Located a few minutes west of Denver, the Morrison Natural History Museum brings Colorado dinosaur history to life. The town of Morrison is famous for its iconic dinosaur discoveries. The first Stegosaurus fossil was unearthed in Morrison in 1878, at Dinosaur Ridge, a top-ranked dinosaur track site and long-time partner of the museum’s. “Morrison rocks are still producing new finds,” says museum coordinator Doug Hartshorn.
Those finds are regularly shipped to the Morrison Natural History Museum. At first glance, the two-story institution might seem small—but there are some very big treasures inside. Docent-led tours take off from the main desk at 10:15 a.m., 12:15 p.m., and 2:15 p.m. Lasting up to an hour, these tours are included with the price of admission and they’re recommended because the museum’s exhibits were designed to be viewed with a guide.
“Our tour takes you on a walk through time, right here in Morrison,” Hartshorn says. While perusing rare and recent fossils and adorable infant dinosaur tracks, families get a chance to view many of the critters that have called Colorado home, from the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods all the way to the last ice age. “There are some real odd-looking characters,” says Hartshorn, pointing to the museum’s newest display, a 30-million-year-old, 600-pound Archaeotherium that staff members lovingly refer to as “the warthog from hell.”
The museum also keeps a special collection of “ice age survivors”—live animals such as snakes, lizards, turtles, and salamanders. “Kids love that part,” Hartshorn says. Kids also love the opportunities for unobstructed tactile exploration. Touch-based learning starts in the museum’s entrance, with a massive Tyrannosaurus rex skull.
“People run up, and they want to touch—and we encourage that because you’ll get a much better idea of size and sharpness,” says Hartshorn.
From teeth and bones to footprints, there are other touchables spread throughout the site. Tours always end in the museum’s second-floor laboratory, where guests are invited to “work on the rocks,” Hartshorn says. This means visitors of all ages get a chance to tinker with tools, removing sand from the bones scientists are studying. “It’s not uncommon for our guests to find a new piece of bone in the rocks,” adds Hartshorn.
After the tour, kids can dig for local fossils outside, too, in the Fossil Dig Pit. (Think: A gigantic sandbox, but with a 15-foot dinosaur buried inside.) Curious kids can bring their “finds” inside, and museum staff will help identify the specimens.
While you’re outside, check out the Time Garden—a collection of rocks that’ll walk you through 1.3 billion years of earth history—and the Jurassic Garden, where you’ll discover scouring rush, ginkgo trees, and other plants similar to those that grew in Colorado 150 million years ago. If the weather’s nice, follow the trail behind the museum about a quarter-mile up, to a scenic overlook. And make sure to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy the Paleo way, outside and immersed on all sides by stunning dinosaur history.
Check it Out
501 Colorado Hwy. 8, Morrison
Need to Know
The museum is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last call for ticket sales happening at 4 p.m.
$6 to $8. Children age two and under and Denver teachers get in free; discounts are available for active military and AAA members.
If you’re ready to dig even deeper into paleontology, purchase an annual family membership for $50. Members can explore the premises at 9 a.m., before the museum opens to the public, and see new exhibits at private showings. Members also get discounts on gift shop items and birthday party packages.