Colorado is a treasure trove for fossils and on National Fossil Day, museums, parks and more across the state are highlighting these precious pieces of prehistory.
Wednesday marks the 12th annual National Fossil Day, a celebration that points to the scientific and educational value of paleontology, according to the National Park Service. The NPS established National Fossil Day in 2010.
Fossils found in the state of Colorado help piece together the story of what was happening on Earth well before recorded history. Learn more about the stories behind the bones at these Colorado destinations.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
Explore dinosaur fossils without leaving Denver at the museum's Prehistoric Journey exhibit. The exhibit begins chronologically, with life in ancient seas, and progresses as life diversifies into the air with insects and dinosaurs and mammals.
Visitors can touch some fossils available in the Museum Touch Carts and watch scientists as they study and prepare fossils.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Teller County protects an area where ash from volcanic eruptions 34 million years ago preserved a whole ecosystem, allowing paleontologists to collect thousands of specimens. This has included 140 plant species and 1,100 insect species, according to the Colorado Geological Survey.
Visitors can also see the world's first roses and petrified redwood stumps, which are up to 14 feet wide, according to NPS.
The park's paleontology team is constantly doing research and monitoring the fossil sites to continue to educate the public.
If you can't make it out to the national monument, you can embark on a virtual experience on its website.
Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
This family friendly science center is located in Woodland Park and is open year round. Walk inside and explore displays of dinosaurs, prehistoric marine reptiles, pterosaurs, and fish from the late Cretaceous period.
Their fossils are on display with vibrant graphics and information to learn about each specimen.
Tours are available with admission and last about one hour.
The Dinosaur National Monument, just north of the town of Dinosaur, features a slew of fossils at its main visitors center (which is 15 miles west, as the crow flies, of the Colorado state border in Utah, though much of the national monument is in Colorado). More than 1,500 dinosaur fossils — including Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus — are exposed on the cliff face inside the Quarry Exhibit Hall.
The Colorado side of the park is best known for its canyon views and scenery, while the Utah section is more ideal for seeing dinosaur fossils.
In some places, visitors are welcome to touch the real 149-million-year-old fossils.
The monument offers multiple self-guided tours. Call 970-374-3000 for information.
Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison has become a popular place near Denver to see exposed fossils in the rock. You can take a guided tour or self-guided tour of the excavation sites.
Dinosaur Ridge is also the first place a stegosaurus was discovered (bonus fact: Colorado's state fossil is the stegosaurus).
The dinosaur tracksite is just east of the ridge along W. Alameda Parkway.
Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience
This museum near Canon City opened a few years ago and was custom-built with kids as the focus. They can enjoy and learn from full-scale dinosaur casts, real fossils, interactive displays and hands-on exhibits.
In the Dino Wild Walk, your family can stroll on a smooth dirt trail to see 16 different life-size animatronic dinosaurs.
The 10,000-square-foot museum welcomes visitors to explore on their own or with a guide (which is free with admission). Tours are 45 minutes.
Afterward, the kids (and adults) can play on a multi-story ropes course.
Indian Springs Trace Fossil Natural Area
This area features traces of animals that lived in the Ordovician Period, about 450 million years ago.
Twenty-five types of trace fossils are viewable, including those of the armor-plated fish, ancient horseshoe crabs, trilobites, and more.
A layer of rock found in 1887 near modern-day Canon City contains the world's oldest known vertebrates, according to the Colorado Geological Survey.
The area is a designated National Natural Landmark.
It is owned by Indian Springs Ranch, a private landowner, so you must coordinate any visits with them. Call 719-372-3907 for details.
Picket Wire Canyonlands in the Comanche National Grasslands
South of La Junta, this area features more than 1,900 footprints and is home to the largest dinosaur tracksite in North America, according to the U.S. Forest Service.
About 150 million years ago, southeastern Colorado was tropical and the Purgatoire River Valley was a large shallow lake that attracted all kinds of animals. They left their footprints behind.
The round trip hike to the footprints is 11.2 miles, starting at the Withers Canyon Trailhead. Plan for heat in the canyon.
Located in Fruita, this museum has displays of various fossils and information on each. It tells the story of Colorado's history through these fossils, plus cast skeletons and robotic reconstructions of the dinosaurs.
Visitors can see more than 15,000 fossil specimens.
Kids can play paleontologist for a day at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry.