Where Fossils Rock!
There are special places on earth where conditions uniquely aligned to preserve fossils and give us a window into the past so that we can understand what plants and animals were like long before humans existed.
Here are a dozen locations where fossil remains are recognized around the globe for their significance and value. Join us on the fossil trail and learn what life was like for prehistoric plants and animals. Celebrate National Fossil Day in October at a location near you.
Petrified Forest National Park is a unique landscape known best for its petrified log fossils from the Late Triassic period. Fossils formed when sediment and volcanic ash buried the downed trees that accumulated in river channels. Quartz crystals formed in the logs as groundwater seeped in and dissolved the ash into silica, replacing wood cells with stone. Take a drive through the park, participate in a ranger-guided program, and stop at the Painted Desert Visitor Center for an interactive, computer-based Triassic Virtual Tour, hands-on exhibits, gift shop and so much more. Also consider a stop at the Rainbow Forest Museum for a variety of exhibits and an orientation film, Timeless Impressions, which is shown every half hour.
Dinosaur National Monument features about 1,500 dinosaur bones from the Jurassic period including: Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Diplodicus and Stegosaurus among many others. The newly refurbished Quarry Exhibit Hall provides the perfect environment to learn about, see and even touch 149-million-year-old dinosaur fossils. Reserve a camping site at Green River Campground or Split Mountain Group Campground to make the most out of your trip.
National Monument (NPS)
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument features one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world— up to 1,700 species. Sequoia tree fossils are some of the largest diameter petrified trees in the world and are massive among the insect and plant fossils in the monument. A visit to Florissant Fossil Beds begins in the visitor center with an orientation film, Shadows of the Past, hands on exhibits about fossils and science, followed by a hike on the Petrified Forest Loop.
National Monument (NPS)
Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument features the world’s richest known deposit of the Hagerman Horse, Equus simplicidens, thought to be the link between prehistoric and modern horses. Paleontologists consider Hagerman one of the most important sites in the world for the fossil history of horses. The monument also contains a portion of the Oregon National Historic Trail. A stop at the visitor center will help set you on a course of discovery in this southern Idaho gem.
Devonian Fossil Gorge provides an opportunity to discover fossils that are 200 million years older than dinosaurs. During the summers of 1993 and 2003 significant floods of Coralville Lake exposed the Devonian bedrock and the wide array of fossils embedded in the seafloor of what was once a tropical marine environment. With nearly two dozen specific locations to discover fossils and geologic features you’ll want to allow plenty of time. Camping opportunities are at the Dam Complex, the Sandy Beach Camp and Sugar Bottom.
National Monument (NPS)
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is another site of some of the best preserved mammal bone fossils in the world. Mammal fossils found here are from the Miocene Epoch (19–21 million years ago) and are the remains of animals that replaced the dinosaurs. A slab of the bone bed, some 2-1/2 to four feet thick, is on display in the visitor center. Hike the 2.7 miles (4.34 km) Fossil Hills or the one mile (1.6 km) Daemonelix trail and explore the area’s fossils and history.
National Monument (NPS)
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument protects one of the longest and most continuous records of evolutionary change in North America. The monument is divided into three units dispersed throughout east-central Oregon and requires more than one day to explore. Camping is not available within the monument but you can download the monument’s Campgrounds Brochure (PDF) to find camping nearby. Advance reservations are available for camping and cabins on the nearby Ochoco National Forest or Malheur National Forest for those who want to explore all that John Day has to offer.
Badlands National Park contains deposits of one of the world’s richest fossil beds where ancient mammals such as the rhino, horse and saber-toothed cat once roamed. Land-based and marine fossils have been found and studied in the White River Badlands since 1846 and are included in museum collections around the world. A stop at the visitor center and the working paleontology lab to watch paleontologists at work and learn more about the scientific discoveries are great places to launch your Badlands fossil discovery adventure. If you're in the area, a visit to the Mammoth Site, a National Natural Landmark less than two hours away at Hot Springs, boasts the largest concentration of mammoth remains in the U. S.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is known as one of the best examples of an ancient, marine fossil reef on Earth. Imagine a vast tropical sea full of lime-secreting organisms that formed at this well-preserved reef as you look across what now is an arid landscape of jagged peaks, vast desert vistas and a diverse ecology. The visitor center will set your course for exploration along 80 miles (129km) of trails. Don’t forget to pick up a fossil guide (PDF) to help identify prehistoric marine critters along the way.
The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry contains the densest concentration of Jurassic-aged dinosaur bones ever found. Scientists are still puzzled why more than 75 percent of the bones found in this area are from carnivores. See the bones and learn about the research being conducted at this site, and then offer your own hypothesis about the mystery that persists even today.
Fossil Butte National Monument is home to some of the most well-preserved fossils known. This once sub-tropical landscape preserves fossils of fish, reptiles, birds, insects, plants and mammals in their entirety. The visitor center is open year-round, seven days a week (except for winter holidays) and fall and spring offer cooler temperatures to enjoy hiking, horseback riding, cycling, picnicking and more. Watch a fossil preparation demonstration, participate in a quarry program or go on a guided tour to learn more.
Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite is the largest tracksite in Wyoming and one of only a few worldwide from the middle Jurassic Period (160 million to 180 million years old). Until 1997 scientists believed that the entire Bighorn Basin was covered by an ancient ocean and only sea creatures existed here. Thousands of tracks in the area were clearly made at a shoreline and were preserved as the mud hardened and sand filled the tracks. Red Gulch provides a wonderful classroom for kids of all ages to learn about the dinosaurs that roamed here.