Colorado, Colorado Destinations, Colorado Hikes, Southwestern US, US National Parks

Canyon Country – Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado

By far, most people who visit Dinosaur go to the Utah half of the monument. It’s the side with the dinosaur bones for which the monument is most famous. It’s also the more accessible part of the monument, with developed campgrounds and easy river access.

However… what the Colorado half lacks in dinosaur fossils, it more than makes up for in incredible canyon views. The Yampa River enters the monument from the east and the Green River flows in from the north. They converge in this section of the park, deep within the rock walls of the winding gorges cut by the flowing water.

To reach this section of the monument, travel to the tiny town of Dinosaur, Colorado and follow Harper’s Corner Road 24 miles (39 km) north to the monument boundary. There is a visitor center at the beginning of the road and many pullouts and viewpoints along the way.

Plug Hat Butte viewpoint

Our first stop was Plug Hat Butte picnic area to hike Bull Canyon Rim trail. The trail passes through a gate marking the boundary of the monument and out into the surrounding BLM land. From here, the path continues along the canyon rim to a viewpoint looking west over the colorful high desert.

Bull Canyon Rim

Continuing along the road toward Harper’s Corner, we took the time to stop at each of the roadside overlooks. Unfortunately, one of the afternoons we were here was rather stormy which made for some weird lighting. My photos aren’t the best quality (the colors are much more vibrant in real life than they appear here) but hopefully you can still get the gist.

Island Park overlook
Iron Bench overlook
Echo Park viewpoint
Echo Park Road winds steeply down to the confluence of the Green and Yampa Rivers. This was recommended to us by a park ranger, and we were looking forward to it. However, it’s impassable when wet; since it had been raining, we elected to skip it.

And finally, at the end of Harper’s Corner Road is the hike to Harper’s Corner itself. This is, in my opinion, the best hike we did the entire weekend. It travels about 1.1 miles (1.8 km) each way out to a viewpoint overlooking the Green/Yampa confluence and the extensive expanse of canyons cut by both rivers. Although we couldn’t see the exact point where the rivers join, this hike made me feel as though we didn’t miss out too much by not driving down to Echo Park.

I meant to do a handstand here, but it was beginning to thunder as we arrived at the overlook and in our haste to get back to the car (on an exposed canyon rim is not where you want to be when there’s lightning), I completely forgot.

Looking out over Echo Park
Green River and Whirlpool Canyon
The Green River is barely visible in the center left of this photo. The Yampa River is in the middle. The confluence occurs behind the canyon walls. From there, the Green River wraps around and continues out the lower left corner of the photo
Green River from Harper’s Corner

The tilted rock layers and colorful geology of Dinosaur are on full display here, as you can see in some of the photos above. In fact, the layers are so tilted that the rocks we were standing on here on the Colorado side of the monument – which is about 1000 feet (305 m) higher in elevation – are actually millions of years older than the exposed rocks on the Utah side.

It’s truly spectacular!


The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: The photos and info in this post are from the Colorado entrance to Dinosaur National Monument near the town of Dinosaur. This is the half of the monument without any dinosaur bones
  • Fees and passes: entry to the monument costs $25/car for a 7 day pass; interagency passes accepted
  • Where to stay: the only campground in this part of the park is down Echo Park Road and it is primitive; for other lodging, the closest options are on the Utah side of the monument
  • Hiking: there are three hiking trails that depart from Harper’s Corner Road. More info on each hike can be found here
  • Other: although the elevation at Dinosaur is around 5000 feet (1500 m), this is the desert. It’s hot and dry in the summer and cools off quite abruptly at night. Even at the end of May it was about 85°F (29°C) and sunny during the day… later in the summer temperatures regularly exceed 100°F (38°C) so this is a park best visited in the offseason

27 thoughts on “Canyon Country – Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado”

    1. Yes, it was a volatile day for the weather. We were back and forth between sun and clouds all afternoon, constantly keeping a close eye on which direction the storms were moving.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Great insight, thank you so much for sharing and your pictures make me want to visit now! I have definitely given you a follow as I can’t wait to read more.
    If you are interested in stories about travel around Africa, then please take a look at my blog where I’ll be sharing my stories as a former safari guide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know I know. Four days in the park and not a single handstand. I will have to return sometime.

      This would be a beautiful place to bike, I hope you get to do so soon!

      Like

  2. Well I’m sorry, Diana, but I’ve become accustomed to seeing you doing a handstand at all your destinations, so you’re just going to have to go back there and do one, or else it’s false advertising. 😉 By the way, I love seeing scenery like that, so I appreciate the pics no matter the quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think some things are just too amazing to be captured. Maybe that’s a good thing… if we could get that “oh wow” moment from a photo, it might take away some of the awe of going there in person.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I will have to agree with you and say that photos rarely ever do justice to the vibrancy and sublimity of a location…but I will say that the ones you took still look captivating! Ominous storms really bring a damper to one’s visit (pun intended), but at least you were able to check out the site before it happened!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Lovely views. Good thing you decided to check out the Colorado side of the monument. That’s too bad that you forgot to do a handstand, but hey, if I heard thunder in an open area, I’d be booking it back to the car too! Have a wonderful weekend. Linda

    Liked by 1 person

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