What could be more exciting than traveling in the footsteps of some of the earliest life on the planet? You’ll have a dino-mite time on this three-day itinerary taking you from Denver, Colorado to Boise, Idaho. Experience a truly unique glimpse into our planet’s fascinating past and get close up with the dinosaurs. From world-renowned fossil records to sprawling scenic spots and outdoor adventure, this four-state, three-day trek is perfect for the dinosaur lover in all of us.
DAY 1 – DINOSAUR NATIONAL MONUMENT
Your journey begins in Denver. Be sure to get an early start as the first stop, Dinosaur National Monument is almost five hours away. After grabbing a to-go coffee (plus a house-baked donut or muffin!) at Rivers and Roads Coffee, it’s time to hit the road to explore the very land that dinosaurs once called home.
Because the first leg of the journey is so long, it may be a good idea to make at least one stop on the way for an early lunch and rest break. A perfect place to grab a bite is Sagebrush BBQ & Grill in Grand Lake, Colorado. Grab a sandwich and get back on the road, or have a seat and enjoy the cool western vibes—either way, there’s something for everyone on this expansive menu.
Dinosaur National Monument
Situated across both the Utah and Colorado state lines, the over 210,000-acre Dinosaur National Monument gives visitors the chance to walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs. Incredibly rugged and terrifically scenic, Dinosaur National Monument’s sprawling landscape is set against a diverse backdrop of mountains, deep canyons, and rivers.
The main concentration of fossils in Dinosaur National Monument was once part of a sandbar near the river. After these ancient animal carcasses were carried downstream, they became embedded in the rock where they can still be seen today. This area is now dubbed “The Quarry,” and a building has since been constructed over the site where paleontology lovers can bask in the vast array of fossils. Many fossils are embedded in the cliff face in the Quarry Exhibit Hall. Home to over 1,500 dinosaur bones including Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Diplodocus, and more, the exhibit hall is also a great way to learn about the Jurassic area through its interactive exhibits and 80-foot long interpretive mural. There are also rangers onsite to answer any questions you have along the way.
Harpers Corner Drive
The Quarry is just a small part of what makes Dinosaur National Monument so special. Dotted with canyons cut by both the Green and Yampa Rivers, the area is a backcountry paradise with both hikes and scenic overlooks where visitors can truly appreciate the stunning natural beauty of this historic gem. Harpers Corner Drive is an incredibly scenic 32-mile drive through Dinosaur Monument’s canyon country. In addition to a number of scenic overlooks along the way, there is also access to a number of picnic areas and hiking trails. Dinosaur Monument is not just a hotbed of paleontological interest, it’s also home to a number of petroglyphs: evidence of the Fremont people that lived in the area about a 1,000-years ago.
Visitors can opt to continue on to Echo Park—here, there are a number of short, unmarked scenic trail routes, picnic spots, and opportunities for river rafting and boating. Some of the park’s best water sports can be found in both the Rainbow Park and Island Park areas. Also home to historic ranches that offer a glimpse into the region’s western past, this area is a great spot for adventurers to access one-day raft trips along the Green River.
Where to Eat & Stay Near Dinosaur National Monument
There are six campgrounds in Dinosaur National Monument where visitors can sleep under the stars; however, those looking for something a little less rustic will have to venture out to one of the surrounding towns. The quaint town of Dinosaur, Colorado (yes they really named it that!) has a few restaurants, including local favorite the Highway Bar & Grill, and two gas stations. Vernal, Utah is a 20-minute drive and home to several quaint hotels and bed and breakfasts.
DAY 2 – FOSSIL BUTTE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Day two begins with an early start on the road to Fossil Butte National Monument in Wyoming, home to one of the world’s largest deposits of freshwater fish fossils and another paleontological paradise. Take a pit stop for lunch at The Hitching Post in Rock Springs, Wyoming before arriving at your next destination.
Fossil Butte National Monument
A foray into fossilized fun awaits visitors who make the trek to scenic southwestern Wyoming’s cold sagebrush desert where the Fossil Butte National Monument makes its home. A world-renowned fossil record that’s nearly unparalleled in its variety and scope, the Eocene Green River Formation contains identified fossil records of fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, arthropods, plants, and birds—all of which were made possible by the area’s Fossil Lake sediments that continue to yield preserved fossils to this day. Telling a fascinating tale of ancient life through exhibits, displays, and an impressive timeline of Earth’s history, the Visitor Center Exhibits at Fossil Butte offers visitors a unique glimpse into paleontological history with its well-preserved fossil collection.
