About 300 million years ago, warm inland seas covered parts of Colorado. Over the next 150 million years, the seas would retreat and then return. These geological changes helped preserve evidence of the creatures that once inhabited Colorado. Their fossils and footprints tell a tale of Colorado long ago.
Colorado is one of the best places to see dinosaur fossils and remnants of the Mesozoic Era, and there are many opportunities for dinosaur exploration in Colorado. You could take a long hike to a secluded area to view historic dinosaur footprints or watch paleontologists prepare new discoveries for local museums.
Fun facts about dinosaurs in Colorado
State dinosaur: In 1981, a group of students, learning that the first Stegosaurus was found by students and their teacher in 1937 near Canyon City, pushed the state to adopt a “state dinosaur.” In January 1982, it became the ninth state to do. The state’s dinosaur — comparable to the size of a school bus — is the Stegosaurus.
The first Stegosaurus in Colorado was found in 1937 near Canyon City and is now on display that the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Colorado Rockies mascot: Dinger, Colorado Rockies’ purple dinosaur mascot, was introduced on April 16, 1994, at Mile High Stadium. Why a dinosaur? When the stadium was being constructed, a 1,000 pound, 7-foot-long fossil was discovered at the site of the original Mile High Stadium. The story goes that Dinger hatched from an egg, also found there.
The Denver Basin preserves one of the best records of the extinction of the dinosaurs, according to Denver Museum of Nature & Science. A Triceratops was discovered as early as 1887, and unearthing the remnants of another time continues today, most recently with the discovery of a Triceratops in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, in 2019.
We share some of our favorite places throughout the state to see and learn about these amazing finds. A good starting point is the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science – Denver, Colorado
With Colorado’s rich history in prehistoric finds, one of the best places to see it all is at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. With nearly 115,000 dinosaurs, plant and mammal fossils in its collection, there is always something new to study during your visits. The Prehistoric Journey exhibition features a Stegosaurus fossil discovered near Canon City and Allosaurus skeleton found by a 13-year-old girl in Moffat County.
Largest known set of dinosaur tracks in North America
Picketwire Canyonlands – La Juanta, Colorado
Located on the Comanche National Grassland south of La Junta, Colorado, this site offers a “day in their shoes” type of experience.
A 5.2-mile hike (10.4-miles roundtrip) takes you to the largest known set of dinosaur tracks in North America. Left by Brontosaurus and Allosaurus that walked along the muddy edge of what was once a large shallow lake, the tracks are said to be the first evidence of social behavior among Brontosaurs. Of the 1,300 footprints here, 40% are adult Brontosaurs but also footprints of their smaller offspring. Sixty percent of the footprints are left by Allosaurus, possibly in the pursuit of their next meal.
To access the tracks, follow Withers Canyon Trailhead. The trail drops 250 feet in elevation as it heads south/southwest. At mile 3.76 you’ll see the Spanish Mission and Cemetery. Continue another 1.6 miles to the tracks. The area is open from dawn until dusk, and you must be prepared. The hike is considered “hard” and there is no drinkable water. No overnight camping is allowed. Rangers ask that you notify someone you know if you plan to hike this area, sharing your expected route, departure and return times. Also, be aware that to see the tracks, you must cross a river, which can be dangerous in certain areas and at certain flows. Also, check for possible closures or road restrictions during wet weather.
For more information, contact the Comanche National Grassland Office.
‘Named #1 trackside in the nation by paleontologists’
Dinosaur Ridge – Morrison, Colorado
During this time, 15 quarries opened near Morrison, Colorado. There, fossils and remains of the first horned dinosaur were found in 1879. In 1887, the first triceratops was found (at the time, they thought the horns found were from bison).
The “dinosaur freeway” was discovered when West Alameda Parkway began construction in the 1930s. When construction cut into Dakota Hogback, new layers abundant with fossils were uncovered. Many different footprints are found in this area, from herbivores and ostrich-like carnivorous dinosaurs to carnivorous Theropod and Raptor tracks, the first found in Colorado and only the second found in North America.
You can hike the Dinosaur Ridge Trail to see 250 amazing tracks and other fossils and geological sites, each marked by interpretive signs. Hiking the trail takes about one to two hours. The road is paved and open to bikes and guided bus tours.
The main visitor center is at 16831 W. Alameda Parkway, Morrison. The discovery center is at 17681 W. Alameda Parkway. Facilities are open every day except New Year’s, Thanksgiving and Christmas days.
Dinosaur hunting on Colorado’s Western Slope
There is a rich history on the Front Range and Western Slope, making dinosaur hunting in Colorado a perfect idea for trips close to and farther away from home. Try these Colorado dinosaur locations when you’re on the Western Slope.
A close-up view of paleontologists preparing dinosaur bones
Dinosaur Journey Museum – Fruita, Colorado
The Dinosaur Journey museum, with more than 15,000 fossil specimens in its collection, is a stone’s throw from Interstate 70, making it easy to swing into for a fun, but quick (if necessary), experience. There is plenty to see and learn here.
The large space is filled with interactive and educational stations (currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic), that provide a deep understanding of what used to roam on Colorado’s Western Slope.
There’s a viewable paleontology lab, where bones are prepared for display. The museum also features an earthquake simulator and animated Dilophosaurus — both kid favorites.
The museum is located at 550 Jurassic Court, in Fruita, Colorado, just south of the roundabouts off Interstate 70 and east of James M. Robb Colorado River State Park.
Discover two new species of dinosaurs in Colorado
Delta County Museum – Delta, Colorado
Atop the Uncompaghre Plateau, 26 miles southwest of Delta, Colorado, is the 55-acre Try Mesa Quarry. It’s home to a spectacularly diverse collection of dinosaur bones (thousands have been found over the past four decades), including two new species: Trovosaurus and Supersaurus.
The Torvosaurus is 35-feet from head to tail. It is a cousin to the T-Rex but lived millions of years before. The Supersaurus has 8-foot-long shoulder blades, weighs 40 tons, and has a neck measuring 120 feet — great for reaching his plant-based dinner.
It wasn’t until a local resident and amateur fossil hunter found a large toe bone in the 1970s that paleontologists started to look closer into the area. Since, more than 4,000 bones from many different animals spanning millions of years have been discovered.
The dig site, which closed in 2000, is hard to get to, but you can view the amazing findings at the Delta County Museum. The museum at 251 Meeker St. in Delta, Colorado, has been closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so call ahead to make sure they’re reopened before you visit.
A wall full of dinosaur fossils
Dinosaur National Monument – Moffat County, Colorado
There is much to explore in Dinosaur National Monument, but if you’re looking for dinosaur remnants, look no further. At Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall (reservations required during the COVID-19 pandemic), there are more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils embedded and exposed in the cliff face.
Species such as Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus and Stegosaurus are part of the exhibit. And there are even places where you can touch real 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils, according to their website.