If you have a love for dinosaurs and their history, Denver is truly one of the best cities to visit. You can spend half a day exploring the world famous dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Ridge as well as spending time in some of the museums like the Morrison Natural History Museum.
But one spot not to be overlooked is Triceratops Trail which is a quick and easy visit with a lot of bang for buck in terms of stunning dinosaur tracks. In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know before visiting.
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What is Triceratops Trail?
Triceratops Trail is a one-mile roundtrip nature walk near Denver, Colorado, that allows you to explore well preserved dinosaur tracks and other fossils dating from 68 million years ago.
While its nearby neighbor Dinosaur Ridge was ranked as the number one dinosaur track site in the US by paleontologists, Triceratops Trail was ranked #3.
It’s free to visit Triceratops Trail (other than sometimes paying a small amount for parking). However, you can book a tour with a geologist that will allow you to gain a lot of interesting and valuable insight into the different sites. If you don’t want to go with a geologist, you can also purchase an audio tour to give you additional insight.
Where is Triceratops Trail?
Triceratops Trail found in Golden Colorado, adjacent to the Colorado School of Mines.
We chose to park at the Jones Lot A which is operated by Colorado School of Mines (and free on weekends). This lot is directly adjacent to the trailhead but if that lot is full you can also look for public street parking or go to Mines Park. There may be parking available on Tangent Way.
Our experience at Triceratops Trail
After paying for parking, we set off on the trail which is directly adjacent to the main parking lot. The trail does run along a highway in the beginning but it feels surprisingly secluded once you start making your way down the path.
Within a short amount of time, you’ll come across a small hut. Here, you can find maps of the area and also can take a pamphlet with you for more information.
It’s pretty cool to think about that the rocks and remains that you’ll be looking at are from the late cretaceous period.
This era marks the end of the age of dinosaurs, making it a remarkable journey back in time. So you’ll be witnessing traces of dinosaurs from a period closest to our own, bridging a gap of millions of years and gaining a unique perspective on the distant past.
In ancient times, this region teemed with life as a lush, marshy delta, adorned with serene lakes, winding streams, and swamps and scrubby forests. Imagine towering palm trees reigning over a prehistoric kingdom, where mighty Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops roamed freely. That’s what you’ll be exploring.
After moving through a gravel path you’ll come across what looks like a ravine and you’ll head down a couple of switchbacks to get down to some tracks.
You’ll be looking at upright tilted layers of sandstone of the Laramie Formation. The wall was once flat but it was uplifted so that the imprints are now viewed from their underside.
It’s here where you can see some of the most intriguing dinosaur prints including those believed to be from a Tyrannosaurus rex and duckbill dinosaur! It’s not 100 percent certain if this is a print of a Tyrannosaurus rex but other clues like teeth and bones found nearby suggest that it is.
Some other interesting sites to see here including raindrop impressions (although some scientists think these could have been gas bubbles). I couldn’t believe that such delicate details could be preserved over vast expanses of time.
Beetle tracks can also be found in the wall as well.
As you continue your journey along the platform, another captivating site comes into view: the literal stomping grounds of dinosaurs. This section of the wall bears witness to the countless footsteps left behind by these magnificent creatures, creating a vivid tableau of their ancient activities. Dinosaur bulges can also be seen nearby as well.
After checking that out, you will head back up where you came and you will pass through a clay mining area on your way to an overlook. The abundance of clay in the area allowed Golden to become a major center of brickmaking and the clay mine here was used for over 100 years.
Look closely and you can see dinosaur tracks and evidence of a stream.
Once you arrive at the overlook, you’ll have a really good view of some of the trail below as well as the neighboring golf course known as Fossil Trace Golf Course. (You have to stay off the golf course.)
There was a steady flow of golfers when we visited who were taking a little bit of time after their hole to check out some of the tracks. The novelty of the golf course reminded me of another unique Colorado golf course in Estes Park where elk roamed on the greens.
You’ll then take the path down towards the end of the trail. Make sure you keep your eyes open for snakes as they can be spotted out here and there is a lot of overgrowth they could be hiding in.
Also worth noting is that during the middle of the day, there is no shade on this trail and it can get pretty warm. We visited on a day with temperatures in the high 90s and even though this is a very short trail, it still was a bit taxing with the heat — my phone even stopped working at times!
Sunscreen, water, and even an umbrella could be handy.
As you draw nearer to this second wall, even more fascinating sights await.
Witness the evidence of small animal burrows and intricate trails etched into the ancient ground, providing glimpses into the mysterious lives of creatures that once roamed these very lands. And not to be missed are the log impressions, preserving the long-lost presence of fallen trees that were once integral to this prehistoric landscape.
The most impressive sight to behold at this location is undoubtedly the well-defined and enormous triceratops tracks. Unlike some other places where tracks might be less visible, the triceratops tracks here stand out prominently and clearly, making the experience even more remarkable. It’s possible the tracks could belong to another horned dinosaur similar to triceratops but either way they are magnificent to behold.
Another captivating site to explore along the trail is the mesmerizing display of palm fronds.
These exquisite patterns, exquisitely preserved and distinctly visible, serve as a captivating glimpse into the lush semi-tropical climate that once enveloped this ancient land. They are known as ichnofossils, which are “trace evidence of once living things.”
As you wander through this prehistoric terrain, you can also envision the magnificent magnolia and sycamore trees that would have towered above, alongside the delicate presence of low-lying ferns and herbs, painting a vivid picture of the diverse flora that thrived in this ancient ecosystem.
After checking out the palm fronds be sure to look for some of the other traces. There were mammal tracks once here but they were removed to be preserved but it’s worth mentioning that Triceratops Trail is only one of three places where you could find dinosaur tracks alongside mammal tracks.
After viewing these interesting sites, it was time to head back. But by this time, my mind had been sufficiently blown by seeing so many huge dinosaur tracks and hopefully yours will be as well.
Triceratops Trail is a must-stop destination for anybody interested in dinosaurs. It’s extremely accessible and you can see some amazing giant dinosaur tracks belonging to some of the most revered dinosaurs including a Tyrannosaurus rex and triceratops.
Some of the other traces are also fascinating to see like the rain drops and the palm fronds, among others.
And lastly, the fact that these are from the last days of the dinosaurs makes this an even more memorable experience as you’re able to witness pieces from their final era.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC.