Hiking in a wash in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.

7 Best Things to Do in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

The #1 reason to visit Dinosaur National Monument is pretty obvious – the name gives the biggest attraction away. Even though dinosaurs were the reason we made a stop here on our U.S. Southwest road trip as well, it turns out there are quite a few unique things to see and do in the monument other than dinosaur fossils, so in this article I’ll go over the BEST things to do in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah that I believe are well worth putting on your itinerary!

PLEASE NOTE: This guide details things to do in the UTAH section of Dinosaur National Monument.

Dinosaur National Monument straddles the northern part of the Utah-Colorado border and is divided into two sections: the Utah and Colorado sides of the monument. Each section has its own entrance and visitor center (Quarry Visitor Center – Utah; Canyon Visitor Center – Colorado). The two sections are NOT connected by any roads within the monument.

A close-up of a dinosaur fossil still embedded in the rock. Text overlay - 7 Epic things to do in Dinosaur National Monument (Utah section).

7 Best things to do in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

#1 Quarry Exhibit Hall

(The most obvious thing to do in Dinosaur National Monument goes first. Obviously!)

There are several places in Utah to visit if you want to see dinosaur fossils, but Dinosaur National Monument is probably the most impressive of them all. Again, just make sure to visit the UTAH SECTION of Dinosaur National Monument. The Utah side of the monument is the one to go to for dinosaur fossils; the Colorado side of the monument has none.

Generally, when visiting any national park or monument, it’s always a good idea to start the tour at the visitor center, so I suggest not skipping the one in Dinosaur National Monument either. Then, take a short trip (less than half a mile from the visitor center) to the Quarry Exhibit Hall where you’ll get a rare chance to see more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils.

The Quarry Exhibit Hall is built over a site of partially excavated bones of dinosaurs that roamed this area approximately 150 million years ago. (Courtesy of Earl Douglas, an American paleontologist who discovered the site in 1909.)

Quarry Exhibit Hall that houses dinosaur bones in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.
Quarry Exhibit Hall – Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

The Quarry Exhibit Hall presents an unforgettable way to see (and touch!) real dinosaur bones. It’s a pretty chilling experience whether you’re a dino enthusiast or not.

There is a nice collection of dinosaur bones displayed on the rock face, but the Camarasaurus skull (below) was our favorite.

Partially excavated bones of dinosaurs in Utah's Dinosaur National Monument.

If you come during the summer months, access to the quarry area is provided by a (free) shuttle bus due to very limited parking at the quarry.

#2 Tour of the Tilted Rocks

If you don’t want to do a lot of walking on your visit and would prefer to see as much as you can from the comfort of your vehicle, the monument’s auto tour – the Tour of the Tilted Rocks – is singlehandedly the next best thing to do in Dinosaur National Monument for you!

…On the chance you’re the complete opposite, you’ll be satisfied, too. There are several places along the route that will give you the opportunity to stretch your legs and explore the area.

The Tour of the Tilted Rocks is the monument’s scenic road that packs several of its highlights into roughly 10 miles (one way). It will take you around one hour to complete.

The route starts at the visitor center and has 15 marked points of interest. Consider purchasing an inexpensive guide at the monument’s visitor center for detailed information about each stop. Some of the highlights include amazing petroglyphs and a historic cabin (both included on this list).

The Tour of the Tilted Rocks is paved except for the final 2 miles. It’s easily passable in any standard car (no super low clearance) – weather allowing. The last few miles aren’t maintained in the wintertime which can make access difficult or impossible at times (you’re looking at approx. 5,000 feet elevation – weather averages and snowfall at the end of the post).

Ancient petroglyphs on a rock face; dinosaur skull still embedded in the rock; colorful mountain peaks in Dinosaur National Monument. Text overlay - Best things to do on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument.

#3 Petroglyph panels

Out of the several petroglyph sites in Dinosaur National Monument, two are located in the Utah section of the monument right along the scenic drive (Tour of the Tilted Rocks – above):

  • Swelter Shelter
  • Cub Creek Petroglyphs

The artwork at both sites was created by the Fremont people who inhabited these canyons between 200 and 1300 A.D.

The Swelter Shelter is a small petroglyph panel with only a few designs. It’s located 1 mile east from the visitor center along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks (scenic drive) just about 200 feet from the road – no hiking required, easy access to the panel.

Rock carvings of figures and animals on a sandstone rock face.
Swelter Shelter – Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

As for the Cub Creek Petroglyphs, this is – hands down – one of the MOST IMPRESSIVE petroglyph sites we’ve had a chance to see up close so far in the Southwest U.S. (another in our top few is this hidden gem – also in Utah). These petroglyphs are an absolute must-do in Dinosaur National Monument if you were to ask me, and you can spend as little or as much time here exploring the site.

The Cub Creek Petroglyphs are located along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks (scenic road) past the Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs, about 9 miles east from the visitor center. There are several panels here – some require a little scrambling to access. This site also features rare Fremont rock art.

Sitting up close in front of a petroglyph panel in Dinosaur National Monument.
Cub Creek Petroglyphs: a must-do in Dinosaur National Monument!

#4 Hiking

There are several hiking trails to choose from in the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument that are fun and relatively easy, even for kids. Just keep in mind that this is desert hiking – bring good shoes, hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

Some of the trails in the monument are very low-key and more than suitable for non-hikers as well, so if you’re looking for things to do in Dinosaur National Monument and don’t hike, keep an open mind and don’t scroll past just yet!

The unique thing about hiking in Dinosaur National Monument (besides the gorgeous scenery for the most part…) is that the trails here are very lightly trafficked compared with other nearby national parks. Chances are good you’ll have most of the trails pretty much all to yourself, especially if you come outside of the busy season (early fall through early spring is generally slow time in the monument).

