Dinosaur Ridge Review: A Prehistoric Trek with World-Class Tracks [2023]

Dinosaur Ridge is one of the most interesting sites to see when in the Denver area especially if you have an interest in geology or those prehistoric giants that we thankfully don’t have to co-exist with today.

There’s a lot to see at Dinosaur Ridge.

There are several museums, entry points, trails, and various ways to enjoy the experience, so it can be a bit overwhelming when you initially plan your visit to Dinosaur Ridge.

However, below, I’ll outline the different options for exploring this park and provide you with some of my personal recommendations to maximize your visit, drawing from my own experiences.

What is Dinosaur Ridge?

Dinosaur Ridge is a famous geological site located near Morrison, Colorado. It is known for its rich concentration of dinosaur fossils and remarkable dinosaur trackways.

The site gained prominence due to the numerous discoveries made in the late 19th century during the “Bone Wars” period. Many big time discoveries have been made in this area including those of dinosaurs such as Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus.

At Dinosaur Ridge, you can easily explore a paved trail that showcases exposed layers of rock containing dinosaur footprints, bones, and other fossils.

In addition to the fossil exhibits, Dinosaur Ridge also features interpretive signs and exhibits along the trail, providing educational information about the geological formations, the history of dinosaur discoveries in the area, and the ancient environments in which these dinosaurs once roamed.

Dinosaur Ridge dinosaur track

How do you get to Dinosaur Ridge?

Dinosaur Ridge is located in Morrison, CO, just to the west of Denver.

There are multiple ways that you can start off your experience at Dinosaur Ridge which also means you can arrive at different spots.

For the most part, you’re going to be choosing from starting at the East Ridge or West Ridge.

I recommend starting at the East Ridge (Cretaceous Gate) since this is the main visitor center and the address is: 16831 W Alameda Pkwy, Morrison, CO 80465.

However, if there is little to no parking at the East Ridge then consider making your way over to the Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center at the West Ridge (Jurassic Gate) located at: 17681 W Alameda Pkwy, Golden, CO 80401.

Here are the hours:

Summer & fall (May 1 – October 31)

  • Main Visitor Center: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Exhibit Hall: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Discovery Center: Daily, 9am-5pm
  • Guided Bus Tours: Daily, 9:30am-4pm
  • Walking Tours: Saturday & Sunday

Winter–spring (November 1 – April 30)

  • Main Visitor Center: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Exhibit Hall: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Discovery Center: Daily, 9am-4pm
  • Guided Bus Tours: Daily, 9:30am-3pm
  • Walking Tours: Saturday & Sunday

Want to support Dinosaur Ridge? Consider donating!

Dinosaur Ridge parking

The different ways to explore Dinosaur Ridge

For the most part, on this dino adventure you will be walking along a paved road (2.5 mile round-trip) and you can start from either end. But there are multiple ways to enjoy your journey at Dinosaur Ridge and I’ll go into those below.

Free walking tour

If you just want to tour the dinosaur foot prints and other sites on your own the good news is that you can do this for free.

Free parking is available at the visitor center and there is also some free parallel parking options right by the trail head. You can then explore the sites at your own pace and rely on the interpretive panels to give you some insight.

You’ll probably be able to make some sense of everything that you’re seeing but it does help to get additional insight through one of the methods below because let’s face it, there’s a lot you’ll be curious about when it comes to the dinosaurs, discoveries, and the millions of years of geology you’ll be exploring.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

Audio guides

Another option is to purchase an audio guide.

These can be purchased at the gift shop for $7, and you will simply enter an access code to activate them. As you encounter approximately a dozen locations, you’ll listen to a brief audio clip that provides background information about the site and aids in your understanding of what you’re observing.

In addition to this, you can also purchase a field guide.

Be on the lookout for special discounts and promotions as we were able to get the $7 audio guide for free!

Shuttle bus

For $20 per adult, you can rely on the shuttle bus to transport you, and a well-informed tour guide will offer continuous commentary about Dinosaur Ridge during the entire trip. If walking is not your preference or if you have any mobility limitations, this could be a great option.

Dinosaur Ridge trail shuttle bus

Special guided tours

On the weekends, they offer special guided tours. You can do a standard guided walking tour for $18 which should take you about two hours.

But one of the coolest things available is the ability to do guided tours with a geologist, which you can do at Dinosaur Ridge Trail or at the nearby Triceratops Trail. This is something we are seriously considering doing on our next visit because I’m sure it’s a great opportunity to learn a ton.

