If you are into dinosaurs and history, take the one mile walk around Dinosaur Hill in Fruita, near Grant Junction. Dinosaur Hill is the place where paleontologists discovered a Diplodocus and an Apatosaurus. The Apatosaurus is semi-famous because most of its bones are in the Field Museum in Chicago.
The hike starts just two miles off I-70 (directions below). Find a parking spot in the circular driveway and head for the information signs. The signs talk about Elmer Riggs discovery of a 70-foot-long, 30-ton Apatosaurus in 1900. (Crews actually came back in 1901 to remove the bones.) The benches at the information boards are replicas of the 600-pound thigh bone of an Apatosaurus.
The dirt trail starts behind the signs. Walk up the hill a short distance to a trail split. Turn left and walk the trail, through some rocks and down a hill to a sign that shows where a Diploducus-like dinosaur was found. The mold of the demur was originally left in the site where the femur was found, but someone stole it. I looked around at the rocks, but with erosion of the decades, it’s hard to tell which rock was home to the femur.
After exploring, return to the trail split and a sign that explains why there are ripples in some of the nearby rocks – ancients streams flowed this area leaving ripple marks on some of the rocks. The next sign also talks about the ancient river.
Continue up the hill to a bench with a view. This is a nice, shady spot for a break if you’re hiking with young kids or seniors. Catch your breath, enjoy the scenery and hike up the hill to the next bench. A sign here explains more about how Riggs’ crew dug a 20-foot tunnel into Dinosaur Hill to remove the Apatosaurus’ bones. Not only did the crew have to get the bones out, the sign explains how the crew had to get the bones across the Colorado River (using a makeshift ferry), then to a train station, for transport to Chicago.
You’re now at the highest point of the hike. Enjoy the views of Mt. Garfield to the east. Fruita to the north. The Colorado River below you. And Colorado National Monument to the south. If you walk a short distance to the true high spot, you may see a survey marker in the ground that identifies this mountain/hill simply as “dinosaur.”
This is a half-way point. Now it’s time to head down the trail. Watch your footing as you walk down the steep trail on the backside of the mountain to the place where Riggs and his crew blasted into the mountain. (It’s not all downhill, you have to cross a shallow ravine and climb up a short distance to the quarry.)
At the quarry, visitors will find a sign explaining the discovery, a small monument marking the spot and the gated entrance to the quarry inside the hill. This was not an open-air quarry you see at some dinosaur digs, this quarry was INSIDE the hill, so it is gated, much like a mine, and you will not be see more than a couple feet into the entrance.
However, there is something cool here. Look in the sand to the left of the quarry entrance – do you see a few bones? This is a cast of the back vertebrae of an Apatosaurus. They’re made of concrete, but it’s still pretty cool. Let the kids spend a few minutes “looking” for bones, before you point these out.
After you’ve seen everything here, continue on the trail another quarter mile back to the parking lot.
*Note, I highly recommend stopping at the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita for the Dinosaur Hill map/brochure. Without it, there are several numbered poles without signs that you won’t understand.
Want more dinosaur hikes? See a list below and check out this list of 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
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Details: The hike around the loop, with a side exploration for the Diploducus-like dinosaur spot, is about one mile with about 200 feet of elevation gain with all the ups and downs.
Directions: From I-70, take exit 19 and turn south. Go around the traffic circles and stay on the main road. You’ll see Dinosaur Journey on your right. Stop and get the Dinosaur Hill brochure. I tried to get it at the Visitor’s Center, but they didn’t have it. From Dinosaur Journey, continue south 1.3 miles. You should see a sign that says “Dinosaur Hill” on the right side of the road. The entrance to Dinosaur Hill is on the left side of the street.