Colorado Dinosaur Fossils: A Remarkable Discovery


The Centennial State has a rich history of Colorado dinosaur fossil discoveries dating back to the late 19th century. Key finds in places like the Morrison Formation and Cedar Mountain Formation have shed light on the dinosaurs that roamed this region millions of years ago. Advances in technology have accelerated discoveries, while public interest and tourism related to fossils contribute to local culture and economy. This article explores Colorado’s dinosaurs from scientific, cultural, and practical perspectives.


  • Colorado has over 130 identified dinosaur species from fossil evidence.
  • Fossil discoveries like Stegosaurus inform theories on dinosaur appearance and behavior.
  • Paleontology draws tourists, while new technologies spur discoveries.

Overview of Dinosaur Fossil Discoveries in Colorado

The first dinosaur fossils found in Colorado were large bones discovered in 1877 near Canon City by Arthur Lakes. This launched a “Bone Rush” to find dinosaur remains, kicked off by finds like Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, and Triceratops across the state. These fossil discoveries pointed to over 130 dinosaur species that lived in Colorado through the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous periods.

Understanding dinosaurs that inhabited Colorado millions of years ago sheds light on continental shifts, climate changes, and the evolution of life on Earth. Complete fossils inform theories on the appearance, diet, and behavior of various dinosaur species as well. The distinct plates along Stegosaurus’ back, for example, may have helped regulate body temperature.

From a tourism standpoint, dinosaur discoveries generate public interest and attract visitors. The culture surrounding fossils can also influence priorities – Colorado named Stegosaurus the official state dinosaur in 1982.

Local Museums and Cultural Events Around Dinosaur Fossils

Many museums and cultural events in Colorado cater to the public’s interest in dinosaurs. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science houses fossil specimens like a Triceratops skull unearthed in Highlands Ranch. Cultural events like Dinosaur Discovery Days and fossil tours foster community engagement.

Paleontology groups organize fossil hunts in Colorado’s plentiful dinosaur bone beds. While rules govern collecting fossils on public lands, these experiences let enthusiasts discover history first-hand. Local museums often collaborate with universities on new research as well.

Other places to visit to learn more on your dinosaur journey:

  • Dinosaur National Monument
  • Dinosaur Journey Museum
  • Morrison Natural History Museum
  • Morrison Formation
  • Denver Museum of Nature and Science
  • Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center
  • Museum of Western Colorado Dinosaur Journey
  • Picketwire Canyonlands
  • Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry
  • Fossil Ridge Recreation Area
  • Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison
  • Garden Park Fossil Area near Cañon City
  • Triceratops Trail
  • Royal Gorge Dinosaur Experience in the Royal Gorge Region of Cañon City

Understanding past ecosystems that supported dinosaurs provides context for modern conservation efforts. As such, paleontology influences local culture well beyond dinosaur enthusiasm.

Technologies Advancing Dinosaur Fossil Discoveries

New technologies have accelerated the rate of fossil discoveries in Colorado considerably. Ground-penetrating radar can detect bones buried deep underground by scanning below the surface.5 Spectral imaging reveals microscopic structures through variations in fossil density.

Geographic information systems (GIS) integrate spatial data like satellite imagery to model likely fossil hotspots. Machine learning classifiers even analyze site features to predict fossil locations. Together, these technologies make surveying more efficient and discoveries more probable.

Several key Colorado fossils came to light through such methods. In 2021, researchers used GIS modeling to pinpoint a fossil site in the Cedar Mountain Formation matching historical descriptions. Advanced techniques will likely uncover more evidence of dinosaurs that roamed prehistoric Colorado.

History of Major Dinosaur Fossil Discoveries

The 1877 discovery of three large dinosaur thigh bones by Arthur Lakes marked the first dinosaur fossils identified in Colorado. Excavations soon uncovered more Jurassic-era bones, leading paleontologist O.C. Marsh to name the site Garden Park. Here, he found fossils of Allosaurus, Stegosaurus, and other dinosaurs.

Another major find came in 1883 when Marshall Felch unearthed the first Apatosaurus bones in Canon City. Further, Apatosaurus fossils found across Colorado contributed to understanding their massive size. Specimens found near Morrison in the late 19th century also led to the recognition of the distinct Morrison Formation.

Names like Marsh and Felch dominate Colorado’s early paleontology history. Over time, fossil discoveries have continued through both academic projects and public contributions, such as construction crews finding Triceratops bones in Highlands Ranch.