Taking in the exhibits

There’s a small museum with a lot of cool dinosaur related exhibits that you can check out for $4 per adult. You’ll find this at the main visitor center, next-door to the gift shop.

Dinosaur Ridge exhibit

Package deals

You can also purchase package deals that will grant you a bus ride as well as entry into the Morrison Natural History Museum, which features fascinating dinosaur exhibits and interactive paleontology displays. If you want to go visit that museum, it’s about 10 minutes south from the main visitor center.

Hiking at Dinosaur Ridge

Dinosaur Ridge Trail is also a great place to do some moderate hiking. The walk on the paved street around the ridge is a hike in and of itself although pretty easy considering the gentle inclines and declines you’re dealing with. The standard path takes you about 2.5 miles round-trip.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

But if you want to get a little bit more exercise and enjoy better views, you can head up the Dakota Ridge Trail. This trail has multiple trailheads you can start from, but a good option is to take the trailhead that you will encounter along the way on Dinosaur Ridge Trail.

Dakota Ridge Trail head Dinosaur Ridge trail

I’d highly recommend at least going to the Arthur Lakes Overlook which is not that difficult to get to. But you can continue on the Dakota Ridge Trail for more impressive and expansive views.

You’ll have to deal with the sounds of traffic so you never really get a true nature escape but it’s still a fun trail to venture on. Just be aware that this is also a mountain biking trail so be on the lookout!

Dinosaur Ridge trail overlook

If you do choose to do the Dakota Ridge Trail and you track your movement on an app like AllTrails, your path will actually resemble the footprint of a dinosaur, perfectly aligning with the prehistoric allure of the trail.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

Our experience at Dinosaur Ridge

We pulled up to the main visitor center and found a host of live like dinosaur recreations including some beautifully painted ones. The parking lot was almost full and there appeared to be a couple of children groups visiting so it was a pretty lively seen.

By the way, as you would expect this is an awesome destination for kids and they can partake in lots of different activities including the “Seaway Fossil Box,” a replica dig environment that allows kids to sift for items like shark teeth and ammonites and even go home with a fossil that they find!

Dinosaur Ridge visitor center

We first hit up the gift shop to get our audio guide and free admission into the exhibits. I was impressed with all of the items in the gift shop which includes a lot of cool looking fossils and dinosaur bone recreations along with some interesting books. Because we are digital nomads now I don’t really accumulate souvenirs but it was very tempting to do that here!

Dinosaur Ridge gift shop

Upon arriving, if you’re not sure where you want to go or what you want to do, you can stop by the bright Dinosaur Ridge shed and get some guidance there.

Dinosaur Ridge shed

After arriving at the trailhead, we then set out on the Dinosaur Ridge Trail which follows the paved W Alameda Pkwy — a uniquely marked road closed off to the public.

Because there is very little shade and you likely will be exploring it while the sun is out, it’s a really good idea to carry some sunscreen with you and bring some extra water, which we made sure to do.

If you’re just doing the walking tour, you’ll stay on the right side of the road which is marked by pedestrian signage.

The shuttle bus will be driving just to the left of you so make sure you’re always aware of whether or not the bus is coming up on you. Also there will be bike lanes on the left side of the road and you obviously want to stay out of those if you are just on foot.

Dinosaur Ridge trail

One of the initial captivating sites we encountered was Crocodile Creek. It presented us with a glimpse into the past as we observed the tracks of crocodiles that date back a staggering 100 million years.

To enhance the experience, a well-constructed staircase now grants visitors a closer view of these ancient imprints. I was instantly awestruck by the abundance of remarkably preserved tracks, and my imagination couldn’t help but envision witnessing these magnificent crocodiles in their prime.

Make sure that you don’t miss some of the other interesting fossil sites where they discovered ancient critters and plant life. Throughout the trail you’ll find a lot of tiny placards that point out interesting prehistoric features in the rock so make sure you take your time as you progress through Dinosaur Ridge.

Dinosaur Ridge trail crocodile Creek

After passing through Crocodile Creek we made our way over to the ripples, which are remnants of early beaches. These type of remnants, along with other clues like shark teeth and the remains of prehistoric squid, give us enough evidence to determine that the entire region of the country was once covered in ocean which is extremely hard to envision given what the landscape looks like today.

Dinosaur Ridge trail ripples

Then we arrived at the main attraction—the huge wall of dinosaur footprints, rated #1 in the nation by paleontologists.

