstone near Red Fleet Reservoir. The 750 acre reservoir, referred to as Little Lake Powell, offers camping, boating, and fishing.
- After entering the protected area an informational map to the right assists visitors in finding the dinosaur footprints. More than 200 tracks and 9 trackways (a row of 3+ tracks made by the same animal) can be found in the sandstone along the reservoir.
Ashley National Forest – Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area
- Ashley National Forest is massive with 1,384,132 acres throughout Utah and Wyoming. The view from the Canyon Rim Overlook (pictured above) can be reached by a .75 mile trail from Red Canyon Lodge or a short walk behind Canyon Rim Campground.
- Red Canyon Overlook via Canyon Rim trail is 4.2 miles round trip. The trail begins at the Red Canyon Lodge and ends at the Red Canyon Visitors Center with stunning views of the 1,400 feet deep, 700 feet wide Red Canyon. If you’re short on time or don’t feel like hiking, drive to Red Canyon Visitors Center and the overlook is just a short walk from the parking lot.
- Follow the peaceful nature trail around West Greens Lake, fish, or relax on the floating dock and watch the wildlife.
- Across from Firefighters Memorial Campground, there is a small parking area at the Bear Canyon trailhead. The trail is 3 miles round trip. The dirt path to the viewpoint passes though a pasture next to a campground. It wasn’t the most scenic hike, but we enjoyed a picnic on the boulders while admiring the view.
Dinosaur National Monument – Fossil Bone Quarry
- Dinosaur National Monument is over 210,000 acres in Utah and Colorado. From the Quarry Visitor Center in Utah, it’s 60 miles to Harper’s Corner (CO), 80 miles to Deer Lodge Park (CO), and 135 miles to Gates of Lodore (CO).
Traveling Gingerbread Note: The landscape was unique around every bend on Cub Creek Road, but there weren’t many hiking trails to explore beyond that. The Utah segment seemed to focus more on camping. Visiting just after Labor Day the campgrounds and corresponding parking lots were closed preventing access to some areas, including the hike along Green River. Trail distances varied on National Park Service maps, trail signs, and online so our provided hiking mileage is estimated.
- The 1.5 mile one way Fossil Discovery Trail takes visitors from the Quarry Visitors Center to the Quarry Exhibit Hall.
- The petroglyphs and pictographs visible at Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs were carved using hammerstones by the Fremont people.
- Desert Voices Trail is 1.5 miles round trip with great views of Split Mountain and Split Canyon. The trail can be combined with the Sound of Silence Trial by a .25 mile connector for a longer hike.
- The petroglyphs at Cub Creek Road are reached by a .3 mile trail. During our visit in September 2021 a portion of the trail was closed due to falling rocks.
- For another out of this world experience check out Fantasy Canyon, a small canyon with a self guided .6 mile trail through eroded sandstone sculptures. Admission is free.
Traveling Gingerbread Note: Driving from Colorado National Monument we saw only a handful of cars on the deserted roads. The oil company service road, Deseret Power Plant Rd (on some maps Glen Bench Road), becomes graded dirt and gravel about 3 miles before the canyon. We had no issues driving extremely slow in our compact rental car but were the only car in the parking area surrounded by 4WD trucks and SUVs.
- Follow the Fantasy Canyon Trail Map as you wander through the sci-fi landscape to find the whimsical figures hidden in the sandstone formations. A diving seal, witch head, and coyote are the most common spotted by visitors.
- At the edge of the canyon are striped sand, silt, and clay mountains resembling the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Painted Hills Unit in Oregon and Badlands National Park in South Dakota.
For more places to check out in Utah check out:
Good luck dinosaur hunting!