Time Travel: A Journey Through America’s Dinosaur Past
Take a drive through prehistoric times along the Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway.
This fabulous loop gives visitors a chance to experience real Jurassic Parks: discover hands-on exploration at interactive museums; observe the assembly of giant bones; hike to sites of ancient native artwork on canyon walls; climb on life-sized models of dinosaurs; or just take in the gorgeous mountains, wild river gorges and painted scenery of Utah and Colorado.
The Dinosaur Diamond overlaps the border country of eastern Utah and western Colorado. The Byway includes two National Parks, two National Monuments, National Ancient Cultural and Historic Sites and a National Recreation Area. The scenic roadway meanders through a world-renowned landscape of brightly painted, deep rock canyons backed by snowy ranges of mountains.
Whether you travel the whole 512-mile Dinosaur Diamond National Scenic Byway or just a portion, this spectacular loop route offers a memorable journey through time.
There is plenty to see and do with fun by the shovel-full in this ancient geologic area that is unique in the world. Amble past eons of history on the four-cornered route, speckled with mountain communities, resorts, museums and side-trips.
All seasons of the year have attractions for travelers.
In summer, you can access deep slot canyons with ancient sites of native cultures and pictograms along whitewater rivers. In autumn, brilliant foliage appears against a panorama of red rock cliffs. Winter months offer wilderness skiing and snowshoeing. Spring explodes with wildflower meadows and abundant wildlife.
Drivers may access the Dinosaur Diamond Byway at any of the gateway corners, where highways intersect.
Gateway Cities and Main Attractions along the Dinosaur Highway
Well-traveled highways form a four-sided loop, where an abundance of recreation and vacation selections are conveniently grouped by the gateway regions below:
“The Canyonlands” depicts the gateway at Moab, Utah. At the south point of the Dinosaur Diamond, Moab bills itself as a thrill-seekers destination for its intensely red, rocky landscape up against high mountains, deep canyons and iconic stone arches that are famed throughout the world.
The undulating and stacked landscape of rocks form a mecca for adventurous off-roaders or mountain bikers who can catch air on natural ramps, tilts and slides. Several large and wild rivers make this locale a center for whitewater day trips or longer expeditions, such as floating down to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona on tributaries of the Colorado River.
Moab offers fine dining and hotel accommodations for non-camping visitors, and is a perfect base for extending your vacation to take in nearby National and State Parks:
- Arches National Park : World-famous for mountain biking, climbing, backpacking and canyoneering, the stone landscapes of this national treasure are also welcoming for less-strenuous, accessible walks and sightseeing from your vehicle.
- Utahraptor State Park: Amid an inspiring landscape, the giant-toothed raptor dinosaur fossils found here are among the oldest on the planet. Camping sites are available, but renovations are planned in the park, so check the website before unpacking your tent.
- Canyonlands National Park: This immense park rivals the Grand Canyon with seemingly endless rocky mountains, plunging canyons and stacked plateaus in shades of red, orange and gold. Mesas, towers and cliffs shelter the raging river waters–a whitewater rafter destination. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails lure backpackers into the wilderness.
Don’t miss a roadtrip to access incredible views at the intriguingly named “Island In The Sky,” “Needles” and “‘Dead Horse Point.” Canyonlands National Park offers visitor centers and camping.
- Mill Canyon Dinosaur Trail and Willow Springs Dinosaur Track: See for yourself how long a dinosaur’s stride was on well-described trails with curated information markers. These sites feature dinosaur tracks and bones with informative and educational resources ready to enjoy.
- Moab Museum - Geology, mining and human history are featured at this gem of a museum with interactive exhibits that showcase Moab’s rich history, importance to US national defense in the Atomic Age and mining past.
Monuments and Mesas describes the eastern corner of the Dinosaur Diamond Byway around Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado. At the western edge of Colorado, nestled against the Rockies, these two towns have a huge concentration of dinosaur fossils, recreation and attractions for family fun. Hotels and restaurants choices abound in the two cities, camping is available in the parks and at local resorts.
- Colorado National Monument - This park offers an extensive plateau with canyon vistas and impressive monoliths. It is home to abundant wildlife including endangered bighorn sheep, soaring bald eagles and herds of antelope. Rim Rock Drive which winds along plunging canyons is a road not to be missed.
- Cross Orchard Living History Museum - Step back in time and experience life on an old-west ranch complete with bunk house, railroad cars, huge barn and packing house. This preserve is included in the Museum of Western Colorado.
- McInnis Canyon National Recreation Area - An impressive collection of natural wonders may be found in this 123,000-plus acres park. Explore red stone arches, deep canyons threaded by creeks and dripping falls, containing dinosaur fossils and wonderful camping and hiking along a beautiful stretch of the Colorado River. Explore deep, slot canyons carved by rushing water over eons and venture diverse hiking trails. Abundant wildlife roam in an area where people are the rare visitors.
