Visit Dinosaur Ridge in Colorado!
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More kinds of dinosaur fossils have been found in North America than anywhere else in the world and Colorado is abundant in dino finds. It is part of what is known as the ‘Dinosaur Freeway’. Just 20 minutes West of downtown Denver, right off the interstate, is the top dinosaur track (footprints) site in the United States. Dinosaur Ridge has over 300 tracks and even some mineralized dinosaur fossils embedded in the rock. There are more than 120 dinosaur track sites between Utah & Kansas, but this 1.5 mile stretch of Dinosaur Ridge is ranked among the Top 8 tracksites in the world. Not only can you visit this world-famous phenomenon, but you’re even allowed to place your hand inside some of the tracks to see how even the dino babies dwarf our hands.
Dinosaur Ridge is legendary in the field of Paleontology and to those who ‘hunt’ dinosaurs. It has been designated a National Natural Landmark containing a dino ‘goldmine’ from the Jurassic & Cretaceous periods. They’ve discovered 10 new species of fossils, previously unknown to the world. The tracksite was discovered in 1937 during highway construction. But, the 5 mile ridge was already known as ‘Dinosaur Mountain’. The other end of the ridge was the site of a legendary dinosaur discovery in 1877 when they found the largest bones ever, at the time, and some of our best-known dinosaurs. It is where the very 1st Stegosaurus was discovered. Stegosaurus is, now, Colorado’s state fossil. The 1st published Triceratops discovery was made in nearby Denver just 10 years later.
The main track bed is magnificent, but it’s not the only ‘attraction’ to see at Dinosaur Ridge. They have other world famous features.
- Brontosaurus Bulges The deep, heavy footprints of brontosauruses, their weight permanently indenting the earth. A brontosaurus weighed about 15-30 tons (as compared to Mammoths at The Mammoth Site that weighed 8-10 tons). Their name means ‘thunder lizard’; imagine the earth-shaking rumble of their steps! But he wasn’t the biggest one living here. The brontosaurus is a sauropod, related to the apatosaurus, which has also been found at the ridge. Apatosaurus (the largest dino to live here) was 90 feet long and weighed a whopping 40 tons! To compare, our largest elephant today (African) reaches up to 11 tons.
- Raptor tracks As recently as 2016, the 1st sickle-clawed raptor track ever found in Colorado was discovered here. They were only the 2nd ever found in North America. Out of the 16 other raptor tracksites found in the world, 12 are in China, so finding one in Colorado is a stunning discovery. The raptor tracks are, also, an extremely rare, 2-toed print. They are from retractable-clawed, carnivorous raptors like velociraptors made famous in the Jurassic Park movie.
Bone Bed Dozens of Jurassic dinosaur bones have mineralized into the rock as dark reddish-brown fossils. The bones became radioactive when uranium-bearing ground water deposited uranium into the decaying bones. The bones are from the allosaurus (a 16ft tall fast running, Jurassic carnivore), stegosaurus (herbivore with a tiny brain & bite force just 1/2 of a dog’s) & apatosaurus (1st discovered at Dinosaur Ridge; was believed separate from brontosaurus, then thought to be the same, now a number of experts believe them to be separate, distinct dinos, again!)
- Ripple Marks from the currents & waves of a vast, ancient sea that completely split all of North America in half! Before the Rocky Mountains formed, a 100 million years ago, this area was a flat, sandy ‘dino beach’ rather than the mountainous Colorado of today. It was a warm, shallow ocean like today’s Gulf of Mexico, swarming with giant mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, sharks and other ancient marine life. They’ve recovered shark teeth, shells and marine fossils here.
- Crocodile Creek This area wasn’t always a seaway. It was a swamp, at one time, and like the African savannah, at others. Ancient crocodile swim tracks where they scraped their claws along the bottom as they swam are here from 100 million years ago. Crocodiles in Colorado! Also, duck-billed ornithopod “bird footed” dino tracks are scattered here.
- A layer of ancient volcanic ash from a prehistoric volcanic eruption, 100s of miles away. The volcanic layer has higher radioactivity readings than the surrounding rock. Colorado still has 1 ‘active’ volcano remaining, but it last erupted over 4000 years ago.
- Trek Through Time Exhibit Hall– There is a small museum that has displays on the history of the site & the dinos, and the geology of the area. There are fun interactive exhibits for kids and some fun statues indoors and outside for photos. It is either $2 per person, or is included with a bus tour or shuttle ticket.