Though there is a scenic drive in Fossil Butte, it is closed throughout the winter and most of the spring due to weather conditions. Year-round, the monument offers four miles of maintained trails and a number of unmaintained paths where visitors can explore the scenic area by foot. The Nature Trail Loop is a popular 1.5-mile easy to moderate trail with many scenic spots and the opportunity to learn about the area’s flora and fauna. At the top, there is a scenic overlook where hikers can view the landscape over Fossil Butte.
The Historic Quarry Loop Trail is also available for those looking for a more strenuous hike. Known for its abundance of distinctive geological features, this 2.5-mile trail is also home to a historic fossil quarry.
Note: The Nature Trail Loop is open in winter, however, the trail must be accessed via snowshoeing.
Where To Eat & Stay In McCammon
There is no camping at Fossil Butte, so visitors will have to find accommodations in the surrounding area or on the road to Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Because the drive from Fossil Butte to Hagerman is approximately five hours away, it’s recommended that travelers find lodging on the road to Hagerman and get an early start the next day. McCammon, Idaho is about a 2-hour drive from Fossil Butte—the perfect place to spend the night.
In the heart of Marsh Valley, you’ll find luxury accommodations at The Harkness Hotel. Originally a bank, the hotel has been transformed by couple Aaron and Arianne Hunsaker into a beautiful retreat in the quaint town of McCammon. After a couples massage at the Harkness spa, take a 15-minute car ride to the neighboring town of Lava Springs for delectable dining experiences at one of the many upscale restaurants, including Greystone Manor. Or take the family to The Royal Hotel and Pizzeria to devour some hand-tossed pizza pies.
DAY 3 – HAGERMAN FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT
The final dynamic dinosaur destination on this three-day itinerary through Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho is Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument in Idaho, a Pliocene paradise showcasing one of the world’s richest sites for Pliocene-aged fossils. A real step back in time, the fossils at Hagerman represent over 140 species of plants and animals within an undisturbed record; some of which were ancestors of animals that are still found in the Hagerman Valley today. From saber-toothed tigers to mastodons, the monument is also known as the world’s largest assemblage of Equus simplicidens, also known as the Hagerman horse. This ancient species of North American zebra was discovered here in 1928 and has since become the state fossil of Idaho.
A unique glimpse into a time before the Ice Age, Hagerman offers its visitors a chance to explore fossils from over 200 species of plants—some of which were among the earliest examples of modern flora and fauna.
When you’re finished exploring Hagerman, take a scenic drive and enjoy the views from the Snake River and Oregon Trail Overlooks. Hike the Emigrant Trail or take a drive to the nearby Thousand Springs State Park, home to hiking, picnic spots, and plenty of opportunities for recreation and wildlife viewing.
Note: The only place to view fossils at Hagerman is at the Visitor Center which opens in Spring 2022.
Where to Eat & Stay in Boise
The drive to Boise from Hagerman is less than two hours away. This gives travelers the chance to make the trek to the city on day three and spend the night in one of Boise’s many available accommodations.
Called the City of Trees, there are a number of beautiful upscale hotels and accommodations in the busy city of Boise. The Grove Hotel offers a quiet night away with views of the rolling green foothills. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, why not try the 36th Street Urban Yurt, which comfortably sleeps a family of 5 in a garden oasis.
Satisfy your hunger and take a tour of the world during your stay in Boise. The family-owned Ansots Basque Chorizos has been on the scene for over a century. Álavita is a favorite local Italian joint. Owner and chef Elana of Alyonka Russian Cuisine has created a mouthwatering menu. And we can’t recommend Petite 4 enough for a taste of France.
A road trip through dinosaur country is the perfect way for travelers to explore the vast array of paleontological treasures located throughout this scenic four-state area. From dinosaur fans to fossil fanatics; road trip junkies to outdoor enthusiasts, there’s something for everyone on this fossil-packed historical itinerary that gives visitors the chance to learn about prehistoric life—when creatures both great and small roamed the earth in a time before the Ice Age.