There’s a very good chance that, if you have kids, you will be sucked into the whirling vortex of dinosaurs. It starts, often, when they’re toddlers; before you know it, you’re packing the car for a road trip to the nearest (which may not actually be near) active dig site or natural history museum in hopes that your kids will get a look at real, formerly live dinosaur bones – and, if not, then at an actual, breathing paleontologist.
So, to help you dig up the best places in the country to take dinosaur-obsessed children, we recruited paleontologist Kallie Moore, collections manager at the University of Montana’s Paleontology Center and co-host of the PBS YouTube series Eons. to suggest places where your kids can expand their dino obsessions from scale-model-toy playtime to life-sized learning experiences. So here, listed in alphabetical order and covering most geographical areas in the U.S. (though concentrated, naturally, in the Mountain West), are the best places to visit for kids to learn about dinosaurs.
All of these museums on this list have outreach programs, so Moore recommends getting on their mailing lists and checking their calendars to plan around special events and exhibits. Plus, because North America has such a great fossil record, there are lots of other places across the country to learn about dinosaurs in case none of those above are close to you (see below for a full list of other places around the country that Moore suggests).
If traveling to one of these places isn’t in the cards, your child is still in luck, because many paleontologists are active on social media and eager to spark the dinosaur flame in kids. “And that’s a really easy way to connect, say if you had a kid that was super into dinosaurs and had a bajillion questions and you just need somebody to sit down and talk to your kid about all this stuff, a lot of times you can find paleontologists on the social media,” Moore says.
“Not everybody has access to those big museums, but I think access to paleontology is everywhere out there now,” Moore says. “It’s really easy, if you have an interest in paleontology, there’s millions of other people online, and professionals that are also accessible online, so you can do a lot of stuff.”
American Museum of Natural History (New York)
Packed with gobs of information and specimens, many of which were collected by AMNH scientists, this place wows even seasoned paleontologists. “Man, it still gets me every time,” Moore says. “When you first walk in to the American Museum of Natural History they have those sauropods reared up on their hind limbs and they go all the way to the ceiling – I mean, that’s an awe-inspiring site right there. It will get anybody.”
Big Bend National Park (Texas)
Technically there were no flying dinosaurs (Pterodactyls were flying reptiles, not dinosaurs), but your little ones will still be dazzled by Big Bend National Park’s Fossil Discovery Exhibit to see the largest-ever flying animal, Quetzalcoatlus, which was – seriously – as tall as a giraffe.
Dinosaur National Monument (Utah/Colorado)
Spanning the Colorado-Utah border and still home to the family of the man, Earl Douglass, who first discovered dinosaur remains on it in 1909, this is one of many places on this list that remains an active dig site. “They’ve left a lot of the dinosaurs in situ, so actually just right there in the rock where you can see it, they didn’t take them out to mount them in a museum, and you can watch the paleontologists work,” says Moore.
Dinosaur Valley State Park (Texas)
What we know as Fort Worth, Texas, today was once the muddy water’s edge of a vast inland ocean, and home to many species of dinosaur, which is why today the fossilized imprints of sauropods and theropods abound in the Paluxy River. “That is a pretty amazing place,” Moore says. “Their trackway is unbelievable, it’s just amazing.”
Field Museum in Chicago (Chicago)
Famous for Sue the T-Rex (actual gender unknown, the skeleton is named for its discoverer, Sue Hendrickson), the Field Museum does a ton of outreach to school and kids, Moore says. And Sue is on the move, bound for the museum’s Mesozoic area, and to be replaced in the museum entrance by a Titanosaur and a Quetzalcoatlus.
Montana Dinosaur Trail
This series of museums and state parks is for hardcore enthusiasts. “It’s an epic undertaking,” Moore says. Most people hit the southern or northern route, but if you want to do all 2,000 miles and 14 stops, you’ll have the respect of many a paleontologist. “You don’t have to do the whole thing, but if you wanted an epic travel to see the entire state of Montana and all the paleontology that goes with it, the Dinosaur Trail would be pretty neat,” she says. This is one of two similarly designated journeys in the region; the other, the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway is a 480-mile loop through Eastern Utah and Northern Colorado that covers Dinosaur National Monument, and the famed Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, among many other stops.
Museum of the Rockies (Montana)
Home to the Siebel Dinosaur Complex, the Museum of the Rockies is “probably the best resource for dinosaurs in Montana,” Moore says, and that’s saying something in that neck of the woods. Among the many finds here are skeletons of Allosaurus, a smaller predecessor to T-Rex; Oryctodromeus, a burrowing dinosaur that raised its young in underground dens; and Deinonychus, a Velociraptor cousin.
Natural History Museum of Utah
The Past Worlds exhibit is the dinosaur draw here, featuring dozens of skeletal reconstructions, including the duck–billed Gryposaurus, and the world’s largest display of horned dinosaur skulls.
Wyoming Dinosaur Center
Nestled in the rolling hills of Central Wyoming, this active dig site and museum is home to over 30 mounted dinosaur skeletons, including the only Archaeopteryx ever found outside of Europe, a Supersaurus named Jimbo, and Stan, 35-foot T-Rex mounted to charge a Triceratops. It’s also home to what Moore describes as one of the best programs for preparators – the people who prep fossils for study or display – so your kid might get a first taste of where they’ll spend their post-graduate years.