The Best Western Denver Southwest in Lakewood consulted with paleontology experts to ensure that their "Dino Hotel" featured museum-quality dinosaur displays. Photo courtesy Michael Mundt.
by Heather Mundt
It’s no secret that Colorado offers plenty of adventure for dinosaur-loving families. In fact, says Joe Sertich, curator of dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, the state is the gateway to “all things dinosaur” in the U.S.
“Denver is situated at the base of the Rockies, where ‘dino country’ really starts,” he says. The city boasts many discoveries, including the first Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex fossils.
Summer is the perfect time to appreciate Colorado’s prehistoric prizes, so let’s get started!
1. Denver Museum of Nature and Science
Undoubtedly a local favorite, the museum’s Prehistoric Journey exhibit starts 3.5 billion years ago, from life in the ancient seas to the rise of dinosaurs and mammals. But what’s especially noteworthy is what happens behind the scenes, Sertich says, with more than 350 volunteers comprising one of the largest active paleontology programs in the country. dmns.org
2. Dinosaur Ridge, Morrison
This is the site at which Golden schoolteacher Arthur Lakes discovered the first Stegosaurus fossils in 1877. Visitors can head to the hillside on a 3-mile, self-guided tour, or take a 45-minute guided tour to view 330 dinosaur tracks—made mostly by plant-eating Iguanodon—and see several geological points of interest. dinoridge.org
3. Morrison Natural History Museum
Known as the small museum with big discoveries, guests can take a one-hour guided tour or explore independently. View baby Stegosaurus tracks and touch fossils throughout the museum’s hands-on exhibits. Kids will especially enjoy the chance to chip away rock on a real fossil specimen, just like a professional paleontologist. mnhm.org
4. Best Western Denver Southwest, Lakewood
Also known as “The Dino Hotel,” owners Greg and Meredith Tally wanted to differentiate their business without becoming a tacky roadside attraction. After consulting with local paleontology experts, the couple debuted a $5 million renovation featuring museum-quality fossil casts, including Brachiosaurus femurs. The on-site Paleo Joe’s Bar and Grill includes a full-size Tylosaur on the ceiling. bestwesterndenver.com
5. Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Woodland Park
Offering more than 40 full-size skeletons and restorations, visitors to this museum about 15 miles west of Manitou Springs will learn about prehistoric marine reptiles, Pterosaurs (flying reptiles) and fish of North America’s late Cretaceous period (also called the end of the age of dinosaurs). There’s also the chance to see the museum’s working Paleo lab, including fossil preparation, restoration, molding, casting and mounting. rmdrc.com
6. Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Florissant
Massive volcanic eruptions in this area—about 25 miles northwest of Colorado Springs—preserved plenty of prehistoric offerings, including 14-foot-wide petrified redwood stumps, and intricate plant and insect fossils. Fourteen miles of secluded hiking trails include glimpses of Pikes Peak. nps.gov/flfo/index.htm
7. Dinosaur National Monument
The only National Park Service site preserving fossil bones left in place—called “in-situ”—tourists can see some 1,500 dinosaur bones exposed on a cliff wall inside the Quarry Visitor Center. Located in the northwest part of the state near the Colorado-Utah border, the monument also contains 1,000-year-old petroglyphs and pictographs left by the Fremont people. nps.gov/dino/index.htm
8. Dinosaur Journey Museum (Museum of Western Colorado), Fruita
This hands-on museum, located about 20 miles northwest of Grand Junction, depicts prehistoric life in Western Colorado through fossils and robotic dinosaurs, including one of the largest Triceratops skulls ever found. Interactive exhibits feature a collections room where scientists study dinosaurs and other animals, a simulated earthquake ride and a “quarry site” where visitors can uncover actual dinosaur bones. museumofwesternco.com/dinosaur-journey
9. Garden Park Fossil Area, Cañon City
An active research area about six miles north of Cañon City, this site has been a significant fossil-discovery site for more than 130 years, boasting the first complete Allosaurus skeleton and some of the most complete Stegosaurus skeletons. In addition to fossil viewing, activities include scenic drives, hiking, picnicking, interpretation and rare-plant viewing. handsontheland.org/garden-park
10. Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience, Cañon City
The state’s newest dinosaur destination, opening June 2016, this experience features a 16,200-square-foot museum with life-size, moving dinosaurs, as well as an animated dinosaur garden and a ropes course. dinoxp.com
Heather Mundt is a Longmont-based freelance writer and mother of two boys.
Picketwire Canyonlands near La Junta in southeast Colorado, offers the nation’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints. exploresoutheastcolorado.com/picketwire.htm
The Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is a route through Utah and Colorado highlighting several paleontological sites. codot.gov/travel/scenic-byways/northwest/dinosaur-diamond
The Triceratops Trail in Golden is a 1.5-mile gravel trail maintained by The Friends of Dinosaur Ridge. Winding amid large walls of sandstone, its Triceratops tracks are unique, 3-D versions—called negative tracks or outies—formed when the animal’s tracks were filled with sand, creating a natural cast. dinoridge.org/tritrail.html (Due to construction, access to this trail is expected to be obstructed through 2017. Check website for updates.)