Paleontologists consider Dinosaur Ridge to be the best dinosaur track site in the world! This unique site in Golden, Colorado offers visitors the chance to see real dinosaur fossils and tracks in their original locations. In other words, you will be walking in the literal footprints of dinosaurs who once roamed what is now the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains west of Denver!
When Tim and I think about the most likely places to see dinosaur footprints, we think of remote locations like Dinosaur National Monument, not the heart of Golden, Colorado, and directly across the highway from Red Rocks Amphitheater. And yet that is where you will find Dinosaur Ridge, which paleontologists consider to be one of the best places to see dinosaur footprints in the world.
Dinosaur Ridge is a great activity for kids, but who said paleontological enthusiasm is only for the kiddos? We think dinosaurs are fascinating and learning about them always inspires our imaginations. Just picturing how different the world was so long ago and imagining these mighty creatures walking where you now stand is enough to give us chills! That’s why we decided to go on a romantic Dinosaur Date to Dinosaur Ridge (see what we did there?) and get our learning on!
This blog post covers everything you need to know to plan your own visit to Dinosaur Ridge, including tour options and the best things to do, plus where to stay in Golden if you’re coming from out of town!
About Dinosaur Ridge
Let’s start with a bit of background about Dinosaur Ridge and what it makes it so unique! True to its name, Dinosaur Ridge is home to what paleontologists consider one of the most important collections of dinosaur tracks in the world. The Dakota Sandstone that makes up the geology of Dinosaur Ridge is highly resistant to erosion, making it uniquely able to preserve the dinosaur fossils.
The first dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Ridge were discovered in 1877 by Arthur Lakes, a local professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Since then, the site has been a hub for dinosaur enthusiasts. The area is also rich in geological history, with rock formations that date back more than 150 million years to the Late Jurassic Period, also known as the “Age of Giants.”
Getting to see the massive rock face covered in hundreds of dinosaur footprints is the highlight of a visit to Dinosaur Ridge. Nothing makes dinosaurs feel more real than getting to walk in their footsteps! Getting to see their real-life remnants is as close as we can get to experiencing dinosaurs in real life and we are all for it!
Best Things to Do on Dinosaur Ridge
There are several ways you can experience Dinosaur Ridge – from self-guided explorations to guided tours, to even a round of golf if you prefer! Below is an overview of your options for visiting Dinosaur Ridge.
Stop by the Dinosaur Ridge Visitor Center and Exhibit Hall
Start your trip to Dinosaur Ridge at the Visitor Center to get oriented and arrange for any tours. The adjoining Exhibit Hall costs $4, and is included with any of the tours (including the $7 audio tour!) of Dinosaur Ridge. We explain all of the Dinosaur Ridge tour options below!
The Exhibit Hall offers indoor and outdoor exhibits, including paleo-murals, fossils, and bones. Kids in particular will have fun digging for fossils in the sand pit.
Explore the Dinosaur Ridge Trail
There are many ways to explore the Dinosaur Ridge Trail. We summarize all of the options below.
Hike Dinosaur Ridge Trail
The most popular way of visiting Dinosaur Ridge is by self-guided hike. There are several interpretative signs along the paved route, so you can still learn a lot about the fossils and footprints you are seeing even without a formal tour.
This is how Tim and I visited Dinosaur Ridge. We parked in the lot across from the Discovery Center and walked the paved trail to the large fossil panel. You can use the map and waypoints below to guide your walk!
1. Dinosaur Ridge Discovery Center
You can park here or across the street in the parking area. We parked across the street, but if you’re planning to visit the Discovery Center you may as well park here!
From the parking area, just follow the paved road slightly uphill. Soon, you’ll get the first point of interest on the trail – the Dinosaur Bone Bed!
2. Dinosaur Bone Bed and Bulges 1 and 2
On your left, you’ll come to an area called the Dinosaur Bone Bed. In this area, you will see a display of dinosaur bones as well as your first dinosaur footprints! These are Bulges 1 and 2.
What makes the footprints known as Bulges 1 and 2 at Dinosaur Ridge unique is that they present as bulges rather than imprints. The reason for this is that what we’re actually looking at when we look at this rock wall is the underside of a rock layer. Imagine a muddy ground with dinosaurs walking over it. Each step leaves an imprint in the mud. Millions of years go by and over that time the mud has hardened into rock and separated from a layer of softer rock below. It’s also tilted so now the underside is a vertical wall. And those footprints are the bulges on the wall. We’re basically looking at the underside of a dinosaur footprint!
