Hold on to Your Butts: These Trips Are as Close to Jurassic Park as You Can Get
Travel to a Land Before Time
Ever since the first time I watched “Jurassic Park” 20+ years ago, I’ve been obsessed with dinosaurs. I’m by no means an expert, but my curiosity and thirst for knowledge always have me looking for accessible information about paleontology. However, I never thought travel would be an outlet to more fossil facts, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
The first time I heard about dinosaur tourism and fossil dig trips was when I saw Dustin Growick tweeting about his upcoming trip with Altas Obscura, and my mind was blown. An entire trip dedicated to exploring the Colorado desert, visiting fossil pits, museums, and nerding out with fellow dinosaur enthusiasts? It sounded too good to be true, but this dream vacation is in fact real.
And it’s not the only one out there, either! Here’s a guide to some of the best dinosaur tour options currently being run.
Digging for Fossils with a Dinosaur Expert
In June 2020, Atlas Obscura is teaming up with dinosaur expert Dustin Growick to offer the trip of a lifetime: Dinos and Dunes in the Colorado Desert. The trip will run from June 4-9, 2020, and cost $2,330 USD per person. Participants will get to journey into the Colorado desert to climb sand dunes, soak in natural hot springs, and of course, dig for dinosaur bones.
The tour’s lead, Dustin, hosts The Dinosaur Show on YouTube, and was the former Team Lead for Science at Museum Hack. He’s also written two books on dinosaurs, so he knows his stuff! Having such a passionate and knowledgeable tour guide sets this trip apart from others. Is there anything better than exploring a natural history museum and dig sites with a dinosaur expert? I don’t think so!
Tour highlights for this once-in-a-lifetime experience include: a behind the scenes tour of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, digging for fossils at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry with the Museum of Western Colorado, visiting Great Sand Dunes National Park, spending time at the Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience (where you can see animatronic dinosaurs and full-size casts!), and spending a night in the kitschy Dinosaur Hotel in Denver.
While this is definitely an incredible option when it comes to exploring the world of dinosaur tourism, there are some other options out there that also provide the opportunity to visit prehistoric sites filled with fossils.
Journey Into the Gobi Desert
If you’re interested in dinosaur species that once called Asia home, G Adventures runs a tour in Mongolia called Discover Mongolia (it’s part of their National Geographic Journeys series). It costs roughly $4,200 USD per person and is 14 days long.
The tour itself isn’t specifically focused on dig sites — it explores a lot of local culture and traditions — but it would be hard to visit Mongolia without learning a bit about the country’s investment in paleontology. The Gobi Desert has been a hot-spot for fossils for decades, and in 2010, Mongolia began an epic court battle to repatriate T. bataar fossils from the United States.
Travelers who join this tour will have the opportunity to visit the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, the Flaming Cliffs (an internationally recognized dig site where many fossilized remains have been found), and Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park — Mongolia’s largest national park — which is also home to a museum full of dinosaur bones.
This trip provides opportunities to both immerse yourself in Mongolian culture and explore its rich history of paleontology.
Exploring the Canadian Badlands
Canada’s badlands are one of the best places in the world to find dinosaur bones. It’s also where Albertosaurus, a cousin of the iconic T. rex, was discovered. If you take a trip out to Alberta, one of Canada’s western provinces, you can visit three iconic locations when it comes to North American paleontology: the Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, the Royal Tyrell Museum, and of course, Dinosaur Provincial Park.
Philip J. Currie Museum
Of the three locations, the Philip J. Currie Museum is the most remote. It’s about a nine-hour drive from Dinosaur Provincial Park, and 19 kilometers outside of the closest city, Grand Prairie. However, this doesn’t stop droves of people from visiting every year.
According to its website, this museum is recognized internationally for “experimental learning dedicated to Alberta’s paleontological heritage, through research, collection, preservation, exhibition, public programming, publications and innovative research.” A quick look at their permanent exhibitions proves these points.
Visitors can play and learn in an interactive fossil lab, see a re-creation of the Pipestone Creek bonebed — one of the largest fossil pits in the world — journey back in time through a gallery focused on the Cretaceous Period (which is when the popular Triceratops and T. rex lived), and another that displays what Alberta looked like a whopping 360 million years ago, when it was submerged under water!
For those interested in getting up close and personal with some fossils, the Philip J. Currie Museum also offers tours of the Pipestone Creek bonebed. These tours happen in the summer months, and cost $5-$10 CAD per person, depending on whether you choose a walking or bus tour.
Royal Tyrrell Museum
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is another must-see if you find yourself in Alberta. Located roughly 1.5 hours outside of Calgary, it is another internationally recognized institution that focuses on Alberta’s rich prehistoric history.
Their Dinosaur Hall contains “one of the world’s largest displays of dinosaur remains,” and is a must-see for all visitors. Other exhibitions allow you to journey back to the Cretaceous Period (69 million years ago), see what Earth looked like during the Palaeozoic Era (200 million years ago), and take a dive into the underwater world of Burgess Shale (505 million years ago). There is also a preparation lab with glass walls, so visitors can watch as new fossils are prepped for display.
The museum also offers many public programs for visitors of all ages that include hiking tours of the badlands in nearby Midland Provincial Park. A few of these programs only run in summer months, and depend on the weather. More details can be found online.
Dinosaur Provincial Park
Dinosaur Provincial Park is so named for a reason — it’s the site where some of the most important fossil discoveries in the world have been made. The number and variety of high quality fossils found here is unparalleled by anywhere else, so it’s no surprise that it’s a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Located 2.5 hours from Calgary, there are a variety of dinosaur experiences you can have here. Start out at the Visitor Center, where you can roam exhibits recounting the fossils found in the park as well as the area’s geology and natural history.
A large portion of the park is a Natural Preserve which means you’ll need to book an interpretive tour program if you want to venture out into the badlands. There are a variety of programs on offer, from indoor to outdoor, easy to difficult, half-hour to multi-day. One of the most exciting programs is the one-day guided excavation. Your guide will be an experienced palaeontological technician who will teach you how to excavate dinosaurs and find fossils. This authentic experience will allow you to contribute to research being conducted by the Royal Tyrell Museum. There are also two-day and three-day versions of this program.
Additionally, there are a handful of short hikes you can do on your own that will give you a sense of the landscape. If you’re looking to make this a multi-day trip, you can book and campsite or glamping tent! I think I have an idea of what you’ll dream about while sleeping here…