[DENVER] Remember Jurassic World? The production values are nothing like that at Dinosaur Ridge, but the sights still will blow your mind. Because they’re real.
You don’t seem to hear much about Dinosaur Ridge, even though it’s right between Denver’s west suburbs and the foothills. Or if you’re like us, you worry that it might be a cheeseball tourist trap for two-year-olds. Especially when you buy a pass from Groupon.
So we were in shock and awe when we moseyed up to the first stop on our walk and saw clear, distinct tracks in the stone from three prehistoric animals who were clearly having a dino dance party.
I won’t spoil all of the amazingness for you. I’ll simply offer a few tips to know before you go on your own Jurassic (and Cretaceous) expedition.
Dinosaur Ridge is actually two separate locations. We visited the primary location at 16831 W. Alameda Parkway, but there’s a separate hiking trail just north of there, Triceratops Trail near the southern edge of Golden. There’s no cost for that trail, and if the signage is as good as it was along the trail at Alameda, you can show up and go.
The Alameda trail is free, too. You can park at the Discovery Center and walk it yourself. It’s approximately 1.5 miles of paved road, easy walking but largely uphill. The nearby roads are the reason the dinosaur fossils were found—as workers were excavating in the 1930s, they the uncovered bones and prints from hundreds of millions of years ago, pressed into neat layers by time and tilted when the Earth’s massive plates shifted to form the Rocky Mountains.
But you should take the guided shuttle tour. Dino Dan is SO worth it. The signs along the walking trail are phenomenal; really, I learned more in one hour of hiking than I ever did of school. But Dino Dan, our tour bus driver, is a retired geologist, so he knows the cool details behind the rocks and eras and can answer all kinds of questions. He showed us dinosaur footprints and bone marrow that made our own jawbones drop.
A membership is affordable. Our Groupon deal was $28 for four people for a year. It includes the shuttle tour and admission to the tiny exhibit hall. We’ll go do it again so we can absorb more details; plus, there are some nice side hikes up the Dakota Ridge hogback with incredible views of downtown Denver to the east and Red Rocks to the west.
Bring water and use sunscreen. There’s no shade along the walk, and Denver is a high desert climate. (I learned that from Dino Dan.) The sun will fry you like an Iguanadon egg.
Go early. Storms usually roll through the mountains and Front Range midafternoon. They come and go quickly, but if you go in the morning, you’re less likely to get wet.
There aren’t many places where you can see claw marks from crocodiles 40 feet long, find rocks 6,000 feet high bearing the wave marks of an ocean floor, or put your hand in the footprint of an animal that walked the same ground millions of years ago. Dinosaur Ridge is a hands-on experience, as well as a mind-boggling slice of our planet’s wonders. (Look for the concretion, a ball of rock within the rock that puzzles even scientists, or the claystone layer from volcanic ash raining down approximately 100 million years ago.) The Rocky Mountains may be iconic to Colorado, but at Dinosaur Ridge, you can explore a time before they ever existed.