Our Visit to Dinosaur Ridge, a Family-Friendly Attraction Near Denver Colorado

A colorful stegosaurus statue at Dinosaur Ridge

Have you ever wished you could see a real paleontology site? Have you ever wondered what fossil footprints look like when they are found by scientists? On a trip to Colorado a few weeks ago on Amtrak, I got to visit Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Colorado. Dinosaur Ridge is a museum, active paleontology site, and nature area all in one! We had a great time, and I wanted to share some information about the trip so you can incorporate it into your next trip in the west. The organization that manages Dinosaur Ridge is very active in the community, and also manages an active paleontology program. So, if you have the time and budget, please support them! 

Where is Dinosaur Ridge, and how long should I plan to be there?

Dinosaur Ridge in Morrison, Colorado, just outside of Denver, not far from Red Rocks Amphitheater and Green Mountain. It only takes a little less than 2 hours to complete the self guided tour and museum, assuming you do everything. Because it doesn’t take very long, it's perfect for families with younger children who still need nap times or have shorter attention spans. (However, it’s still fun for adults too.) It would pair nicely with any of the nearby hiking trails, if you want to make a day out of the trip. It's also close enough to both Denver and Golden that you could visit dinosaur ridge in the morning, and spend the rest of the day exploring one of the two cities. 

The view of red rocks amphitheater near the Dinosaur Ridge trail
You can see Red Rocks Amphitheater from Dinosaur Ridge. The view is really fantastic!

Getting Started at Dinosaur Ridge

Parking and Getting Oriented

When you get to dinosaur ridge, you will want to park near the picnic area and museum. It’s hard to miss, just look for the colorfully painted stegosaurus statues! You will also find the ticket booth in this area. The trail starts on the opposite side of the street from parking.

Parking at the museum is free. Hiking the trail on a self guided tour is also free, which means this can be a really great option for budget travelers. However, I would highly recommend visiting the museum -aka the Discovery Center- before you head out. Tickets for the museum are $4 per person, making it a really affordable way to support the program on a budget. Just be warned that the museum is very small. It does a great job of providing basic background on the location, and the attendant was very knowledgeable, but there is a reason the admission is so small. If you aren't interested in the museum consider at least going into the gift shop to get a postcard or magnet to support the organization. 

There is also a cute little sandbox that kids (or adults!) can dig in. The staff keeps it stocked full of small, hidden plaster casts of seashell fossils that you can take home. 

Models of Long neck dinosaur leg bones in the Discovery Center at Dinosaur Ridge
Some casts of dinosaur leg bones, which came from long neck dinosaurs in Colorado. 

The Trail at Dinosaur Ridge

The trail is on a paved road, which is blocked off from regular traffic. The trail “C” is shaped and it isn’t very long by hiker standards. The paved trail is about 2 miles long. The grade isn’t that bad, since it is a paved road. However, if you are out of shape, you will feel the hills! The only motorized vehicles that are allowed to pass through the gate are Dinosaur Ridge’s tour vans. (Make sure you look at the names on the buses, I thought they were cute and clever!) You can take a guided tour on a bus if you don’t feel like walking for $18.

Alternatively, if you want a walking tour, you can hike with a geologist for $20, or a volunteer guide for $18. That isn’t a bad price for a guided tour, but if you are staying with a local host with a library card (like we did), you might be able to get a discount. 

The trail will take you past a variety of fossil evidence preserved in the cliff side. Signs will point out and describe the phenomena, which you will also recognize from the Discovery Center. Fossils include footprints of several types of Dinos, Plant impressions, worm burrows, and even a few dinosaur bones on the far side of the ridge. There are even a few stairs and walkways built to help you get closer to the rock face and see the fossils. Along the way you can also find an option dirt trail that connects to the more challenging Matthews Winters Park park trail system. 

Three types of footprints on the rockface at Dinosaur Ridge.
Dinosaur footprints! This section shows three different kinds of dinosaur footprints. 

How should I prepare for my visit to Dinosaur Ridge? What should I bring to Dinosaur Ridge? 

You don’t need much to come here, But I would recommend bringing your own water bottle, sun protection and some good walking shoes. If you have kids in your party, a durable stroller might be a good idea too. If you are visiting from a lower elevation, be careful putting this on your first day in Denver. We felt very good on our first day at elevation, and so this hike wasn’t a problem. However, take breaks, drink water, and listen to your body. 

The paved road of Dinosaur Ridge bending through the cliffs
This is what the Dinosaur Ridge Paved trail area looks like; this was taken about halfway up the trail. 

Conclusion

Dinosaur ridge is a perfect easy addition to your Denver itinerary. It's great for kids, informative and not too intense of a hike. It's also easy to get to and close to other attractions on the west side of Denver. But best of all, it won’t eat up too much of your activity budget while traveling! Before I close out this post, I also wanted to say, PLEASE be respectful of the land and property. Don’t take any rocks or minerals from the property unless you bought them or ask permission. There have been issues in the past of theft, which left irreparable damage to the rockface. The scientists and volunteers have enough work just protecting the rock face from erosion. We should aim to help them as much as we can! 

I hope you get the chance to visit this charming and educational attraction in Morrison Colorado!

A fossil in the rockface of ripple marks from an ancient seabed at Dinosaur Ridge


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lazy Camping Food From Aldi, For When You Have No Energy or Money

Can You Travel Overnight in Amtrak Coach Seats? Our Experience on the California Zephyr

My No-Build Prius Camper “Conversion” for Camping with 2 People