Exploring Dinosaur National Monument

Exploring Dinosaur National Monument and the Green River at Sunset
Exploring Dinosaur National Monument’s Green River at sunset.

Dinosaur National Monument is known for its Bone Wall, but the bone wall is only a small part of this amazing park. The magic of this place flows through the entire park. Like so many of the legendary canyons of the west, the canyon found in Dinosaur National Monument was carved by tributaries of the great Colorado River. The Yampa and Green Rivers flow through this place carving out the rugged landscape. Even if there were no bones or petroglyphs here the landscape would be enough to draw intrepid travelers to this beautiful place. Exploring Dinosaur National Monument should be on every traveler’s must-do list.

Getting to Dinosaur National Monument

Exploring Dinosaur National Monument is an amazing adventure but first, you have to get there. The park isn’t easy to get to as the nearest town is Vernal, Utah. It’s a very small town. If camping isn’t your thing you can find a hotel in Vernal, otherwise, I recommend staying in one of the park’s campgrounds. Salt Lake City or Denver are the closest large airports. Both of which are more than a three and a half hours drive away from any of the entrances.

The Main Entrance – The Fossil Bone Quarry

Beautiful lady stands next to the Dinosaur National Monument Fossil Bone Quarry entrance sign.
Jennifer at the Fossil Bone Quarry entrance to Dinosaur National Monument.

Oh, by the way, the monument has five entrances and none of them connect to one another within the park’s boundary. The main entrance is also known as the fossil bone quarry entrance. It is found in Utah on the southwestern corner of the odd-shaped park. This is where you will find the Dinosaur Bone Wall, a few petroglyphs, two campgrounds along the Green River, and an old pioneering homestead.

Recommended Activities for the Main Entrance

Jennifer feeling energetic while hiking the Sound of Silence trail.

There are a few short hiking trails that explore the unique geologic landscape. My favorite is the Sound of Silence loop. There is a guided hike with a ranger that starts from the Bone Wall exhibit area that I highly recommend as well. Exploring Josie Morris Cabin and homestead as a hike into Box Canyon are a few uniquely western experiences here too.

The North Western Entrance – Island Park Road

McKee Spring Petroglyphs along the Island Park Road.

If you head back out of the park and around to the northwestern entrance you will find the Island Park Road, a gravel road that will lead you into the interior of the park along the north bank of the Green River. As you re-enter the park’s boundary you will find the McKee Spring Petroglyphs on a ridge along the north side of the road. These Native American Petroglyphs are some of the best I have ever seen.

Options for Activities on the Island Park Road Entrance

Continuing down the road into the heart of the park will bring you to the north shore of the Green River. There is also an opportunity to explore the homestead of Ruple Ranch. For adventurous hikers, there is a rugged trail here known as the Island Park Trail. Hikers follow the course of the Green River upstream to the Jones Hole trail. The Jones Hole Trail is accessed via a sixth entrance. I didn’t list that entrance here as it can only be accessed by foot via the Jones Hole Trail.

The South Entrance – Canyon Entrance

The view over the Green River from the Harpers Corner hiking trail.

On the Colorado side of the park, the main southern entrance known as the Canyon Entrance leads to theĀ top of Wild Canyon. The Green River carved out Wild Canyon. There are some amazing overlooks on the top of the canyon walls with a great and yet easy hiking trail located at the end of Harpers Corner Road (the main road through this section of the park).

Exploring Echo Park

A gravel road with a canyon wall.
Echo Park Road is a great summer drive. The road conditions can be tricky in the offseason.

If you are feeling more adventurous you can take the steep gravel road known as Echo Park Road down into the canyon to the confluence of the Yampa and Green Rivers. This area is known as Echo Park. Along this road, you get to see an old homestead, more petroglyphs, and many tributary canyons. Don’t be fooled as there are other “gravel” county roads that lead out of this area back to the main US 40. Jennifer and I almost got stuck on one of these. It what was more sand than gravel so I would not recommend changing these unless you have a really good 4×4. Make sure that you check with the ranger station on the condition of Echo Park Road. The park only maintains the road during the summer months.

Hiking the Wild Canyon

Jennifer hikes along the narrow ledge of the unnamed hiking trail from the Echo Park campground.

Once at Echo Park you can wade into the waters of the Green River or go for a hike. There is a great hiking trail that heads out of the campground to the northwest up Wild Canyon. It follows the cut of the river on a ledge above the waters. The trail is great with no particular destination. The canyon can be really hot in the summer so take plenty of water.

The East Entrance – Deerlodge Park

The east entrance is known as Deerlodge Park. There is a campground located here and one short hiking trail along the Yampa River. This entrance is for those interested in rafting down the Yampa River. There are many camping opportunities along the river so this can be a great multi-day getaway for those seeking solitude.

The North Entrance – The Gates of Lodore

A view back up the canyon of Lodore as the Green River meets the Yampa River.

The last entrance is also on the Colorado side of the park. It is the North Gate also known as the Gates of Lodore. This is about a 2 hr drive from the South entrance on the Colorado side of the park. Jennifer and I didn’t have time to do the long drive up there, but it is on my list for the next time we are in the area. It is said to have an amazing campground and hiking trail. It also is where river rafters enter the park to raft down the Green River through the Lodore Canyon. There are multiple backcountry campgrounds adjacent to this branch of the river as well for multi-day rafting adventures. We will be doing this the next time we go exploring Dinosaur National Monument.

Conclusion

The Dinosaur Wall is also worth the trip. Click on the image to check out the post I did for this amazing paleontology wall.

Whether you are searching for fossils from our ancient past, petroglyphs of lost civilizations or the beauty and adventure found on the Green and Yampa Rivers, put exploring Dinosaur National Monument on your list. It is a National Monument preserved for its historical significance but with a National Park quality landscape… without the National Park crowds.

Resources for Exploring Dinosaur National Monument

A rafting permit is required inside Dinosaur National Park. If you intend to go on a guided trip they will take care of the permits for you. Click here for more details on rafting the Green or Yampa Rivers inside the monument.

Click here for more camping details or to make a reservation at one of the six campgrounds found at Dinosaur National Monument.

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