- Museum of Western Colorado Dinosaur Journey - Offering titles like “Heart of Dinosaur Country” and “Be a Paleontologist For A Day”, the museum offers one-day or longer monthly events and adventures. See the website of the museum to reserve your spot on this rare opportunity to dig into a unique and unforgettable expedition for your family.
- Mygatt - Moore Dinosaur Quarry / Rabbit Valley Research Natural Area - This site of the huge Museum of Western Colorado features thousands of dinosaur bones at the quarry. Ongoing digs and overviews allows visitors to observe the behavior of paleontologists and archeologists in their natural habitat as they unearth new finds.
- Dinosaur Hill Interpretive Trail - This one-mile trail is described as “mildly strenuous” and was designed to accommodate hikers with visual impairments by use of tactile signs and a guide system.Visitors can view scenic overlooks of the deep Grand Valley and Colorado River and stroll past well-marked dinosaur fossils. The day-use only site is maintained by the Museum of Western Colorado. It offered a rich source of specimens for The Field Museum in Chicago and other early dinosaur exhibits. A downloadable brochure is available on the museum’s website.
“Dinosaur Land” is located at the northern point of the Diamond, centered on Dinosaur National Monument and overlapping the border country of Utah and Colorado, where many parks, monuments and preserved areas feature some of the most dense concentrations of dinosaur fossils on the earth.
Dinosaur and Rangely, Colorado
- Canyon Pintado National Historic Area - The “painted canyon” refers not only to the striped and stacked pinnacles and cliffs, but to the abundant native art sites. The highway passes through the 15-mile stretch of canyon, with many turnouts and short hiking trails to view the ancient art. This canyon was designated a beauty spot by visiting Europeans since 1776, when Franciscan Fathers noticed the many paintings along their route. Campgrounds are available in the surrounding National Forest. See the USFS or BLM websites.
- Dinosaur National Monument, Canyon Area - The Colorado entrance to this park offers a scenic overview of the canyon country. The Canyon Area Visitors Center has fascinating exhibits that provide information on the park’s abundant trails. Camping is available in the park.
- Dinosaur National Monument - The Utah side of this park is overflowing with dinosaur remains. This park is famous for canyon beauty as well as abundant fossils. The monument is so large, there are two entrance portals for the 210,000 acres of canyons, rushing rivers, and stacks of dinosaur remains. Check out the website for events that your family can participate in, camping, hiking trails and current conditions.
- Utah Field House of Natural History - Amble through life-sized models in the Dinosaur Garden. The interactive displays feature dinosaur fossils and Native American artifacts. Excellent displays and exhibits with interactive stations make learning fun for the whole family.
- Flaming Gorge - Uinta Canyon Scenic Byway - The park and reservoir preserves a surprising amount of solitude most of the year. The winding, slim road is famous in autumn for the bright colors of the trees against the colored canyon walls.
- Jensen Quarry, Dinosaur National Monument - The visitors center for the park is located here, while an enlarged location at the larger monument is being built. Gaze at full-size models of dinosaurs and discover goings-on within the park.
- Red Fleet Dinosaur Trackway - This three-mile hike off Highway 191 shows abundant evidence that dinosaurs once roamed here in great numbers. This Utah State Park has camping and a lovely reservoir for swimming and water sports. The park is expecting extensive renovations; consult the website before traveling.
Utah’s Castle Country is the far western corner of the Diamond, where rivers flow through tall pinnacles and mesas, backed by towering, snow-capped mountains; expect spellbinding views.
Helper and Price, Utah
- Jurassic National Monument - The visitors’ center and museum on the site are truly a “must-visit” on your bucket list if you are a dinosaur enthusiast. Two famous quarries have dense concentrations of fossilized bones of carnivores and vegetarian dinosaurs.
- Utah State University Prehistory Museum - Exhibits displayed here were discovered within a few hundred feet of the museum. The Ancient Cultures exhibit describes early human life in the area and explains nearby artwork, and pictographs. Kids can get hands-on experience with digging and discovery.
- Western Mining and Railroad Museum - Find out what life was like for rugged western pioneers and miners. Learn about a “uranium boom” the area’s mining industry experienced in the 1940’s through 1960’s, when the atomic age arms race brought prosperity.
- Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry - This area is part of Jurassic National Monument, and is the most dense concentration of dinosaur bones ever found. Why dinosaurs grouped together here when they died remains a mystery.
Green River, Utah
- John Wesley Powell River Museum - Learn about the first explorer of the Grand Canyon, a Civil War veteran officer who set out with a few men in boats down the Green River to the Colorado, and barely lived to tell the tale.
- Green River whitewater access - Go all the way to the Grand Canyon, exploring the Colorado River where it blends with the Green downstream and on to Arizona, the access point for Canyonlands National Park whitewater rafting adventures.
For more information go to the National Park Service website. It contains information about the several national monuments, parks, recreational areas, native pictograph preserves and dinosaur explorations to dig deeper and widen your horizons.