You’ll know you’re there when you see the big blue exterior.

To me, this is probably one of the coolest geological sites I’ve ever seen, and I’m not sure why it’s not a bigger deal. The fact that there are so many dinosaur footprints easily visible in one location is mind-boggling to me.

You’ll see footprints of all shapes and sizes. Make sure you look through the bottom right for some of the larger and iconic footprints.

Dinosaur Ridge trail dinosaur tracks

In case you find yourself needing to use the restroom, there is a bathroom facility at the primary visitor center and an additional portable toilet situated midway along the trail.

As you approach the bend along the ridge, there’s a pleasant viewpoint you can explore on the opposite side of the road. While the Denver skyline remains hidden behind Green Mountain, you still get a lovely perspective of the open basin landscape below.

Dinosaur Ridge trail overlook

As we ventured further along the trail, we stumbled upon a captivating geological marvel known as a “concretion.”

This intriguing natural phenomenon occurs when mineralization gradually envelops objects like pebbles, shells, sticks, and even bones, resulting in the formation of striking bowling ball-like structures. It’s always such a cool site to see when nature transforms ordinary objects into extraordinary formations.

Dinosaur Ridge trail concretion

Another awe-inspiring sight that captured our attention was the remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption, manifested in the form of a compressed ash layer. This geological phenomenon harkens back to a time over 100 million years ago when a volcano unleashed its fury hundreds of miles southwest from here. One can only imagine the site of the once-raging volcano, ash billowing into the sky, blotting out the sun.

Dinosaur Ridge trail ash layer

Around the turn of the ridge, you’ll encounter the Front Range Overlook and surely be impressed by the panoramic vistas that unfold before you which include a view of the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheater.

The rock layers between you and the red rocks represent different ancient landscapes separated by millions of years. Gazing out at them, it feels as if you’re being transported through the annals of Earth’s history. It’s also just incredibly scenic.

Dinosaur Ridge trail Front Range overlook

After admiring the sweeping views, we went across the street to inspect one of the coolest tracks you’ll find which is the raptor track. This rare gem is a true treasure, as it is one of only twelve known raptor track sites in existence worldwide. It’s a relatively recent find, discovered in 2016.

Dinosaur Ridge trail raptor track

Continuing our expedition, it was now time to venture towards the “bulges.” These peculiar formations reveal themselves as sunken depressions in the earth’s surface, left behind by the weighty footfalls of colossal dinosaurs.

It is truly a captivating sight, offering a unique perspective of the hidden wonders concealed beneath the ground’s surface — truly a world frozen in time.

Dinosaur Ridge trail bulge

To conclude our tour, we proceeded towards the dinosaur bones, a segment of the ridge characterized by the presence of ancient Jurassic layers. It is within these very strata that numerous groundbreaking discoveries were initially unveiled. Notably, it was in this vicinity where the Stegosaurus first came to light in 1877, courtesy of Arthur Lakes — an esteemed scientist and historian hailing from Golden, Colorado.

Dinosaur Ridge trail bones

We then decided to turn around and head back to the Dakota Ridge Trailhead. We would end up hiking just under a mile on this trail which took us up about 300 feet in order to admire some great views.

The trail has some good incline to it so it can get your blood pumping pretty quick but it’s not overly strenuous making it a great way to incorporate a little bit of a workout into your visit. You’ll also encounter beautiful juniper and pine trees along the way.

Dakota Ridge Trail view

We then made our way back to our car and drove over to the main visitor center to check out the exhibit. It’s a pretty small museum but it contains a lot of really interesting exhibits.

You’ll witness awe-inspiring replicas of dinosaur bones and footprints, gaining extensive knowledge about the geological history of long-gone eras.

Whether it’s understanding how scientists unraveled the dietary habits of sauropods or examining ancient marine fossils, you’ll emerge from the museum captivated by these ancient creatures and the field of Ichnology.

Dinosaur Ridge  exhibit

Final word

Overall, I definitely think that Dinosaur Ridge is worth visiting.

Even if dinosaurs aren’t your main interest, it’s difficult not to be fascinated by the abundance of dinosaur tracks. As previously mentioned, this location is perhaps the best in the country to witness them.

With the help of interpretive panels, you’ll be able to piece together a lot of the information and learn a ton about the history of the changing landscape and the dinosaurs themselves.

For those really curious about these fossils and what they mean, I suggest looking into one of the guided tours with a geologist so that you can ask all the questions that you’d like.

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