- 2 Kids Play Areas outside the Main Visitor Center: The Backyard Bones site is a simulated dinosaur dig that lets kids play at being paleontologists searching for fossils and identifying the bones. The Seaway Fossil Box is a large sand box where kids can sift for shark teeth, shells & ammonites. They can keep 1 and bury the rest. If they show their find at the Visitor Center, they’ll receive a bag and id card souvenir.
1- Gimme five! Or three! #daddyhands 2- Wave ripples from a prehistoric ocean! 3- Brontosaurus bulge footprint, big enough for 2 kids, indented the ground
Oh, but, the Views! They're almost as good!
As wowed as we were by the dino tracks & fossils, the views along the way were almost as mesmerizing. The Dinosaur Ridge Trail is a nice 1.4 mile hike. It is an uphill walk on a paved road that is open to only pedestrians and bicyclists. But, not difficult and not too steep of a walk if you’re in good health and average to good fitness. It was really enjoyable, nice to take our time and wander off the path a little. We took so many wonderful family pictures along the way. It would be honestly be worth the hike, even without the dinos! Even though it’s uphill, it’s so broken up by stopping at multiple tracksites, fossil beds, and beautiful overlooks that you never get winded. It was not hard, even for our kids. If you have toddlers or people in poor health or condition, I would suggest taking the bus tours.
We didn’t wander far from the path. You didn’t need to, it’s open and gorgeous. We saw no sudden drop-offs, though there are signs warning of rattlesnakes that have been spotted in the area. Also, some small cactuses, so be careful. If you’re looking for more hiking & tracksites, the nearby Triceratops Trail is a 1.5 mile trail along more dinosaur tracks. It is less than 5 miles from the Dinosaur Ridge site.
The upward slant of rock you see along the way & in the bottom right picture is from the upward tectonic action as the Rocky Mountains were formed!
- This is the 1st dino tracksite we’ve visited and it blew us away! To see dino fossils, not in a museum, but in the rock where they lie was incredible. To not just wonder if dinosaurs roamed here, but to see their tracks was amazing! And those rocky, mountainous views… None of them are something you see in the Midwest, so heavenly for us! The fact that such an amazing, globally significant site is available to the public is pretty awesome, but what is really unusual and very generous is that it is FREE to walk and self-tour the site!!! What a gift and so unusual for a tourist spot! Dino Ridge is a nonprofit, so if you don’t take the bus tour, please be sure to visit the Exhibition Hall and stop by the Gift Shop to support them & keep this location accessible for future generations. You can also donate online or become a member or sponsor to support their mission of preservation and education. They see over 230,000 visitors, annually, many from around the world. It is one of the most important paleontological sites anywhere, minutes from Denver and FREE to wander. Don’t miss this place if you’re anywhere near Colorado! Denver has a lot of fabulous things to do, but this site was one of our highlights!
- For more prehistoric beasts, check out our The Mammoth Site article:
Good to Know:
They are currently planning for a new, larger Visitor Center which is scheduled to begin construction between 2022 & 2025.
For those who want to walk the entire Dinosaur Ridge Trail, a 4 mile hike, the Discovery Center is near the Red Rocks Park entrance at 17681 W Alameda Parkway, Golden (West Side). It has a small exhibit and gift shop.
There is an indoor restroom in the cinder block building on the East side of the parking lot. None are on the trail, other than a couple of port-o-lets.
- Food– The Gift Shop has drinks and some snacks and you can bring a picnic lunch for the picnic tables located outside.
- They schedule special events, kid camps, workshops and free lectures, throughout the year. Dinosaur themed birthday parties can be hosted here.
- TRAIL- The 1.4 mile (3 miles round trip) walk is uphill and the paved road has plenty of scattered gravel, so anyone walking should wear tennis or hiking shoes.
- Takes @ 1 1/2- 2 hours. Take your time & enjoy it!
- Watch out for cyclists who ride the trail, also!
- Stroller rental is inexpensive and available as supplies last.
- Dogs are allowed on the trail, but must be leashed at all times; please clean up after them.
BUS TOURS– 45-60 minute guided bus tours available for those who don’t want to or can’t walk it, and for those wanting a guide lecture at the site.
Bus tours are $11 for adults & kids 12 & up, $8 for kids 3-11, and under 3 are free.
Bus tour tickets include admission to the exhibit hall
They are available for purchase online or at the gift shop.
- The last bus tours leave at 3:30p in summer & 2:30 in off season hours for a guaranteed trip. They may be sold later, depending on crowds.
- They also have a seasonal Hop on/ Hop off shuttle for $6 ages 12+ tickets, $4 for kids 3-11, which also include exhibits admission.
- Veteran and military discounts are available on bus tours & Gift Shops.
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