Looking to avoid the crowds and see one of the country’s most spectacular national monuments?
Head to Vernal, Utah, to see Dinosaur National Monument. You can explore this special place by foot, but don’t miss the opportunity to experience the monument by water. The Green and Yampa Rivers cut through this monument. And 150 years ago, in 1869, explorer John Wesley Powell took four boats and nine men with him down the Green River to where it joins the Colorado River in what is now Canyonlands National Park in Utah. From there, they rowed and navigated perilous rapids through the Grand Canyon.
Raft Dinosaur National Monument
You can raft the gorgeous Green River on a one-day or multi-day trip that cuts through the monument, passing gorgeous striated sandstone walls and lush coves. Then head outdoors and visit Dinosaur National Monument.
On foot, you’ll see ancient Native American rock art of animal-like figures, abstract designs and human-like figures whose meaning is still a mystery. You’ll also find unmistakable dinosaur bones — more than 1,500 — in the monument’s sandstone walls.
Visit McConkie Ranch in Vernal
Beyond the park, head to the McConkie Ranch just a 15-minute drive from Vernal to see hundreds of Fremont Indian rock art panels , most dating from 1 AD to 1300. Owned by Jean McConkie McKenzie, the 500-acre property may have more ancient drawings on a one-mile-stretch than anywhere else in Utah, says Lesha Coltharp, Uintah County travel and tourism director.
“It’s an authentic experience,” says Coltharp, noting it’s a $5 per car suggested donation to visit the ranch. “It’s Jean’s homestead and if she’s home, she’ll show you the pottery she’s collected. She just wants people to experience the area’s history.”
You’ll see the Three Kings, a set of intricate drawings that tower above you on the cliff’s walls. You’ll also catch a glimpse of an ancient artist’s sense of humor when you spot a drawing of a frightened hunter being chased by a deer.
Rent an ATV and See Dinosaurs in Vernal
To explore the Vernal area by ATV, head to Dinosaurland KOA, 930 North Vernal Ave., to rent an ATV and explore trails that cater to all levels and leave from the property. Or take your mountain bike to McCoy Flats, Dry Fork Flume Trail, which is 10 miles from the McConkie Ranch, or Red Fleet State Park.
Then, cool down in the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum. A giant Diplodocus stretching 90 feet from tail to tip will greet you at the door. Inside, get an engaging hands-on primer on what’s been going on for the last several million years. Learn about the area's dinosaurs and how to tell fossils apart from pebbles. Step into the Fossil Lab to discover scientists working with dinosaur bones. And don’t miss the Dinosaur Garden where 17 full-sized replicas of prehistoric animals loiter.
But don't miss Red Fleet State Park 13 miles north of Vernal on Hwy. 191 where you can walk an up-and-down, 1.5-mile trail to 200-million-year-old dinosaur tracks. Go early in the morning or later afternoon as the tracks are difficult to see when the sun is directly above you. There’s camping here, including a couple sites with teepees. The park rents kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards, so you can cool down and explore the Red Fleet Reservoir.
When you get hungry, head to a local favorite, Betty’s Cafe, 416 W. Main St., for a reasonably-priced breakfast. For dinner, head to The Quarry Steakhouse that offers great steaks and indoor and outdoor seating. Don’t miss its mosaic floor that contains a map of the area’s rivers, state parks and more.
For craft beer and a gastro pub menu, head to Vernal Brewing Co. Beers are named after area attractions like Little Hole Lager [a popular Green River boat takeout in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area] and Allosaurus Amber.
For more information:
Uintah County Travel & Tourism
Utah State Fieldhouse of Natural History Museum and Visitor Center
496 E. Main, Vernal, UT 84078