From the tilted rocks and prehistoric fossils on the Utah side to the immense river valleys and colorful canyons on the Colorado side, Dinosaur National Monument offers a splendid array of hiking opportunities.
The national monument straddles the border of eastern Utah and western Colorado and is about 330 square miles of rugged and remote terrain. The good news for hikers is that a number of excellent trails provide access to the heights and depths of the spectacular landscape.
On my recent July visit to Dinosaur National Monument, I was thrilled to find routes that take hikers deep into the mysterious land where dinosaurs once roamed and Native people later etched lizards, spirals, and trapezoidal human figures into the sandstone rock. More than a dozen designated trails offer everything from dinosaur fossils to sweeping views of the region’s scenic rivers to the region’s rhythms of silence and desert voices.
From easy to difficult, here are nine beautiful trails in Dinosaur National Monument.
1. Plug Hat Trail
For a scenic payoff with minimal effort, the Plug Hat Trail along Harpers Corner Road on the Colorado side is hard to beat. The easy, flat trail at the top of Plug Hat Butte offers stunning panoramas of far-off valleys to the east, tantalizing views of the curving, scenic road, and an introduction to the region’s unique pinyon pine/Utah juniper trees.
Driving north on the winding Harpers Corner Road, I was surprised to spot a park ranger standing high on a cliff overlooking the road. My first thought was that getting to that amazing vantage point probably required a strenuous hike up. But when I arrived at the parking area on the east side of the road, I discovered that getting to the overlook was only a quarter-mile walk along a flat, paved trail — a half-mile roundtrip loop that takes about 20 minutes to complete.
The Plug Hat Trail is located just across the road from Plug Hat Butte Picnic Area, a paved, wheelchair-accessible area that provides tables, grills, exhibits, and pit-style toilets. Along with being a convenient place for a break from driving, the picnic area offers an elevated view of the Bull Canyon area.
Pro Tip: Dinosaur National Monument is certified as an International Dark Sky Park, and Plug Hat Butte Picnic Area is known as an excellent spot for gazing at the stars in the western skies.
2. Box Canyon And Hog Canyon Trails
An opportunity to walk in the footsteps of early rancher and local legend Josephine (Josie) Bassett Morris awaits on two shady routes at the end of the Cub Creek Road along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks Auto Tour. They lead to Josie’s Cabin.
Located 10 miles east of the Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side, the cabin area features two trails: the Box Canyon Trail and the Hog Canyon Trail. Both are easy. The Box Canyon Trail, a half-mile loop, is a 20-minute stroll, and Hog Canyon, 1.5 miles, takes about an hour. Both take hikers along the floor of a scenic box canyon that provides shade, even in the middle of the day.
Pro Tip: With their flat terrain, plentiful shade, and great views of the craggy Weber Sandstone of Split Mountain, Box and Hog canyon trails are excellent trails for small children.
3. River Trail
Dinosaur’s Green River is front and center on the River Trail, a 3-mile roundtrip hike that follows the flow of the river and connects two of the monument’s popular campgrounds: the Green River Campground and the Split Mountain Campground.
Along with its lovely river scene, the trail also offers dramatic views of Split Mountain, along with plentiful wildlife, from mule deer to a variety of birds.
The out-and-back River Trail takes about an hour and 30 minutes to complete and is rated as moderately difficult.
4. Desert Voices Trail
Known as a unique trail that’s great for kids and adults, the Desert Voices Trail features interpretive signs in gray that are designed for adults, and signs in tan that were created by children for children.
The trail features great views of Split Mountain, adjacent rock layers, and cave areas. It is accessible off the Split Mountain Boat Ramp about 4 miles east of the Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side.
The trail is about 1.7 miles round trip and takes about an hour to complete. It is rated as moderately difficult.
5. Fossil Discovery Trail
For a close-up look at dinosaur bones in their natural environment, the Fossil Discovery Trail passes by three fossil areas, one of which features an outcropping of several small fossil fragments and a number of large pieces of dinosaur bones, just as they were found during the original excavation in 1909.
