Visiting Dinosaur National Monument is a great family activity for little ones who love to roar as well as well as grown-ups who are interested in history and geology.
As I’ve mentioned before, we’re in a serious dinosaur phase at our house right now. A couple of weeks ago, my husband suggested that we take a little trip to see the fossils at Dinosaur National Monument near Vernal, UT. It’s about a three-hour drive from where we live, a totally doable overnight trip, so we started planning.
I didn’t know how much of the trip would really be kid-friendly (you just never know how much places like this will cater to the three and under set), but it turned out to be great!
We left on Friday afternoon, hoping that our kiddos would nap on the way. They did…sort of…and then we got them pumped up for the trip by letting them watch The Good Dinosaur the rest of the way.
Our first stop once we got to Vernal, UT was the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. (Note to any park people who read this: that is a seriously long name. Can we agree to be a little more succinct next time?). It was just built about five years ago, so it was nice and modern. The actually exhibit space was smaller than I expected, but it had some great hands on displays where the boys got to uncover Dino bones, play with pretend fossils and dinosaur models, and walk through big dioramas from different ancient eras. There was also an old (but still really interesting to me) movie about the geology of the area, and the place was practically empty, so I didn’t have to worry about my boys behaving like church mice (YAY!). The boys especially loved the dinosaur garden outside the museum where they had giant replicas of various dinosaurs. We spent about an hour at the museum, which was just about perfect.
The next morning, we went out to the actual Dinosaur National Monument Park (about 25 minutes outside of Vernal). One thing I loved about this park is that you can print a “Junior Ranger Program” packet for your child to do at home before you go, or they have them at the visitors center. Once your child completes a certain number of activities, they can show the Ranger on duty and they get to take a pledge and get their own official Junior Ranger badge. Little Man was so proud to get his! (Apparently so excited that he couldn’t be bothered to actually look at the camera)
After a quick trip to the visitor’s center, we drove up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall, which was SOOO cool! There are over 1500 fossils that have been partially excavated in one wall of the mountain. It took 40 years to uncover them, and it’s amazing to see so many real dinosaur bones in their natural environment. They even have some that you are allowed to touch! Little Man thought it was so cool to be able to touch a real dinosaur bone, and frankly so did I! The boys’ attention span was pretty short in there, but I could have stayed for a long time, just looking at the wall and figuring out which bones were from which kind of dinosaur.
We finished off our trip by doing a short hike that started near the Exhibit Hall. It was super easy (my three-year-old did it by himself), but it took us to some fossils out in the natural landscape. It was really fun to play paleontologist and search for fossils along the rock formations. We saw imprints from clams, and even several bones that were partially exposed. The coolest was a large chunk of vertebrae sticking out of the rock. Little Brother kept getting cranky at us for stopping and looking at things, but we bribed him with snacks so we could enjoy the hike.
All in all, it was a great trip. My only regret is that I forgot my nice camera, so all our pictures are just from our phones. Oh well.
Sometimes I think it’s tempting to stay home for fear that our kids will “ruin” a trip or it will just be too tiring or stressful, but we have yet to regret a trip that we have taken as a family. So, I’m hoping to keep adding more places to this “Traveling with Kids” series.
We had such a great time that now we’re making a bucket list of other fun places we want to visit as a family. We’re going to make a Utah bucket list as well as a United States one. Suggestions wanted!
What are some of your favorite places you’ve traveled with your kids?
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