Following the Montana Dinosaur Trail!Dinosaurs inhabited the earth for 165 million years, mysteriously disappearing at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 65 million years ago. Studying these giant creatures provides ongoing discovery. While paleontologists don’t know for sure, they surmise that since no modern animals except whales are even close to the size of dinosaurs, the world was much different than today and climate and food supplies were favorable to dinosaurs, contributing to their great size.
Montana is one of the richest areas in North America to find dinosaur fossils. Since dinosaur bones are buried under miles of rock, a mountain-building event needs to happen to unearth the bones. When the Rocky Mountains were rising and depositing new rock, a significant amount of bones were brought closer to the surface.
Makoshika State Park, southeast of Glendive, is rich in fossils, leading to some of the world’s most important discoveries in the field. In Makoshika alone, 10 species of dinosaurs have been discovered with more remains to uncover. The wind, rain and snowfall in the area continue to disrupt the landscape and erode the sandstone, exposing more fossils.
Fun Fact: North America’s first identified dinosaur remains were found in Montana, near Judith Landing in the Missouri Breaks National Monument.
Museum of the Rockies
Photo courtesy Museum of the Rockies and Visit Montana.
The premier museum on the trail is located in Yellowstone Country. The Museum of the Rockies, a Smithsonian Affiliate, is widely considered one of the world’s finest research and history museums. Located in Bozeman, Montana, the museum is a must-do for visitors to the area. The Siebel Dinosaur Complex holds one of the largest collections of North American dinosaurs in the world, including “Montana’s T. rex,” —one of the most complete T. rex specimens ever found. The museum also houses the world’s largest collection of T. rex and Triceratops specimens.
The bones of “Big Al,” a nearly complete Allosaurus that lived during the Jurassic Period, are on display, along with numerous dinosaur eggs and babies. In addition to dinosaurs, the museum highlights the prehistoric mammals that once roamed the state including mammoths, rhinoceros, and bone-crushing dogs. (Yes, there were actually rhinos in Montana!)
Guests love the Bowman Dinosaur Viewing Laboratory, where you can watch experts and interns clean the fossils through glass windows. And, if you find the field of paleontology interesting, the Mesozoic Media Center features images and video of the study.
Fun Fact: Retired Curator of Paleontology, Jack Horner was the scientific advisor for the Jurassic Park movies.
Montana Dinosaur Trail
Photo courtesy Visit Montana.
The Montana Dinosaur Trail is a great way to see the fossils and learn the history of dinosaurs who lived in Montana. Spread across 14 locations in 12 communities, each area has historic discoveries, exhibits, and educational tours. For those who like to get their hands dirty, three facilities have public paleontology field digs: Two Medicine Dinosaur Center, Great Plains Dinosaur Museum and the Carter County Museum.
The trail spans a loop more than 2,000 miles long across the central and eastern thirds of the state. Begin your exploration with a Prehistoric Passport, describing the displays, exhibits, activities and dinosaur facts. (Complete the trail within 5 years and you’ll receive a gold seal, a certificate of completion and an exclusive Montana Dinosaur Trail Prehistoric Passport T-Shirt!)
Fun Fact: “Leonardo,” the “mummy” Brachylophosaurus, was found in 2001 near Malta, Montana, with the majority of its body covered in fossilized skin. Leonardo is recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-preserved dinosaur ever found.
Anxious to learn more? The Fort Peck Interpretive Center hosts Dinosaur Week. A full week of activities for the whole family. This year’s event takes place August 1 – 4, 2019.
While dinosaur discovery is interesting on its own, we recommend building time into your trip to explore the quaint Montana towns along the way! For trip ideas in Yellowstone Country, download or request our travel packet.