Hugging the Utah-Colorado border and home to half of Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, Utah is the place for all kinds of dinosaur lovers–from the casual Jurassic Park fan to those who know the difference between Triassic and Jurassic. As soon as you drive into town, you’ll see a giant pink dinosaur welcoming you to “Utah’s Dinosaur Land”
“We like to say, ‘come for the dinosaurs, stay for the adventure,” says Uintah County tourism and events director, Lesha Coltharp.
It’s an apt piece of advice, because in Vernal you’ll find plenty of both. In the national monument, you’ll want to start at the Quarry Visitor Center. Here, you can watch a film about the monument and board a shuttle bus to the Quarry Exhibit Hall. If you’re up for a walk though, it’s worthwhile to hike to the hall along the 1.2-mile Fossil Discovery Trail. You’ll see three fossil areas along the way before reaching the exhibit hall. Here, you’ll be awestruck by a wall of 1,500 dinosaur bones and get the chance to touch fossils that are 150 million years old. Skip the walk back and ride the shuttle to the visitor center.
If you’re looking for more opportunities to get out and stretch your legs, set off on the 3.2-mile roundtrip Sound of Silence Trail. There’s more to the monument than just dinosaur bones and this beautiful hike showcases that with a trail that sweeps through stream beds, badlands and slickrock. If you want to fall asleep under the stars at the monument, be sure to make reservations for the Green River Campground at recreation.gov. The monument is an International Dark Sky Park, so the stars are truly incredible. Otherwise, the Dinosaur Inn and Suites in Vernal with its outdoor pool is a great choice for families.
There’s more to this part of Utah than just the national monument. Head to Red Fleet State Park where you can enjoy any number of outdoor activities. Hit the trails on a mountain bike and tackle the intermediate Flow Trail. Bikes can be rented at Red Mountain Cycle or Grail Cycle in Vernal.
If you want to stick to two feet, hike the 2-mile roundtrip trail to the Red Fleet Dinosaur Trackway. The trail leads to the shore of the reservoir where several hundred dilophosaurus footprints are set in stone. They’re best viewed in the morning or evening as harsh midday light makes them hard to see. If you’re ready for a cool down, the state park rents stand up paddleboards and kayaks. Spend a hot summer day paddling through gorgeous red cliffs. You can also reach the dinosaur tracks by water.
After spending the morning hitting the trails, dedicate the afternoon to learning at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in Vernal. This excellent educational center is great for all ages. There’s a huge collection of dinosaur bones to wander through, replicas and interactive exhibits that allow kids to learn through play. There’s also a working paleontology lab where you can watch scientists at work every day the museum is open.
Don’t miss Dinosaur Brew Haus for dinner, with burgers and sandwiches alongside local beer.
Uintah County Travel & Tourism
Utah State Field House of Natural History Museum and Visitor Center
496 E. Main, Vernal, UT 84078