Near the visitor center:

  • Fossil Discovery Trail – a relatively short educational hike featuring various fossil areas. This trail is suitable for non-hikers as well, though one section may be too much in the summer heat, and some sections may be slippery.

Within 2-5 miles from the visitor center:

  • Sound of Silence – a loop hike a little over 3 miles long with spectacular views. A must-do in Dinosaur National Monument if you like to hit the trails!!
  • Desert Voices – a 2-mile nature hike with stellar views. Can be combined with the Sound of Silence Trail. Higher traffic than Sound of Silence.
  • River Trail – 2 miles on a path that connects two of the monument’s campgrounds. Exposed, some drop-offs, scenic views. This trail allows leashed pets.

10 miles from the visitor center:

  • Box Canyon Trail – a super short scenic stroll (barely a hike) near the Josie Morris Cabin.
  • Hog Canyon Trail – a longer hike in the same area of the historic cabin (1.5 miles round trip, easy).
View of a small lush box canyon in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah.
Box Canyon – Dinosaur National Monument

#5 Josie Morris Cabin

The Josie Morris Cabin is the last stop on the scenic drive (Tour of the Tilted Rocks). The road ends here.

The historic cabin is part of a homestead that once belonged to Josie Bassett Morris who was a rather fascinating character of the Old West.

The National Park Service doesn’t share much information about Josie beyond some of the basics, but I had this bizarre obsession to find out more about her – and I’m so glad I did! You gotta read about the life of Josie Bassett Morris before visiting her cabin for a deeper understanding of what the cabin stands for.

A historic log cabin surrounded by trees in Dinosaur National Monument.
Josie Morris Cabin – Dinosaur National Monument

You can go inside the cabin and walk around the homestead grounds. It’s so incredibly peaceful here and lush and scenic – Josie sure knew how to pick her spot! This is the best spot in Dinosaur National Monument for a picnic.

See what the cabin looked like back in the day compared with today (I may be biased, but I find the BEFORE pictures entirely fascinating).

#6 Stargazing

It’s no secret that many famous locations across Utah are considered a hot spot for dark skies. But did you know that Dinosaur National Monument is ALSO a prime spot to watch the starlit skies despite of not being widely talked about?

We’ve never seen the Milky Way clearer than right here in Dinosaur National Monument.

The best way to experience the spectacular canopy of stars is of course by camping here, but if you prefer to just pop in and out, the monument is open 24 hours a day.

A landscape with colorful rock formations; a winding trail in a desert environment surrounded by plants and desert brushes. Text overlay - 7 Epic things to do in Dinosaur National Monument (Utah section).

#7 Green River Campground

There are 3 established campgrounds on the Utah side of Dinosaur National Monument (details here). The most accessible one that doesn’t cater exclusively to groups is the Green River Campground, located 4 miles from the Quarry Visitor Center along Cub Creek Road (Tour of the Tilted Rocks scenic drive).

Here is what’s unique about the Green River Campground in Dinosaur National Monument:

  • Just imagine all the dinosaurs stomping around…
  • Desert camping right by the river. (Some sites have a private beach and river access.)
  • The night skies!
  • Many sites have decent shade.
  • Several sites are very spacious and secluded.
  • The time stands still here. It’s just one of those places.

Other than that, this is a pretty basic campground, so don’t expect any showers or hookups here. But you do have your basics like flushing toilets and running water.

Bonus points: this campground is generally much slower to fill compared with other Utah national park campgrounds.

View of the river from a campsite with a short sandy access path starting behind the tent, surrounded by trees and shrubs.
Green River Campground – Dinosaur National Monument

FYI: Watch out for chipmunks! They were oh so cute until about the time they got comfortable enough to want to dine with us. Which didn’t take long at all. They’ll also chew through anything of yours that’s chew-worthy which sums up to pretty much everything you own, so don’t leave things out unattended.

Oh but the highlight of our stay at the Green River Campground???

A snake catching and eating a mouse right in front of our eyes. Yup, that was definitely new.

Best time to visit Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

Below is the average year-round weather for the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument to help you with planning. The peak season is highlighted and runs from May to September.

average weather and peak season for Dinosaur National Monument, Utah
Peak season & average weather in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

Know before you go:

  • In order to see dinosaur fossils, remember that you must head to the Utah section of the monument. (The Colorado side of Dinosaur National Monument is extraordinary in its own way, but you won’t find any dinosaur fossils there.)
  • Access to the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument is off Highway 40 in northeastern Utah, about 6 miles north of Jensen, Utah. (See the map at the beginning of this page for details.)
  • During the peak season, the FREE shuttle that connects the Quarry Visitor Center with the Quarry Exhibit Hall runs about every 15 minutes between 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. It’s a short fun ride (for a second there you’ll feel like entering the actual Jurassic Park!). In the off-season or if you travel with a pet, you can drive up to the Quarry Exhibit Hall in your own vehicle.
  • There is a fee to enter the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument. The 7-day auto pass (valid for 7 consecutive days) costs $25.00 if you don’t have the annual America the Beautiful Pass. Check the monument’s website for current operating hours, updates, and any closures.
  • Pet policy: pets are not allowed on most trails within Dinosaur National Monument, on the shuttle, or in any of the buildings. Two areas in the Utah section of Dinosaur National Monument that allow pets are: the short trail to the Swelter Shelter Petroglyphs, and the River Trail. Other than that, leashed pets are allowed within 100 feet of developed areas and roads, in parking lots, campgrounds, and river launches.
  • No services are available in Dinosaur National Monument. The closest towns are Jensen, Utah (6 miles away from the Quarry Visitor Center) and Vernal, Utah (13 miles NW of Jensen).

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