Insights at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument


Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is a uniquely preserved fossil site that captures an ancient ecosystem from the Eocene Epoch over 34 million years ago. This national monument, just west of Colorado Springs, protects one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world, giving unparalleled insights into paleobotany, paleozoology, geology, and climate science.


  • Florissant Fossil Beds contains incredibly well-preserved fossils from the Eocene Epoch over 34 million years ago.
  • Features petrified redwoods, delicate insects in shale, petrified stumps, and some of the best-preserved plant fossils on Earth.
  • Offers opportunities for scientific research and public education on paleontology, geology, biodiversity, and climate change.
  • Designated a national monument in 1969 to protect the fossil sites for future generations.

A Portal to the Past

The Florissant Fossil Beds represent one of the most complete fossil records of a temperate rainforest in the world. Located on the Florissant Formation shale along the Rocky Mountain Front Range, the thousands of exquisitely preserved plant and insect fossils depict an ancient subtropical ecosystem marked by towering redwood trees and serene lakebeds.

More than one volcanic eruption from the Guffey volcanic center covered the lush valley in ash over 34 million years ago, perfectly encapsulating plant and animal life at that moment. Petrified tree stumps up to 14 feet wide evoke images of the towering ancient redwoods. At the same time, delicate fossils of birds, bugs, and blossoms offer an intimate look at species diversity. Together, they paint a vivid portrait of prehistoric Colorado that visitors continue to marvel at today.

Diverse Research Opportunities

The Florissant Fossil Beds provide an abundance of research opportunities across scientific disciplines. The diversity and detail of fossils here have furthered our understanding of ancient ecosystems, paleoclimates, biodiversity, and geological events.

Paleobotany and Paleozoology

The exquisite plant, insect, fish, and bird fossils have enabled groundbreaking discoveries about the evolutionary history of various species. From fossil flies to petrified redwood cones, scientists have gained insights into the adaptations and development of different organisms over millennia.


Volcanic mudflows perfectly preserved lifeforms here for study today. Analyses of the ash and shale through radiometric dating techniques have revealed the sequence of volcanic eruptions that shaped this landscape. GIS mapping has also elucidated the local fault systems and elevation history.

Climate Science

Paleoclimate studies of fossil plants and animals have traced temperature changes in the region over 60 million years, clarifying climate variability and the transition from a subtropical to a temperate ecosystem. These discoveries have implications for current warming trends.

Conservation and Education

Recognizing the global significance of this fossil site, President Nixon designated the Florissant Fossil Beds a National Monument in 1969. This protects 6,000 acres of land for scientific study and public education while prohibiting fossil collection without a permit.

The National Park Service offers guided tours, interactive exhibits, and ranger-led programs to immerse visitors in the landscape’s ancient past. From family-friendly activities to research partnerships, they promote stewardship of this rare fossil site through education initiatives targeting diverse audiences. These efforts have ensured the exquisite preservation of plant, insect, and geological specimens for future generations.

An Ecotourism Destination

Beyond its scientific value, the monument also provides a scenic natural backdrop for outdoor recreation. Hiking trails wind through fossil sites and wildlife habitats, allowing visitors to experience the natural beauty and geologic wonders.

Adventurous travelers have their pick of outdoor activities, from ranger-guided fossil hikes to catching trout in the fishing pond. Families appreciate easier nature walks and interactive exhibits at the visitor center, illuminating ancient lifeforms. From wildlife watching to lodging under the stars, the monument caters to diverse interests while highlighting its ancient ecosystem.

The monument has become a popular ecotourism destination as an accessible day trip from Colorado Springs and Denver. Visitors marvel at this unique portal into Colorado’s distant past, where an ancient redwood forest comes alive through petrified tree stumps and delicate shale fossils. It remains one of the state’s most treasured protected areas, offering world-class scientific value and memorable adventures steeped in natural heritage.

You can also explore Mueller State Park, Pikes Peak, and other nearby points of interest in the Florissant Valley.


What types of fossils can you find at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument?

Florissant Fossil Beds contains incredibly diverse and well-preserved fossils from the Eocene Epoch, including petrified redwoods, delicate insects encased in shale, fossilized plants and flowers, petrified stumps, preserved fish and bird specimens, and more. This diversity provides a detailed snapshot of an ancient ecosystem.

Is fossil collecting allowed on the monument site?

Fossil collecting is prohibited within the monument without an official permit. This ensures the protection of fossils for scientific research and public education initiatives. Visitors may learn about and observe fossils through guided tours, hikes, exhibits, and educational programming.

What research takes place at the monument?

As one of the world’s best fossil sites, Florissant Fossil Beds fosters research across paleontology, geology, biology, climate science, and more. From analyzing volcanic ash to tracing petrified redwood genetics, scientists have made breakthrough discoveries about ancient ecosystems, biodiversity, climate shifts, and geological events through specimens here.

What outdoor recreation activities does the monument offer?

Visitors can embark on hiking adventures along fossil-filled trails, go birdwatching or wildlife viewing across diverse habitats, and relax through catch-and-release fishing. Ranger-guided fossil hikes and family-friendly programs also showcase the natural and geologic wonders protected here.

How can you visit the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument?

The monument is open year-round, with a visitor center offering interactive exhibits and educational programming. Those wanting to explore the protected landscapes can embark on hiking trails and fossil tours guided by expert rangers. As a National Park Service site, the monument welcomes visitors to immerse themselves in this rare fossil ecosystem.


About the author

James Ranson

I’m an editor, traveler, and fan of the great outdoors. I’ve been to all 48 continental US states, and my drives through Colorado’s rugged peaks and snowy forests (not to mention whiskey tastings in Denver!) still stand out in my memories. I’m excited to use my ten years of editing experience to develop engaging and informative guides and articles that enhance the outdoor experiences of both Colorado residents and visitors. Whether a piece is about exploring the best ski resorts, uncovering scenic trails for hiking, or finding the most inspiring drives through the Colorado Rockies, my aim is to provide comprehensive and accessible content that encourages adventure and exploration.