The land of Colorado was once roamed by mighty stegosauruses, tricerotops and other long-necked dinosaur giants. There are several archeological sites and museums across Colorado where you can see ancient fossils of the state's earliest residents.
Dinosaur National Monument
The Dinosaur National Monument brings out the childlike amazement in even the oldest adults. Inside the main visitor center, Dinosaur Quarry, visitors can see fossils from the world-famous Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, where approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones are left in place in a cliff wall. The monument, located in northwest Colorado near on the Utah border, also has a number of self-guided trails to explore.
Take on gargantuan fossil tracks at the Picketwire Canyonlands south of La Junta. Here, visitors can feast their eyes on the nation’s largest collection of fossilized dinosaur footprints, as well as put their own tiny feet right inside them. The area boasts nearly 1,300 dinosaur tracks from as many as 100 different animals, all along just a half-mile stretch of the Purgatoire River.
Some of today’s most notorious dinosaurs were first discovered in Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison. Since these first-in-Colorado finds, Dinosaur Ridge has become one of the world’s most famous dinosaur fossil localities. Today, you can take daily self-guided and guided tours of excavation sites and exposed fossils. For a special treat, the road is closed once a month for Dinosaur Discovery Days, when you can take guided tours to view the tracks, bones and other spectacular examples of geology and paleontology without the distraction of passing traffic.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Take a different look at the earth’s prehistoric life at the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, just west of Pikes Peak near Cripple Creek and Colorado Springs. Here, enormous petrified redwoods and detailed fossils of ancient insects and plants tell a story of Colorado's past. The enormity of fossils in the area can be credited to gigantic volcanic eruptions that quickly buried the then-lush valley.
Dinosaur Journey Museum
The Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita is devoted to hands-on experiences — and even has robotic displays of the beasts that once called this area home. Interact with a stegosaurus, triceratops or T-rex and wander among the displays of real dinosaur bones from these and other thunder lizards.
Denver Museum of Nature & Science
From the Prehistoric Journey exhibit to the new T-rex Encounter to films and dino-themed events, The Denver Museum of Nature & Science provides a number of attractions for dinosaur lovers. The Prehistoric Journey exhibit welcomes you with an interactive battle between a gargantuan stegosaurus and an 80-foot-long diplodocus towering overhead. After seeing the battle, you can wander prehistoric habitats, view ancient plants and examine fossils from the Museum Touch Carts.
Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
Learn everything you wanted to know about prehistoric lizards at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center in Woodland Park. Featuring some of the most spectacular dinosaurs, the resource center also has marine reptiles, flying reptiles and fish of North America’s late Cretaceous Period on display.
State Fossil: Stegosaurus
Popular with dinosaur lovers of all ages, the stegosaurus roamed Colorado during the late Jurassic Period (155 to 145 million years ago). Some of the most important stegosaurus discoveries have been made here, making it the perfect state fossil. This herbivore had a strong quill-tipped tail, thought to be used mainly for defense, and distinctive plates running down its back — which is how it got the name stegosaurus, which means “roof-lizard.” On average, this giant stood 14 feet tall, 30 feet long and tipped the scales at 6,000 pounds — the rough dimensions of a school bus.
Photo: A ranger gives a talk at Dinosaur National Monument/photo courtesy of the National Park Service; brontosaurus tracks at Picketwire Canyon/photo by Wikimedia/cm195902.