Natural history museums across the country are full of spectacular dinosaur fossils. But they’re usually set behind velvet ropes and glass walls, to keep small children (and their sticky fingers) at bay. If your pint-sized paleontologists are eager to get more up close and personal with their favorite giant lizards, here are a few places to explore.
Dinosaur National Monument
Littered with dinosaur bones, the 210,000 acres of this glorious national park are a junior paleontologist’s dream. The Fossil Discovery Trail, which reopens April 1, allows visitors to see dinosaur bones naturally exposed in a cliff wall. The park also has Junior Ranger and Junior Paleontology programs available for children at no cost. Kids receive booklets of age-appropriate activities and are given a Junior Ranger or Junior Paleontologist badge upon completion.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Kids can dig for fossils on the 500-acre Warm Springs Ranch, where the dino center is located. Sediments here are from the Late Jurassic—meaning they are more than 140 million years old. These hold many of the most famous dinosaurs: Allosaurus, Apatosaurus (also known as Brontosaurus), Camarasaurus, Diplodocus, and Stegosaurus. Eight- to 12-year-olds can go on a daylong, guided Kids’ Dig in a nearby canyon to look for fossils. Bones from apatosaurs, barosaurs, and six other species have been uncovered. Children of any age can take part in family digs. The center exhibits 30 full-size dinosaur mounts and has the only skeleton of an Albertaceratops (a horn-faced, plant-eating dino) on display in the world.
Plant City, Florida
Cave City, Kentucky
Glen Rose, Texas
Kids can clamber on top of dinosaur replicas at the three outdoor museums of Dinosaur World. The park has a walking trail with more than 150 life-size casts of dinosaurs, as well as several sculptures to play on. Nearby signs explain the names of the dinosaurs and offer interesting facts about them. Tucked among a lush assortment of native vegetation, the dinosaurs are so lifelike that some visitors have claimed to see them moving. The parks also offer classes, birthday parties, and digs (kids can keep the fossils they find!).
The Academy of Natural Sciences
A giant Tyrannosaurus rex greets visitors to this museum, which has a lab where kids can watch scientists prepping dinosaur fossils. Skeletons of more than 30 species are on display in the Dinosaur Hall and a hands-on exhibit allows kids to dig for dino bones. On the third weekend in February the Academy hosts the annual Paleopalooza, a weekend filled with crafts, fossil hunts, dino tours, and games. Children can also talk with real paleontologists.
Dinosaur State Park
Rocky Hill, Connecticut
This state park is home to one of the largest dinosaur track sites in North America, which includes early Jurassic footprints made 200 million years ago. Five hundred of the tracks are enclosed within the Exhibit Center’s geodesic dome and another 1,500 are buried for preservation. The tracks were discovered in 1966 when the area was excavated. Guided walks, dinosaur arts and crafts, and an outdoor scavenger hunt are also available.
The Field Museum
If there’s one dinosaur your kid absolutely has to see at a museum, it’s Sue, the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton in the world. The 42-foot-long, 67-million-year-old dinosaur (named after the paleontologist who found her) is on display here. If that’s not enough for your little ones, they can participate in Dozin’ with the Dinos, a program that allows kids to have a sleepover with Sue and her friends. The evening includes tours and activities and sleeping under the belly of the beast.