While Brian and I were visiting Colorado for the weekend to attend the two Dead & Company concerts at Folsom Field in Boulder, we had all day Friday and Saturday to do some exploring, and since we were going to check out Red Rocks Amphitheater anyway, we decided to check out Dinosaur Ridge too… even though it totally felt like we were cheating on the kids by doing this without them!
Dinosaur Ridge in the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark is one of the world’s most famous dinosaur fossil locations, featuring over 300 Cretaceous dinosaur footprints, a few dozen Jurassic dinosaur bones, and many other trace fossils.
The Dinosaur Ridge area discoveries sparked the Golden Age of dinosaurs:
- In 1877, some of the best-known dinosaurs that lived 150 million years ago in the Late Jurassic Period were found here, including Stegosaurus, Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and Allosaurus.
- In 1937, during the construction of West Alameda Parkway to provide access to Red Rocks Park, hundreds of dinosaur footprints were discovered on the east side of Dinosaur Ridge in the 100 million year old rocks of the Dakota Group, representing the Early Cretaceous Period. These tracks are those of Iguanodon-like plant-eating dinosaurs and ostrich-sized meat-eating dinosaurs.
- In 1973, the National Park Service designated this area as the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark.
- In 1975, the Council Tree on Dinosaur Ridge and Rooney Ranch was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- In 1992-1993, new excavations and maps of the tracks discovered in 1937 revealed a total of 335 tracks and 37 trackways. Ten different rock strata contain tracks, with at least 78 individual dinosaurs represented in tracks preserved on the ridge.
- In 2001, the State of Colorado designated it a State Natural Area for its paleontological and ecological significance.
- In 2006, the Colorado Geological Survey designated both Dinosaur Ridge and Triceratops Trail as Points of Geological Interest.
- In June 2011, Dinosaur Ridge was combined with another track site, the Parfet Prehistoric Preserve, about three miles north. The combined National Natural Landmark is now the Morrisson-Golden Fossil Areas.
- In 2013, the Council Tree was named a Jefferson County Historic Landmark.
Exploring Dinosaur Ridge
The 1.0 mile Dinosaur Ridge Trail travels on Alameda Parkway, between Rooney Road North and County Road 93 and traverses the Dakota Hogback that has been renamed Dinosaur Ridge.
The trail features hundreds of dinosaur tracks, a quarry of dinosaur bones, interesting geologic features and more than 15 official improved sites, each marked by an interpretive sign. Fossil sites, interesting rock sites, and scenic overlooks provide additional hints to the prehistory of Colorado’s Front Range.
Hiking the Ridge and back will take between 1-2 hours and is 2.0 miles round trip. You can make the round trip walk on foot and walk the whole thing — half of the walk will be uphill and there is no shade. Or you can catch the shuttle at the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center and Gift Shop that will take you from site to site. Once you choose to walk, you have to walk the whole time. The shuttle will not pick you up partway if you get tired.
The Dinosaur Tracksite
Originally uncovered by accident during the construction of West Alameda Parkway in 1937, the large tracksite was open for 52 years but many were vandalized or removed. Eventually, the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge was formed to aid in preservation and protection of the footprints.
Today, after an expansion of the main site in 1994, over 300 tracks have been identified. Of those at least half are periodically colored using charcoal by Dinosaur Ridge volunteers to help visitors see the tracks in the sandstone.
Dinosaur Ridge Geology
At the top of the Ridge, a switchback curve cuts through showing the geologic structure of the Hogback. Two scenic overlooks, east and west, are places to study the geology of the Front Range or to just sit back and enjoy the view. Interpretive signs at the curve highlight the Denver Basin, oil and gas production, the Golden Fault, and the uplift of the Rocky Mountains.
The Dinosaur Ridge Bone Quarry
Discovered in 1877, the Dinosaur Ridge Bone Site was originally referred to as Morrison Quarry Number Five. Of the 14 quarries in the area, only four actually produced bones: 1, 5, 8, and 10. Quarry Number 5 is the Dinosaur Ridge Bone Quarry and where the world’s first Stegosaurus was discovered. Several vertebrae, parts of limbs and pieces of the famous plates were uncovered and can now be seen on display at the Morrison Natural History Museum.
The bones exposed today at our interpretive site are most likely from Stegosaurus and Apatosaurus and washed into this small braided stream channel deposit likely during a rainy season flooding event. Our Bone Quarry is one of only a few locations where you can see and touch dinosaur bones in the rock where they fossilized long ago.
Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Centers
There are two Visitor Centers at Dinosaur Ridge:
- Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center and Gift Shop: The main Visitor Center with shuttle pick up, beverage items, dinosaur statues, a large gift shop, a picnic area, and the Trek Through Time Exhibit Hall.
- Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center and Gift Shop: A smaller Visitor Center across the street from Red Rocks Park & Amphitheatre that has dinosaur statues, some historical museum exhibits, and a small gift shop.
Trek Through Time
Designed as a walk through different environments at different prehistoric dates, five murals painted in acrylic by world-renowned paleoartist Michael W. Skrepnik are included as a major part of the interpretation of Colorado’s ancient environments in the Trek Through Time exhibit hall.
Together with paleogeographic maps of North America, the painted scenes and maps demonstrate that the climate and landscape changed, Colorado moved further from the equator and further from Europe, sea level rose and fell on a massive scale, and the assemblages of plant and animal life changed dramatically during the Age of Dinosaurs between 150 and 68 million years ago.
Fossils in glass cases highlight the bones, plants, and footprints from the Dinosaur Ridge area. Several large trackways of dinosaurs, a crocodile, and several wading birds, also from the Dinosaur Ridge area, line the walls in full-size replica displays, all for touching and exploring.
Know Before You Go
- The main Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center and Gift Shop is located in the Morrison Fossil Area National Natural Landmark at 16831 West Alameda Parkway, Morrison, Colorado 80465 in Jefferson County.
- The smaller Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center and Gift Shop is located on the west side of Dinosaur Ridge, across from Red Rocks Entrance #1, at 17681 West Alameda Parkway, Golden, Colorado 80402 also in Jefferson County.
- Admission is $9.00/adult, $7.00/youth ages 3-11, and children age 2 and under are free. Admission includes a 45-minute guided bus tour and entrance into the exhibit hall. Buses only leave from the Main Visitor Center Bus Stop.
- You can visit and experience Dinosaur Ridge for free! Walking the Dinosaur Ridge Trail is free as is the small museum at the Discovery Visitor Center.
- Dinosaur Ridge is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
- With the closure of Alameda Parkway over the Ridge and the opening of the Trek Through Time indoor exhibit hall in 2008, The Friends of Dinosaur Ridge offers a family-friendly Visitor Center and dinosaur trail.
- Every year Dinosaur Ridge and Triceratops Trail are destinations for close to 100,000 dinosaur enthusiasts, earth scientists, students of all ages, and nature lovers.
- There is no shade at Dinosaur Ridge and this is an outdoor museum. Be prepared for all types of weather. In warm months, wear a hat and sunscreen and bring plenty of water. In the winter, be sure to have a warm jacket and be prepared for rain.
- In 2004 the Friends of Dinosaur Ridge opened the Triceratops Trail to the public. This half-mile-long trail is located in reclaimed clay pits in Golden that are now next to the Fossil Trace Golf Club. Many 68 million-year-old trace fossils can be found along this trail, including tracks of dinosaurs, mammals, birds, and beetles.