Unexpected Adventure

5 National Parks for Your Inner Paleontologist

National parks can be a great place to unleash your inner paleontologist.

From fossilized trees to fossilized ancient horses, visitors can learn about paleontology, about the geological and environmental histories of these locations, or just see some really cool bones!  On your next trip, you can go on the hunt for unique fossils at these national parks. 

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Nebraska
Mammals from the Past

Located in Nebraska, Agate National Park is known for its extensive paleontological history and visitors can find world-class fossil exhibits. This national park preserves some of the most complete fossil record of mammals from the Miocene Epoch that occurred 5 to 23 million years ago. Fossils found here include the coyote-sized beardog Daphoenodon (Italian for “blood-reeking tooth”), the extinct two-horned North American rhinoceros Menoceras, and the terrifying-looking bison-sized pig-like Daeodon that had a 3-foot-long head complete with a massive jaw with massive bone-crushing teeth. Visitors can also hike along the Daemonelix and the Fossil Hills Trail to see ancient sand dunes, fossil grassland soils, and what the prairie looks like today.

Things to Do

  • Birdwatching
  • Arts & Culture
  • Children's Programs
  • Hiking
  • Historical
  • Picnicking

Grand Canyon National Park

Arizona
More than the Canyon

When most people think about Grand Canyon National Park, what comes to mind is the deep chasm through northern Arizona created by the Colorado River over eons—a place for amazing photography opportunities and picturesque hikes around down to the valley floor. However, did you know that you can also find fossils in the colorful, striated rock formations. You won’t find dinosaur fossils, but with 32% of Earth’s geologic history found at this national park, it’s a great place to find other fossils that can be as old as 1,200 million years old! While hiking, keep an eye out for marine fossils like the segmented trilobites or the plant-like crinoids, terrestrial fossils of prehistoric ferns and 8-inch dragonflies, and more recent fossils of sloths and California condors.  Remember not to dig up or move any fossils, and to take only pictures of your discoveries.

Things to Do

  • Biking
  • Arts & Culture
  • Birdwatching
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Children's Programs

Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument

Idaho
A National First

This national monument in Idaho is named after the first true horse—the Hagerman Horse! This park is known for its world-class paleonotological resources; fossils of more 200 different species have been found at the park to date including the saber-toothed cat, mastodon, camel, giant marmot, and fossil research is still being done today. Though there’s no place in the park where you can see fossils in the ground or being excavated, you can still learn about paleontology, see fossils on display, and even visit the remains of the historic Oregon Trail.

Things to Do

  • Historical
  • Children's Programs
  • Picnicking
  • Scenic Drive
  • Shopping
  • Tours

Petrified Forest National Park

Arizona
Reimagine Fossils

When people think “fossils,” dinosaur bones and the tooth of a saber-toothed tiger comes to mind. However, fossils are any physical evidence—remains or impressions—of any type of organism, including trees! Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona is named after logs that were washed into an ancient river system, buried, and converted into colorful, almost solid quartz. In addition to its namesake fossil, Petrified Forest has plant and animal fossils dating back to the Triassic Period. Fossils of a long-snouted Triassic fish, prehistoric sharks, small dinosaurs, and many other species have been found at the park. As you hike through the park, marvel at the petrified wood and keep an eye out for fossils and trace fossils.

Things to Do

  • Biking
  • Arts & Culture
  • Birdwatching
  • Camping
  • Children's Programs
  • Geocaching

Badlands National Park

South Dakota
The Mysterious Badlands

Today at Badlands National Park, visitors can see a prairie expanse, riddled with bison, bighorn sheep, and black-footed ferrets. However, eons ago, ancient animals such as three-toed horses, camels, and land turtles would have been roaming these same lands.

Things to Do

  • Birdwatching
  • Biking
  • Camping
  • Children's Programs
  • Geocaching
  • Hiking

These 5 aren’t the only national parks to get your archeology on.  Dinosaur National Monument, Florrisant Fossil Beds National Monument, Fossil Butte National Monument, and John Day Fossil Beds National Monument are also places to discover artifacts of the past.

Woman holding a camera walking in a field
Share Your Park Experience

Finding Your Park is just half the fun. You can share your stories, images, and videos of your park and inspire so many more people to find their park.