This summer, take a road trip through America’s dinosaur capital: the city of Vernal, affectionately known as Dinosaurland, Utah. Home to Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal is a hub for outdoor adventure and American West history situated only three hours from Salt Lake City. In addition, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Arches, and Canyonlands national parks are all within driving distance! We think you could spend an entire month exploring the area, but the four-day itinerary below is a great place to start.
There’s no better way to get acquainted with Dinosaurland, Utah than to visit Dinosaur National Monument. Located on the border between Utah and Colorado, the park is 200,000 acres in size and contains thousands of millions-of-years-old dinosaur bones. (You’ll find all of the fossils, footprints, and petroglyphs on the Utah side of the monument.) Here, the world-renowned Dinosaur Quarry Exhibit Hall and Visitor Center is home to more than 1,500 fossils still embedded in a cliff face. Interactive exhibits are fun for the whole family and an absolute must during your stay.
That afternoon, explore where dinosaurs once roamed! Hike the three-mile Sound of Silence trail that highlights the monument’s geologic diversity and offers great views of Split Mountain. That evening back in town, enjoy a hard-earned dinner at any number of Vernal’s family-friendly restaurants. We recommend the aptly named Dinosaur Brew Haus or the Quarry Steakhouse and Brew Pub. During your stay, consider making yourself at home in a local bed and breakfast or at any number of hotels in town.
DAY 2: KAYAK, PADDLE, OR RAFT VERNAL’S LUSH WATERWAYS
Take to the water on day two! Dinosaurland is home to an incredible assortment of watersports thanks to its location, including its proximity to the nationally-recognized Green River. No matter your skill level, you can find everything from friendly whitewater floats to wild rides on Class IV rapids (get outfitted for your trip here). Kayaking, canoeing, and standup-paddleboarding are also popular choices at nearby Red Fleet State Park and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Center.
After your morning adventure, visit the Uinta Heritage Museum located conveniently in downtown Vernal. The rotating art exhibits showcase displays of Native American heritage, as well as the history of the miners, soldiers, lawmen, and outlaws who helped shape the past of the Uinta Basin. Entrance is free and the museum is within walking distance of many great restaurants. Try the popular Antica Forma, where thin-crust pizzas wash down well with a cocktail of your choice.
DAY 3: RIDE BIKES THROUGH SOME OF THE WEST’S BEST SCENERY
On your third morning, enjoy a hearty home-cooked breakfast in town at Betty’s Cafe. Then, hit the trails on two wheels! Rent a bike in town, then head out to a wide selection of singletrack nearby. Intermediate and advanced riders will find several options such as the seven-mile Red Fleet Loop. Beginners might stick to the smooth, out-and-back Racetrack Trail and tailor the distance to their liking. See all trails here.
Treat yourself post-bike ride with a Hawaiian shave ice at Beachin’ Soda Shack in downtown Dinosaurland (or a beer at Vernal Brewing Company). You might not have expected to find something so tropical (and tasty) in the heart of the American West, but this is simply more proof that Vernal is anything but ordinary! That evening, consider taking one of Vernal’s many scenic drives, or go on a walking tour through town.
DAY 4: HIKE THROUGH FANTASY CANYON
On your final day in Dinosaurland, Utah, embark on a hiking and photo exploration through Fantasy Canyon. Just under an hour south of downtown Vernal, you’ll feel as if you have entered into another dimension. Red sandstone towers rise dramatically from clay bases against a bluebird sky—a photographer’s dream! Take the .6-mile trail with interpretive signs to get to know the area. You’ll probably smile at the imaginative names assigned to the different sandstone formations, such as “Yawning Lady” and “Micky Mouse.” By the time you travel on towards your next destination, you’ll be full of wonder and admiration for this hidden corner of Utah and all the adventures you experienced in the land of dinosaurs!