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Aron Bosworth | 05.13.2019

With its mountainous terrain, colorful desert rocks, and deep river-cut canyons, northeastern Utah is home to a raw and adventure-laden landscape. This quiet corner of Utah also happens to be home to one of the world’s greatest collections of viewable dinosaur bones and fossils found at Dinosaur National Monument.

You need not be a paleontology buff, however, to enjoy all that Dinosaur, as it is colloquially called, has to offer. In addition to the impressive displays of dinosaur fossils frozen in time here, Dinosaur National Monument is also home to diverse hiking trails, scenic river overlooks, backcountry campgrounds, world-class whitewater, petroglyphs, and more. Whether you’re just passing through northern Utah or looking for your next unexpected outdoor excursion, Dinosaur National Monument should hold a place on your adventure list. Fortunately, the town of Vernal is less than 20 miles from the main visitor center, providing all the creature comforts, amenities, and supplies you’ll need whether you’re looking to daytrip to the monument or camp.

Do yourself a favor when visiting Dinosaur National Monument and give yourself a couple of days to get oriented, soak up the history, and learn the story of this place. Below is a 48 hour itinerary to help get you pointed in the right direction.


Section of the Dinosaur Quarry Wall. Denis LeBlanc.

Day 1

Morning: Visitor Center and Dinosaur Quarry

Dinosaur National Monument is a remote and rugged landscape with two major rivers flowing through it—the Green and the Yampa—restricting vehicle access to all but a few main roads. It’s a good idea to get oriented at the park’s west entrance at Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center to map out where you can go and how you will get around. Not only will you be able to talk to rangers and get all the information you need for your visit, you will also be a stone’s throw from the Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, one of the world’s best dinosaur bones and fossil displays. Approximately 1,500 dinosaur bones and fossils are on exhibit here in a fully enclosed hall. The Quarry is part of a vein of dinosaur bones that contributed over 400 complete skeletons to dozens of museums around the country. During summer months, you will need to take a shuttle bus from the visitor center.

Afternoon: Desert Voices Trail, Sound of Silence Trail, or both.

Once you've had your fill of the Quarry’s Jurassic megafauna fossils, spend the afternoon outdoors stretching your legs and taking in the scenery and colorful land formations of the Desert Voices Trail. This 1.5-mile loop begins at the Split Mountain Campground and boat launch and provides helpful and thought-provoking information about the the local desert ecology and land uses. Make sure to bring plenty of water, a hat, and sunscreen as this is desert hiking where summertime temperatures can exceed 100 degrees. The Desert Voices Trail can also be combined with the Sounds of Silence Trail for a 4.7-mile loop. 


Petroglyphs at McKee Spring. Denis Leblanc.

Day 2

McKee Spring Petroglyphs and Island Park

If you have time for only one backcountry excursion into Dinosaur National Monument’s wilderness, Island Park is the place to go. After a comfortable night back in Vernal or camping within the monument, head north on the unpaved Island Park Road into the park's remote backcountry. En route to Island Park, make sure to stop at McKee Springs to see the Fremont-style art, some of the best human-like figure petroglyphs in the area. A short loop trail for the parking area leads to the art.

A short way down the road beyond McKee Springs is the turnoff to Rainbow Park, a remote camping spot on the Green River. The main attraction, however, is the Island Park Overlook, 1.5 miles beyond Rainbow Park, which has postcard-worthy views of the Green River and Island Park land formation. A rim trail from the overlook makes for a scenic hike. Beyond the overlook, the road continues down to historic Ruple Ranch providing river access.

If additional time allows...

Echo Park via Harpers Corner Road/Echo Park Road

Echo Park is a remarkably scenic and remote area of the park located just downstream of the Green River and Yampa River confluence. Slated to be dammed and filled with water in the 1950s to supply power to the southwest, Echo Park was the focus of a major environmental showdown between the Sierra Club and the federal government. Fortunately, the dam was stopped (with Glen Canyon being dammed and lost as a concession) and left Echo Park open to visitors to explore as part of the monument. Multiple trails explore the confluence area and a primitive campground is open in summer. To get there, take Echo Park Road. Echo Park Road is a rugged 12-mile dirt road, and high-clearance vehicles are recommended, but it is well worth the excursion if you have the time.

Ride the rapids of the Green or Yampa Rivers

Both private and guided river rafting are options in the monument with multiple put-in and take out locations. Vernal-based outfitters offer a variety of river rafting expeditions or for those experienced and equipped, run a stretch of the park's magnificent river such as you'll find through Split Mountain Canyon.


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Uintah County is a hidden gem of adventure and discovery just three hours east of Salt Lake City, Utah. Home to three state parks, world-class river rafting and one of the most productive dinosaur quarries in the world, Uintah County has something for everyone. Visit for more information.

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