The distinctive geological characteristics of the western United States have favored the preservation of dinosaur fossils. The region is abundant with dinosaur remains embedded within sedimentary rock formations, which has led to numerous important paleontological discoveries. Because of this, the West is the perfect place to visit several world-renowned dinosaur museums and exhibits.

For example, groups visiting the Judith River Dinosaur Institute, located 100 miles north of Billings, Montana, in the Little Snowy Mountains, can participate in six-day immersive group digs involving excavation and camping. This program, endorsed by National Geographic, offers a realistic paleontological experience, says the institute’s founder and dig leader Nate Murphy. Groups can participate in uncovering dinosaur bones and contribute to significant collections. He adds, “When someone uncovers a bone that hasn’t seen the light of day in 150 million years, it gives them a sense of their place in time.”

Groups might also wish to visit Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison, Colorado. This outdoor and indoor museum, part of the Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas National Natural Landmark, holds historical significance as the site where Arthur Lakes identified fossils along the Dakota Hogback in 1876, leading to the discovery of well-known dinosaurs such as the Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus, and Allosaurus. Here, your group can experience a 45-minute bus tour where they will learn of different interpretations of dinosaur tracks, learn about fossils, local history, and geology. Afterward, your group can enjoy a guided walking tour with a geologist on the Triceratops Trail, which winds between massive walls of sandstone in old clay mining pits. “Guaranteed, visitors have never experienced this combination of dinosaur fossil tracks and bones in situ anywhere else on Earth,” says Kristen Kidd, Dinosaur Ridge’s director of marketing and communications. “It’s an opportunity everyone in the Denver area should take, and having a shared group experience makes it all the more special.”

Judith River Dinosaur Institute, Billings, Montana;
Credit: Judith River Dinosaur Institute

Your clients may choose to raft through the remote canyons of Dinosaur National Monument on the border of Utah and Colorado. Commercial guided trips cater to groups’ various needs, from one-day adventures in Split Mountain Canyon to multiday excursions spanning the Green and Yampa rivers winding through sagebrush plains and the Uinta Mountains. Groups can also discover dinosaur fossils, petroglyphs, homesteader cabins, ranches, vistas, and rivers. The Quarry Exhibit Hall and Harpers Corner provide close encounters with dinosaur bones and panoramic views over the canyon country.

Plan a guided tour at the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site in southern Utah. The museum displays various tracks, sedimentary structures, and offers a “Walk Through Time” exhibit. Guided tours can be scheduled in advance. Founded in 2005, the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm holds a unique place in paleontological history. Established after an accidental discovery of dinosaur footprints in 2000, this site stands as the oldest Jurassic dinosaur site in Utah and has uncovered thousands of fossils through collaborations with paleontologists.

Heading west to Nye County, Nevada, groups can learn of mining camps and the Nevada State Fossil, the Ichthyosaur. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, located in a ghost mining town, is home to the largest concentration of Ichthyosaur remains in North America, with more than 37 specimens discovered since 1928. Groups will also encounter the rugged vastness of Nevada. “From huge, cold desert valleys to pinyon/juniper covered slopes of the Shoshone Mountain Range,” says Park Supervisor Jeff Morris, “visitors might encounter a plethora of wildlife ranging from small reptiles like lizards and snakes to large game animals such as deer and antelope.”

Your group can explore the intersection of nature and culture at Dinosaur Hall in the Natural History Museum of Los Angles County in California, which offers groups a glimpse into the ancient world and our evolving understanding of it. Dinosaur Hall boasts an award-winning exhibition, displaying over 300 fossils and 20 mounted skeletons.

By Clarissa Casper

Main Image: Dinosaur Ridge, Morrison, Colorado; Credit: Dinosaur Ridge