This guide to Dinosaur National Monument camping is brought to you by our friends at Vivobarefoot, the makers of kids footwear that is waterproof and versatile for all kinds of exploration.
It’s one thing to sit in the cool darkness of an air conditioned movie theater and watch CGI dinosaurs demolishing Jeeps and buildings on the big screen. It’s something entirely different to make a trek out to the wild places where you can still see evidence of these “terrible lizards” for yourself. Fortunately, you don’t have to be an archaeologist to camp near dinosaur footprints or their enormous bones. You just need to plan a trip to Dinosaur National Monument, or one of the several other campgrounds throughout the country that are located near fossils and footprints left behind by these fascinating creatures.
Dinosaur National Monument Camping Brings You Closer to Prehistoric Fossils
Some American dinosaur fossils were uncovered early in U.S. history, like those at Dinosaur National Monument which were found when European explorers and American pioneers were pushing into the West. Other archeological discoveries happened relatively recently, like the 1966 revelation that two thousand dinosaur footprints were hiding under the top spoil of a site that was supposed to become a Connecticut office building.
Whichever campsite you choose in whichever part of the country, you’re in for a real Jurassic treat. We’ve rounded up several campgrounds where you can see these wonders for yourself—some in Dinosaur National Monument and some hidden in other corners of the country.
1. Echo Park, Colorado
There are numerous sites around Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument where you can camp. If you have a vehicle that can handle the challenging drive in, Echo Park gets high marks for its beautiful scenery, affordability, and nice amenities for the backcountry. One of the tent sites is rated handicapped accessible for those campers with disabilities who are interested in the Dinosaur National Monument camping experience.
“This site is pretty central in the whole Dinosaur National Monument geography about an hour from the main visitor center. We definitely needed a high clearance vehicle for the dirt road to get to it but evidently the road conditions vary a bit season to season and year to year, so call the rangers to check. This is tent-only no reservations and there are water, toilets, and designated campsites, making it a remote frontcountry style campground.” —The Dyrt camper Amber A.
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2. Deerlodge Park, Colorado
Another option for Dinosaur National Monument camping is Deerlodge Park, where you can enjoy classic canyon camping on the banks of the Yampa River. It sits on the opposite side of the Monument from Echo Park, 53 miles east of the Canyon Visitor Center in Dinosaur, Colorado. Bring water in the winter months, when park water is turned off. It’s also not a bad idea to bring extra in the summer, considering how hot it gets in this corner of the world.
The Dyrt camper William W. advises that, “If you are tent camping, this is a great little spot that’s inexpensive and very peaceful and beautiful.”
If you want to really turn your Dinosaur National Monument camping experience up to eleven, throw your hat in the ring for one of the highly coveted in-season rafting permits from the Dinosaur National Monument Ranger Station so you can raft all the way through the park from Deerlodge to Echo Park, or even further on down to Split Mountain. The Yampa is the largest free-flowing tributary within the Colorado River system, and has some amazing rapids, including Teepee, Big Joe and Warm Springs.
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3. Green River, Utah
Just across the Utah-Colorado border is another option for Dinosaur National Monument camping. According to camper Curtis B., Green River campground overlooks its namesake, and electricity is available which comes in handy as the area gets seriously warm in the summer. He writes, “There are two loops, one which has trees, the other mostly without. Reserve ahead as shade is a commodity. The Park visitor center is amazing. A preserved 90’ wall of dinosaur bones. It doesn’t get any better.”
The Green River campground has a lot of history, along with the stegosaurus fossils. Nearby is the cabin where Josie Morris lived from 1914 until the 1960’s. She was a female pioneer, accused sexagenarian cattle rustler, prohibition-era bootlegger, and acquaintance of infamous outlaws including Butch Cassidy.
“Green River Campground is a great basecamp for those wishing to explore Dinosaur National Monument! Bring lots of water – it is HOT in the summer!” —The Dyrt camper Amanda M.
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4. Gates of Lodore, Colorado
Take your Dinosaur National Monument camping trip deep into the heart of the park by visiting the remote campground of Gates of Lodore. Don’t think you’ll be all alone with the tumbleweeds for miles, though. It’s a pretty popular spot for rafters, serving as the entry point for Gates of Lodore river trips and the take-out for the Flaming Gorge section of the Green River. Still, how often can you say you’ve been rafting through dinosaur country?
“This campground is a typical rafter’s camp, very distant and out of the way. Make sure you have enough gas for the return trip or shuttle. The nearest gas is in Maybell, but the service station is closed in the evening,” —The Dyrt camper C.R.
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5. Dinosaurland KOA, Utah
Many sites for those looking for Dinosaur National Monument camping are quite primitive, but Dinosaurland KOA caters especially to the RV crowd hoping to get a peak at all the Jurassic goodness. Some of their sites are newly renovated to accommodate even extra large RV’s, and there’s a lot to keep you entertained here, even once you’ve exhausted the hiking, rafting, and natural history of Dinosaur National Monument.
“What I liked about this campground was all the activity options they gave you. There was a small but functional K-9 park, a kids park, a swimming pool, a jump pad, and they had bike/3 wheeler rentals, and a mini golf course. They had a covered patio off of the pool building with picnic tables for use and just on the other side of the jump pad and kids playground they had a HUGE grassy field that you could go throw frisbees on or even fly a kite.” —The Dyrt camper Courtney M.
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Go Beyond the Monument: Even More Camping Near Dinosaur Fossils and Footprints Across the Country
Utah and Dinosaur National Monument don’t have a monopoly on all the good dinosaur finds in the United States. There are plenty of other places to go camping where terrible lizards once walked the earth.
6. Tamarisk Grove in Anza Borrego Desert State Park, California
Just two hours from San Diego, the canyons of Tamarisk Grove in Anza Borrego Desert State Park hold thrilling reminders of how different these deserts used to be. The 600,000 acres of badlands hold not only dinosaur footprints, but fossils as well. You can also get a more fanciful sense of what it was like when dinos roamed the Anza Borrego at Galleta Meadows. Thanks to private landowners Dennis Avery and artist Ricardo Breceda, there are over 130 giant metal sculptures dotting the park— including at least three dinosaurs.
Bring your bedroll and sleeping bag along, since the cabins have sleeping platforms but no bedding or electricity.
“There are tent sites as well as primitive cabins. Each site has a fire ring and table. There are also flush toilets and paid showers. There is no potable water at this campground – be sure to bring your own. And check out the cholla cacti backlit by the sunset.” —The Dyrt camper Trip Over Life
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7. Dinosaur State Park, Connecticut
If it’s hard to picture the bare deserts of the Southwest as lush dinosaur habitat, it might be even harder to picture modern day Connecticut as it once was. Nevertheless, Dinosaur State Park is a fascinating time machine halfway between Hartford and Middletown. Although lots of other paleontological specimens have been found elsewhere in Connecticut since the 1800s, the ones at Dinosaur State Park weren’t revealed until the 1960s when digging began for a new office building.
While you can’t camp at Dinosaur State Park, The Dyrt camper Dr. David P. writes that, “The museum and inside stuff is pretty great. There’s a good mix of both things to see and hands-on stuff for little ones to do. There’s also a really wonderful, fairly short hiking trail nearby. Our favorite thing about the trail is that it was covered in cute little chipmunks. They were everywhere!”
When you’re done admiring the tracks and lego Dinosaurs, you can camp nearby at Nelson’s Family Campground.
Bring along a pair of versatile kids footwear that will work on the trail, splashing in puddles, or wading into creeks. Vivobarefoot’s Kids Ultra amphibious shoe is flexible and sturdy for city walks and travels through time.
8. Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas
Thousands of years ago, the banks of the Paluxy River were actually the shoreline of a much larger body of water—a whole ocean, in fact. Dinosaurs that walked along that beach left footprints, which eventually were baked into the land that is now Dinosaur Valley State Park, near Glen Rose, Texas. There’s a lot to do here, with an incredible number of trails and footprints that can be scene throughout the park (though do ask ahead about how the river levels might impact your viewing experience).
In the summer you’ll have ample opportunities to cool off in the river after scouring the landscape for footprints.
The Dyrt camper Julie W. notes, “This place is awesome. One of the best natural swimming holes I’ve found near DFW. There are dinosaur fossils everywhere. Hiking is great, and even on a hot summer day you can go swim in the river or the blue hole.”
“This place is larger than life, so make sure you plan your hikes beforehand. My favorite trail is the Buckeye trails. It is about 2 miles, so good for kids, and it is up through the woods. Lots of shade and variety in the path. Don’t miss out on this adventure.” —The Dyrt camper Brittany S.
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9. Makoshika State Park, Montana
Situated along what is known as the Montana Dinosaur Trail, Makoshika State Park is a real treat for anyone fascinated by natural history. The Dyrt camper Janet R. writes, “If you love geology and want a quieter, less crowded and more accessible experience than the Theodore Roosevelt National Park nearby, then this place is for you! There are several campgrounds and dispersed campsites to choose from, the RV campground is small and packed and a bit barren, but the tent sites are magnificent.”
And because it’s not a National Park, you’re welcome to bring your #DyrtDog camping. Just don’t forget to keep Fido on a leash — you don’t want him coming back with an extra-large bone in tow.
“This is a beautiful area of Montana that goes under visited and under appreciated. The campground is just as nice as you would find in one of the national parks. There are fire pits, tables, pit toilets, and the availability of firewood and water at each camping area.” —The Dyrt camper Evan H.
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10. Buckhorn Wash, Utah
If you ever find yourself near Castle Dale, Utah, just east of the Manti-La Sal National Forest, you’ll be in just the right place to see an ancient ornithopod footprint. It’s hard to picture now, but the San Rafael Swell, as this area is known, used to be a lush jungle. A dinosaur stepped in mud that, over time, eventually became the Navajo Sandstone that forms some of your favorite desert monuments in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, including Arches National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
According to the Bureau of Land Management, you can find the track one mile after the Navajo Sandstone sign on the side of the road after entering Buckhorn Draw. There will be a pull-out on the right where you can park before crossing the street and climbing a sandstone ledge. That’s where you’ll find a ring of stones around a three-toed track left by an ornithopod dinosaur that crossed the sand dune desert that became the Navajo Sandstone over 180 million years ago.
You’ll find dispersed camping nearby at the Buckhorn Dino Track. Of course, we don’t need to tell you how Leave No Trace is extra important when you’re walking or camping around a 180-million-year-old footprint.
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As you can see, there are all sorts of surprising places to see dinosaur fossils and footprints coast to coast, both in and outside of Dinosaur National Monument. If you’re wondering why other desert locals didn’t make the list, well. Just ask the folks at Badlands National Park why you won’t be seeing any T-Rex skeletons when you visit.
#dyk While Badlands National Park has lots of fossils, we have no dinosaur fossils. We were under the Western Interior Seaway at that time.
— Badlands Nat'l Park (@BadlandsNPS) September 14, 2018