Breakdown of Dinosaur Remains and Fossilization

Mineral replacement and permineralization preserved many Colorado dinosaur fossils over 75 million years. Understanding the breakdown of dinosaur remains informs theories on fossilization.

Research on 30,000 dinosaur bones from one Colorado quarry revealed that scavengers often disarticulated carcasses during decomposition. Beetles and larvae also bored into the bones, leaving traces that provide decay clues. Such osteophagia insects accelerated skeleton breakdown while assisting fossilization through bioerosion.

Rain and flash floods also buried scattered remains in sediment. This protected fossils from further decay and stabilized bone minerals for replacement by quartz or pyrite. Thus, fossil evidence depends heavily on environmental conditions that impact the organic matter after death.

Where to Hunt for Dinosaur Fossils in Colorado

Productive fossil sites across Colorado provide plenty of options for those looking to hunt for dinosaur remains. Certain restrictions apply, but visitors may keep fossils found on most BLM and US Forest Service land.

Popular places to search for fossils include Dinosaur Ridge near Morrison and Picketwire Canyonlands in the Comanche Grasslands. Dinosaur Ridge has thousands of Jurassic dinosaur tracks, while Picketwire Canyon contains fossils from the later Cretaceous period.

For privately owned land, fossil hunters need owner permission. Nonprofit museums like Dinosaur Journey in Fruita also organize fossil digs on their property. Staff educate the dig participants on proper excavation techniques to preserve specimens.

The Future of Colorado Paleontology

Ongoing dinosaur fossil discoveries in Colorado rely on new technologies like machine learning and spectrometry to accelerate the rate of finds. The region still harbors abundant untapped potential for unlocking insights into prehistoric ecosystems.

Productive formations like the Cedar Mountain Formation will likely yield more breakthroughs about the Early Cretaceous dinosaurs that inhabited Colorado. Spectral imaging and chemical mapping may reveal microscopic structures, offering clues to taxonomic relationships and evolutionary pressures.

Future fossil hunting will also progress beyond traditional excavation tools. Drones can survey sites remotely, while digital mapping preserves spatial details on uncovered fossils far more accurately. Together, such technologies will drive Colorado’s paleontological advances for years to come.

Impact and Significance of Colorado Dinosaur Discoveries

Dinosaur fossil discoveries in Colorado hold scientific significance by shedding light on prehistoric species and environments. Fossils also influence culture through public interest, museum exhibits, and tourism. At a commercial level, rare intact fossils sell for over $100,000.

Understanding extinct ecosystems helps contextualize modern climate change and habitat loss as well. Beyond intrinsic scientific value, Colorado’s dinosaur fossils anchor local culture and economy via museums, cultural events, fossil tours and more. From natural history to hotel revenue, dinosaur discoveries ripple across the state.

Who knows? If you look hard enough, you might just find a dinosaur bone or dinosaur footprint during your visit to Colorado.


How are most Colorado dinosaur fossils preserved?

Most fossils endure through mineralization, replacing bone matter, or permineralization, infilling pore spaces with minerals. These processes require bones to be buried fairly quickly.

What restrictions apply to fossil hunting in Colorado?

Fossil collection is prohibited in National Parks and Monuments. Other federal lands managed by the BLM and Forest Service allow casual collecting but prohibit excavation tools. Always know relevant regulations before fossil hunting.

Which time period has the most dinosaur fossils in Colorado?

The Jurassic Morrison Formation has Colorado’s greatest concentration of dinosaur fossils, with finds of Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, and many other species. More recent Cretaceous formations also contain dinosaur fossils.

How have new technologies aided paleontological surveys?

Tools like LIDAR, ground-penetrating radar, and remote sensing provide detailed terrain mapping to identify promising fossil sites. Geographic information systems can also integrate data for predictive modeling.

Who made some of Colorado’s most critical early dinosaur discoveries?

Foundational Colorado dinosaur fossil discoveries came from key 19th-century figures like Arthur Lakes, O.C. Marsh, and Marshall Felch. Recent development projects and researchers continue this legacy of discovery.

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About the author

Simone Weisman

My deep appreciation for nature and active living strongly aligns with the vibrant outdoor culture of Colorado. My enjoyment of yoga, hiking, and exploring scenic trails provides me with a unique perspective that I bring to This personal passion enriches my ability to connect with and inspire our audience, whether they’re local residents or visitors seeking to explore all that Colorado has to offer.