Dinosaur National Monument is one of the lesser-visited areas in Colorado because of its remote nature, and most peoples’ common misconception is that there is nothing to do or see in the surrounding area. They’re really missing out!
There was so much to do around this area of Colorado and Utah called “Dinosaurland” that I ended up spending an entire week exploring!
You can read about my entire week-long road trip here and see more in my YouTube video below:
After I spent four days and three nights inside the monument on The Green River with Dinosaur River Expeditions, I finally went back into Dinosaur National Monument to see the bones, petroglyphs, and all the viewpoints I had seen from the river.
Over half of the monument is only accessible by raft, and only a few people are permitted each day. See more from this adventure-filled expedition in my blog posts and videos here!
Here is how I spent one jam-packed day hitting the highlights of Dinosaur National Monument on a self-guided auto tour:
Note that it costs $25 to enter the park, or you can purchase an annual National Park pass for $80. I recommend the annual pass so you can spend multiple days in the park. Three visits, and it pays for itself. Throw in some other national parks and protected areas, and you’re covered!
The Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall
From Vernal, Utah, the first place I went in Dinosaur National Monument was the famous “Wall of Bones” at the Quarry Exhibit Hall. I arrived at the visitors’ center and walked around for a good bit learning about the geologic makeup of the park and the bone quarry.
A shuttle leaves from the visitors’ center to the quarry every 15 minutes. There is also a hike that leads to it, but I opted for the free ride.
The dinosaur bones were discovered here in 1908. After 20 years of excavating, the exhibit hall was built, and no bones have been removed in decades. The wall of bones is bigger than I imagined. It is massive! It’s over 800 feet long with hundreds of bones inside including 20 complete skeletons.
It is remarkable to behold. I probably spent over an hour - maybe closer to two - reading every detail and observing the wall as much as I could.
See more from “The Wall of Bones” in my video below:
When I left the quarry exhibit hall, I grabbed a pamphlet for a self-guided auto tour up Cub Creek Road (the main road in this portion of the monument).
Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs
The first stop on the auto tour was called The Swelter Shelter. This stop was a quick walk to a wall full of petroglyphs which are ancient rock carvings.
The next few viewpoints were of Split Mountain, the wild, tilted rocks along the edge of the skyline. Split Mountain is called so because The Green River splits it and divides the mountain in two.
It’s a geologically fascinating formation to learn about. You can read more on the NPS website here!
Turtle Rock & Elephant Toes Butte
The next stop was Turtle Rock, a precious rock formation named for its shape. Right up the road from it was Elephant Toes Butte, another cute rock formation easily seen from the side of the road.
The Lizard Petroglyphs can also be seen from the road with a pair of binoculars or a zoom lens, but I suggest walking up the steep path to the top. There are so many more petroglyphs than just the lizards! Plus, the views of Split Mountain around the corner are stunning. It’s steep and strenuous but well worth the walk.
Josie Morris Ranch
The last stop on the Utah side of the auto tour was Josie Morris’s Ranch. She built the cabin in the early 1920’s and lived there until her death in the 60’s. She was an incredible pioneer woman who outlived five of her husbands. She might have been a cattle thief with the outlaw Butch Cassidy, but she was never charged.
See more from the cabin she built around minute 6:25 of my “One Day in Dinosaur National Monument” video below:
Entering into Colorado:
For touring the Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument, I downloaded The National Park Service’s App and followed a guided audio tour through my car’s stereo system.
You can download The NPS App here!
Canyon Visitors Center
My first stop on the Colorado side was the other visitors’ center. It was nowhere near as impressive as The Quarry Exhibit and “The Wall of Bones”. It was still very informative and provided great information about the park.
This side of the park is essentially just scenic overlooks that have some long trails. I pretty much just pulled over for a few minutes at each to learn about the geology, see the views, and snap a few pictures.
I drove north stopping at Escalante, Canyon, Island Park, and Echo Park overlooks.
I saved the best for last with Harpers Corner. It is the pinnacle point on the auto tour of the aptly named “Harpers Corner Road”, and it leads to some of the most beautiful viewpoints in the preserve.
From Harpers Corner, you can look back into time and see millions of years of formations twisting and swirling before your eyes. I say in my video that it is more beautiful than the Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks, and I stand by that. The scenery is truly unlike anything else I have ever seen.
I was so lucky to have been up there alone, because I got emotional. To look at something so truly unique and fascinating was absolutely surreal. I had to pull myself away from the view as the sun started to set and ended my week-long road trip at the top of Harpers Corner Trail.
I could never recommend strongly enough for people to take the time, go out of their way, and step back in time at Dinosaur National Monument. You’ll view, what is in my opinion, our country’s greatest scenery.
Talkin' 'bout Tacos:
I'm Taylor, aka Tacos! I am sharing my journeys and experiences from across the world hoping to inspire travel and adventure in all who read!