In this area, you will also see a display with a rare raptor footprint. It’s not easy to see, but the display area has a red circle around the track to make it easier to discern.
Tip: Be sure to look across the street for great views of Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater.
3. Volcanic Ash Deposit
First, let’s blow your mind: the compressed layer of ash visible here is 104 million years old. Scientists are able to date it based on the half-life of uranium inside the hardened ash. That is how we know that 104 million years ago, a volcano in the area erupted and deposited a layer of what was once several feet of ash on what is now Dinosaur Ridge. Over time, the pressure of heavy layers of sand and mud compressed the ash down to the two-inch band (known as tonstein) that you see today.
Look to your left and up from the layer of volcanic ash and you’ll see something that looks a bit like a cannonball in the rock. This is a concretion! The only other place we’ve ever seen something like this was in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.
The concretion is yet another example of the power of erosion at work. Most concretions in the area are much smaller than this one – the size of a pebble in many cases. But with enough time, the spherical oddities can become as large as the concretion here!
From here, you’ll continue along the paved road as it curves, creating a U-shape from where you started. Be sure to look to your right for views over the Denver Basin! This is the final stretch before the crown jewel of Dinosaur Ridge.
5. Dinosaur Tracks
You’ll know when you arrive to the Main Tracksite at Dinosaur Ridge by the viewing platform and railing, if not by the giant tilted rock wall dotted with dozens of dark and distinct dinosaur footprints. What you see here is actually an ancient tidal flat that was trampled by dinosaurs! Millions of years ago, this part of North America was subject to fluctuating sea levels, so the ground of mud-covered sand was perfect for capturing the dinosaurs’ tracks. Just for fun or your to keep in your back pocket for trivia night, the dinosaurs roaming Dakota Ridge (aka Dinosaur Ridge) whose tracks you see here were the Eolambia, Acrocanthosaur, and Ornithomimid. There are also crocodile scratch marks.
Just past the Main Tracksite is an area where you can see the defined ripples in the rock, remnants of water movement from the era when the Western Interior Seaway extended to this part of what is now Colorado.
Lastly, you can see the track prints that paleontologists believe represent dino courtship. Don’t ask us how they know these footprints mean the dinosaurs were mating, but we find that absolutely mind-blowing! They call these “courtship scratches.”
Once you’re done looking at the dinosaur tracks, you simply turn back around the way you came!
Tip: You can also combine the paved Dinosaur Ridge walk with a hike on the Dakota Ridge Trail. This is a great option if you want to get more of a hike in addition to seeing the dinosaur tracks!
Dinosaur Ridge Guided Walking Tour
If you want to walk Dinosaur Ridge with a guide, you can take the Full Walking Tour ($18), which is a 1.5-2 hour guided tour of the entire Dinosaur Ridge, both East and West sides. The tour is suitable for anyone ages 10 and up and includes interpretation of dinosaur tracks and bones, local history, and geology.
Alternatively, on select dates of the year you can take the Walk with a Geologist tour ($20), which is a 2.5-hour walking tour of Dinosaur Ridge Trail led by a professional or amateur geologist, covering both East and West sides. It includes the interpretation of dinosaur tracks and fossil sites, along with an in-depth discussion of the geology and changes in the Denver area. These tours are designed for participants aged 16 and up.
To reserve your spot and see the schedule for walking tours on Dinosaur Ridge, check out their website here.
Dinosaur Ridge Audio Tour
If you want to walk Dinosaur Ridge yourself without an organized bus or walking tour, but you still want to listen to educational information about each point of interest, the $7 audio tour is a good option!
Tip: There is currently a free virtual tour online full of information and imagery about each point of interest on Dinosaur Ridge. It also includes audio describing each of the sites. This is a good free way to listen to information about the ridge as you hike!
Dinosaur Ridge Bus Tour
If walking Dinosaur Ridge isn’t your jam, Dinosaur Ridge offers a 45-minute guided bus tour. The guides interpret dinosaur tracks, bone fossils, local history, and geology. The guided bus tours provide an educational experience, featuring stops at the Bone Bed, Brontosaur Bulges, and Dinosaur Tracksite with brief talks at each site providing context for the fossils on the ridge. The cost for bus tours is $18 for adults and $12 for kids. Private group tours for seven or more guests (up to 14) cost a flat fee of $160. Tours are available daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Visit the Discovery Center
After exploring Dinosaur Ridge, pop into the Discovery Center, where you can see and touch model dinosaurs and fossil replicas, including claws, teeth, spikes, eggs, bones, and plates. The exhibit also features a 24-foot-long trackway made by a duck-billed dinosaur from southern Colorado.
