Round Trip Distance: 2.2 miles (including tram ride)
Elevation: 4767 - 5002 feet
Cellphone: 0-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs
Time: 1 hr. 30 mins.
Facilities: Flush toilets, gift shop
Trailhead: Visitor Center
Attractions: Dinosaur quarry, fossils along trail, petroglyphs
View Fossil Discovery Trail in a larger map
The Fossil Discovery Trail is in the Utah Section of the Dinosaur National Monument. The trail connects the Visitor Center with the Dinosaur Quarry site passing a boulder with some petroglyphs and a cliff that contains some nice specimens of dinosaur fossils in situ. The appealing aspect of the fossils outside of the quarry is that they appear as they would if you were to discover them while on a hike or as they were originally discovered at Dinosaur National Monument.
Most people visiting the dinosaur quarry site do so by riding the free tram from the Visitor Center to the quarry which is further up the hill. After touring the quarry some people will then choose to hike the Fossil Discovery trail back to the Visitor Center. There is usually plenty of room on the tram, which runs continually throughout the day, but at times it can fill up and rather than wait for the next tram one might choose to hike the trail up to the quarry. This description begins by hiking the trail to the quarry and returning via the tram.
The trailhead is located behind the Visitor Center.
The beginning of the trail is very unremarkable with little of anything to draw your attention. You have to walk about a half mile along the side of the hill before coming to the spot where the trail turns up the canyon toward the quarry. At this point there is a large boulder with a few samples of rock art on it. There isn't anything too exciting but it is enough to begin perking your interest in the trail. Up to this point we were having trouble giving the trail even a 1 star rating.
As the trail turns up the small valley the scenery quickly becomes more attractive and interesting.
After hiking for another quarter mile up the valley the trail comes to a cliff of the Morrison formation that has a lot of exposed dinosaur fossils and clams. Some of the specimens are marked with white dots and arrows to bring them to your attention but there are many, many more fragments in the cliff.
There is one large fossil near the end of the trail that is surprisingly easy to miss given its size. Above it, about 10-15 feet up the cliff, is a long section of vertebrae looking bone that may be either from a tail or neck. At this point the trail had gained a 3-4 star rating in our opinion.
There is a fork in the trail a little ways past the exposed fossils. The left fork leads up to the quarry and the right fork leads a short distance up the valley to a spot where there are some very small clam fossils. Stuff like this is really interesting if you do much hiking because it gives you something to compare what you see on those hikes to make it easier to properly identify them.
The dinosaur quarry site is enclosed within an air conditioned building where the fossils can be viewed from two different levels. Park rangers are on site to answer any questions and, of course, to help protect the fossils. School age children seem to be the most inquisitive and garner the most of the rangers attention.
The panorama that this prehistoric graveyard of a myriad of dinosaur species unveils before you provokes many thoughts of how they came to end up like this and naturally of what this planet must have been like at that time and all that has gone on since then.
The free tram provides a quick trip back to the Visitor Center.
What started out to be an unpleasant hike turned out to be a real jewel. Most people skip the trail all together and ride the tram to and from the quarry. The dinosaur quarry is the main attraction that draws visitors to the monument and it is worth the time it takes to go out of your way to pay it a visit. For someone interested in learning even more then hiking the Fossil Discovery trail will also be worthwhile. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.