From rattlesnakes to scorpions, Texans
know how to deal with big critters – but did you know creatures much larger and even more menacing once roamed the Lone Star State? Indeed, dinosaurs once reigned supreme in the area, leaving evidence of their existence perfectly preserved in fossils and rock formations, reaching from West Texas to the panhandle. Get a fun look at Texas’s first inhabitants with these family-friendly prehistoric adventures.
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Dinosaur Valley State Park
Just a short drive from Fort Worth or Dallas, Dinosaur Valley State Park is the premier destination in Texas for dinosaur and nature fanatics alike. Once the boundary of an ancient ocean, you can now see giant tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River where prehistoric animals once roamed. Download maps on your phone to find specific tracks; however, be aware that the footprints may not be visible in times of higher water. You can swim and fish in the rivers as well, or check out the 20 miles (32 kilometers) of hiking trails, camping sites, and mountain biking areas.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, 1629 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, TX, USA, +1 254 897 4588
Dinosaur Valley State Park | © Dill Tom / Flickr
Take your prehistoric-centric trip to the next level by checking out Dinosaur World, near the Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose. Three types of excavation activities allow you to find and keep real treasures, such as arrowheads and fossils. The museum contains both real fossils, cast fossils, and animatronic dinosaurs to educate visitors on various species and answer questions about the world in which they once lived. End your adventure at the gift shop with a mix of educational and just-for-fun keepsakes. You can even bring your well-behaved four-legged furry friend along to experience the fun!
Dinosaur World, 1058 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, TX, USA, +1 254 898 1526
While most dinosaur-centric attractions contain fossils, the Dinosaur Park in Bastrop seeks to recreate the world as it was during the time of dinosaurs. Life-size replicas of dinosaurs with realistic skin and teeth help visitors envision what the large animals actually looked like while they were still roaming the earth. The park has a range of fun, prehistoric activities for the whole family, including a fossil dig, playground, nature trail, spots to picnic, a store, and exhibits.
Dinosaur Park, 893 Union Chapel Rd, Cedar Creek, TX, USA, +1 512 321 6262
Government Canyon in San Antonio
Government Canyon National State Park boasts more than 40 miles of activities for all types of adventure seekers, including areas to camp, picnic, hike, bike, and even study dinosaur tracks. Dating back to 110 million years ago, the footprints are the only known dinosaur tracks on public land in Bexar County and require a two-mile (3.2-kilometer) journey through the park to reach. The tracks are those of Acrocanthosaurus dinosaurs – carnivorous creatures reaching up to 40 feet (12 meters) long – and Sauroposeidon dinosaurs, herbivorous, long-necked dinosaurs reaching up to 100 feet (30.4 meters) in length. Visitors can learn more about these tracks and the creatures that left them by visiting the nearby Witte Museum, which is opening a new exhibit this year in conjunction with the park.
Government Canyon National State Park, 12861 Galm Rd, San Antonio, TX, USA, +1 210 688 9055
Government Canyon Park | © Sean Loyless / Flickr
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend’s layered rock formations have been called a “geologist’s dream” thanks to their help in determining geological time, and more than 90 species of dinosaurs have been discovered here, particularly in the Aguja and Javelina Formations. Dinosaurs in Big Bend are the youngest dinosaurs unearthed in Texas, dating back to 66 million years ago. In 1971, University of Texas geology student Douglas Lawson discovered a new kind of fossil in the park; they were determined to be the long, thin wings of pterosaurs, also known as the Big Bend Pterodactyl. Though not technically classified as dinosaurs, they are still incredible to learn about and imagine. You can view a life-size replica of the 18-foot-long (5.5 meters) reptile at the Panther Junction Visitor Center in Big Bend. Get ready for your trip there by checking out 17 stunning photos of the park.
Big Bend National Park, TX, USA, +1 432 477 2251
Rio Grande at Santa Elena | © Karen and Brad Emerson / Flickr
While en route to these prehistoric attractions, check out other family-friendly activities around Texas that you can explore on the way.