Dinosaur National Monument is about 3.5 hours away from Arches. When calculating drive time, I always like to add an hour.
Note: For this road trip, I wanted to keep driving at about four to five hours a day. Sometimes longer drive times are unavoidable. Summer in Houston is hot 24 hours a day. But most places, you’ll hit hot peaks sandwiched in-between pleasant mornings and evenings. Once we got out of Texas, we structured our day with a morning activity, followed by driving late morning to early afternoon. Then we could enjoy the parks from late afternoon until night fall.
The interesting thing about the national parks is that they’ll get millions of visitors a year, but you would think on the way over, you were the only one ever visiting the place. The state roads were often two-lane and empty. Sometimes I wondered if I was taking the correct route. When I thought we couldn’t get more remote, it got more remote.
We reached Dinosaur National Monument around 2pm. We ate our lunch at a picnic table at the parking lot.
There are two sides of Dinosaur National Monument. One entrance is in Utah and the other is in Colorado. If you want to see dinosaur bones, you have to go to the Utah side.
The visitor center located in Jensen, Utah has a nice little exhibit as well as gift shop. On the other side of the building, you exit and there are shuttle buses that take you to Quarry Exhibit Hall. My youngest was super excited about DNM. He had been asking about it the whole trip, so he was super excited once we got to the Quarry.
The Quarry hall is so cool! So, it’s an actual quarry where scientist dug up dinosaur bones. They built a building around the rock, to protect the bones and visitors can now see how dinosaur bones look like when paleontologists find them in the ground.
It’s a two story building and there’s also a small exihibit. My advice would be to join a ranger talk. When we went, the kids joined a junior ranger activity. It was really informative and engaging. I think we got a lot more out of the visit than if we explored the exihibit on our own. We spent more than an hour a the quarry hall.
We took the bus back to the visitor center. There, the kids got their junior ranger badges and we also bought the little guy a dinosaur he named Sven.
Dinosaur National Monument doesn’t just have dinosaurs. Oh no. It also has petroglyphs. The park maps shows places you can stop in the park to see these. There’s an audio tour as well. We didn’t do the audiotour, but used the map and stopped along the way to see examples of petroglyphs in the park. It was super amazing!
We also drove by the park campsite, the Green River campsite. I thought about camping there, but in the end, I decided against it. After seeing the campsite, I felt that perhaps it would have been a great place to camp. Maybe next time.
If you keep driving on the main park road (Utah side), the paved portion eventually ends but the road keeps on going. You’ll end up at the Josie Morris Cabin. The cabin was built by Josie Morris, who at the age of forty, decided she had enough and built her own cabin out in the middle of nowhere. You’ll have to visit if you want to learn more. As we walked around, the kids and I discussed whether we would ever do something like that. I don’t know if I would, but I was impressed the cabin.
We felt like we spent enough time at the park. It was around 5 or 6 when we finished. We left the park and drove into the town of Vernal. As you drive to Vernal from Dinosaur, you tend to second guess your decision to stay there as opposed just camp at the park. There’s not a lot in between and some parts are a bit industrial. Yet, once we reached Vernal, it was a cute little town. The hotel was clean and the front desk guy was really nice.
For dinner, he suggested this pizza place called Antica Forma. It was really good!
After that, we returned to the hotel. We took showers and did laundry. Then we turned in for the night. The next day we would continue our journey as we travelled to Wyoming.