Along with traces of the monument’s namesake dinosaurs, the trail also cuts through spectacular rock layers that get hikers right into the midst of the tilted rocks.
The Fossil Discovery Trail is 1.2 miles one way, and access is available from the grounds of the Quarry Visitor Center or at the nearby Quarry Exhibit Trail on the Utah side. The trail is rated as moderate, and it includes some steep, uneven sections and rocky areas. It takes about an hour to complete.
Pro Tip: The road to Quarry Exhibit Trail is gated at 5 p.m. each evening, so visitors should plan their Fossil Discovery Trail hike accordingly.
6. Harpers Corner Trail
Seemingly infinite canyon views and an overlook of the Green River 2,500 feet below are in store on the 2-mile out-and-back hike on Harpers Corner Trail.
The trail begins with a steep descent and two switchbacks but then levels out with a few moderate ups and downs. Along the way, hikers are treated to stellar vistas of the region’s river canyons. The trail ends at a view area looking out at the distant Green River.
The trailhead is located at the end of Harpers Corner Road, 31 miles north of the Canyon Visitor Center on the Colorado side. The hike takes about an hour to complete and is rated as moderate.
7. Jones Hole Trail
Designated as one of Dinosaur National Monument’s remote trails, Jones Hole Trail requires a 47-mile drive on paved roads north of the Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side.
The trail offers a pleasant walk along a babbling brook at the bottom of a canyon and consists of mostly level walking with a few ups and downs. It also features several panels of Fremont petroglyphs and pictographs, located about 1.5 miles down the trail from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Jones Hole Fish Hatchery.
Along with the scenery, the trail offers good trout fishing in Jones Hole Creek (a Utah fishing license is required). The route ends at the Green River.
The Jones Hole Trail is 4 and a quarter miles one way (8.5 miles roundtrip) and is not a loop. The hike is rated as moderate.
8. Sound Of Silence Trail
Hikers can expect solitude amidst a sea of rock formations, towering stone walls, and fascinating rock layers in the gorgeous Sound of Silence Trail, located along the Tour of the Tilted Rocks Auto Road Tour. It begins about 2 miles east of the Quarry Visitor Center on the Utah side.
The route follows a sandy wash for a time before heading up a rocky area that offers sweeping views of Split Mountain. The trail includes some steep sections on slickrock.
At 3.2 miles, the Sound of Silence trail is rated as moderate to difficult and is known to be hard to follow in areas.
Pro Tip: The Sound of Silence Trail is best enjoyed in the morning or early evening, when temperatures are cooler. The monument strongly recommends good hiking boots, a hat, and sunblock on the route, and hikers should carry at least a half-gallon of water.
9. Ruple Point Trail
For fit and adventurous hikers with several hours to explore, the Ruple Point Trail offers a spectacular payoff: stunning views of the winding Green River as it passes through Split Mountain.
After traversing mostly rolling sagebrush and juniper-filled terrain for the first three or four miles, the Ruple Point Trail begins a steep descent for about three-quarters of a mile toward its signature views of Split Mountain and the Green River 2,500 feet below.
Dinosaur National Monument cautions that there is very little shade along the route except at the very end of the trail, and the route is hard to follow as hikers descend toward the river view.
Access to Ruple Point Trail is available at the Island Park Overlook on Harpers Corner Road, 27 miles north of the Canyon Visitor Center on the Colorado side. The trail is 4.75 miles one way (9.5 miles round trip) and is rated as moderate to difficult and typically takes 4–5 hours to complete.
- Pets are not allowed on most trails or in the backcountry in Dinosaur National Monument, although leashed pets are allowed on several of the overlooks along Harpers Corner Scenic Road, including Plug Hat Picnic Area. More information is available on the monument’s website.
- In addition to its designated trails, Dinosaur National Monument allows off-trail hiking on much of its terrain. The monument’s website notes that, while off-trail hiking is a great way to experience the wonder and majesty of Dinosaur’s backcountry, hikers should take a number of precautions, such as knowing their own abilities, practicing Leave No Trace habits, and bringing plenty of water.