Tip: The Discovery Center is located at the entrance to Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater, so it’s a fun twofer to hit on your way to or from Red Rocks!
Hike the Triceratops Trail
From the Discovery Center, drive towards Golden, Colorado to hike the Triceratops Trail. While not technically “on” Dinosaur Ridge, The Triceratops Trail is so close to Dinosaur Ridge that you may as well visit!
Triceratops Trail is a 1.5-mile gravel hiking trail that passes through old clay mining pits and features several interpretive stops highlighting geology, clay mining, and dinosaur, bird, mammal, insect, and invertebrate tracks and traces. The trail includes several impressive dinosaur tracks, including a large three-toed Tyrannosaur track and several four-toed Triceratops tracks, and palm frond impressions from the Late Cretaceous period. These fossils are dated to 68 million years ago.
There are two parking options for Triceratops Trail. The first option is a paid parking lot called “Jones Lot A,” operated by the Colorado School of Mines, located on Jones street. The second option is to look for public street parking or go to Mines Park, off of 19th Street, and park on Tangent Way. There is a pedestrian underpass under 6th Avenue, and it’s a short walk to the trailhead. “Jones Lot A” is free of charge on weekends.
From the parking lot, follow the signs to the Triceratops Trail. There is a beautiful little building painted with a fun and colorful mural of a Tyrannosaurus and a triceratops at the start of the trail.
Caution: There are rattlesnakes in this area. Stay on the trail and away from tall grasses, and keep your pets and children near!
The Triceratops Trail has six points of interest and interpretive sites, which made for a really engaging hike!
1. Clay Pit Overlook
You can see dinosaur tracks from the Clay Pit Overlook. According to the signage, this area shows evidence of having been trampled by dinosaurs.
2. Duckbill Tracks
The Duckbill Tracks are located down a short switchback path to a surprisingly lush little canyon-like space. There are a lot of fossils to see on the wall here – from raindrops, to dinosaur footprints, to the burrowings of other small animals. We really liked this part of the trail! The tall rock walls made it feel immersive.
3. Clay Mining
At the third marker on the trail, you can see the remnants of clay mining in this location that took place many years ago.
4. Geologic Overlook
The Geologic Overlook is marked with an umbrella-like structure. This is a great spot to take in a view of Golden and the surrounding landscape!
5. Triceratops Tracks
The Triceratops Tracks are, of course, the highlight of the Triceratops Trail! Like at Dinosaur Ridge, some of the tracks are bulges where you see the underside of a footprint. There is also a notable imprint footprint, which was my favorite. The bulges are very cool to see, but the traditional imprint track just makes the whole concept of “dinosaurs” feel way more real!
6. Palm Fronds and Bird Tracks
The last stop on the trail is the Palm Fronds and Bird Tracks. The palm frond imprints here are incredible! They look as distinct as if they had been done today.
Tee off at Fossil Trace Golf Course
Next to the Triceratops Trail is the Fossil Trace Golf Course. If you are a golfer, consider setting up a tee time to cap off your Dinosaur Ridge experience. The course is situated in an area where dinosaurs once roamed and a tropical climate with lakes, swamps, and palm trees existed. You’ll probably have noticed it on the Triceratops Trail since there is minimal separation between the green and the end of the trail. Because of this proximity, you can see the triceratops footprints and prehistoric fossils adjacent to the 12th green!
Where to Stay in Golden, Colorado
Here are some excellent hotel options in Golden, Colorado, just a few minutes drive from Dinosaur Ridge.
- Golden Hotel Ascend Hotel Collection
- The Eddy Taproom and Hotel
- Origin Red Rocks a Wyndham Hotel
- Table Mountain Inn
Final Thoughts on Dinosaur Ridge
We hope this post got you excited to see the amazing dinosaur tracks on Dinosaur Ridge! This unexpected treasure in the heart of the Front Range is a worthy item for any nature and science lover’s Colorado bucket list.
While in the area, consider a trip to nearby Golden Gate Canyon State Park for more hikes. This area is especially spectacular in the fall!