While the kings of the Mesozoic era are long gone, the remains of dinosaurs can still be found all over the globe. If you want to get up close and personal with the real deal, there are plenty of options. Whether you’re planning a trip to observe unearthed bones in museums or you’re ready to dig for fossils yourself, consider these dinosaur hotspots.
The 7 Best Destinations for Dinosaur Nerds
1. South Africa
There are few better spots in the world to see evidence of dinosaurs than the Austral tip of the African continent. According to Professor Jonah Choiniere, reader at the Evolutionary Studies Institute and an honorary senior lecturer at the School of Geosciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, “66 percent of the surface of South Africa has fossils on it,” so your odds of finding the remains or impressions of long-gone fauna and flora are pretty high.
Hire a guide and take a fossil tour of Golden Gate Highlands National Park, three hours south of Johannesburg, where the oldest dinosaur nesting site (190 million years old), comprised of at least 10 nests that have 34 eggs and small footprints, was discovered in 2012. The Free State Province is also the site of the recent discovery of a new species of dinosaur, the 12-ton, plant-eating Ledumahadi mafube.
Note that if you find fossils while in South Africa, it is illegal and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment to “destroy, damage, alter, deface, disturb, excavate, remove from its original position, collect or own, trade-in or sell, export or attempt to export” them without a permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency.
2. Alberta, Canada
Drumheller in Alberta is not nicknamed the “Dinosaur Capital of the World” for nothing. First, it has the world’s largest dinosaur, a 65-ton, 86-foot-tall female Tyrannosaurus rex that visitors can climb; the sculpture is over four times bigger than a real T. rex, but it still makes for the ultimate photo-op for dino-lovers. Second, it’s the home of the Royal Tyrrell Museum, the only museum dedicated to paleontology in Canada, which also has one of the largest displays of full dinosaur skeletons out there. But if you want to awaken your inner archaeologist in the otherworldly Badlands, drive 100 miles southeast to Dinosaur Provincial Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site named appropriately for its bountiful paleontological resources. Access to the park is only possible by booking a guided tour, such as the Centrosaurus Quarry Hike to see a former dig site, a fossil prospecting tour, or a two-day fossil excavation with an experienced paleontological technician. Note that there are laws against simply nabbing them, so don’t pocket what you find.
3. Jurassic Coast, United Kingdom
While this UNESCO World Heritage site on the English Channel coast of England is well-known for its stunning landscapes such as the iconic Durdle Door, the Jurassic Coast is also a site incredibly rich in fossils from all three periods of the Mesozoic era — Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous. Dating back as far as 185 million years ago, the fossils at the Jurassic Coast attract both professional archaeologists and amateur enthusiasts. If you want to try your hand at fossil hunting, certain stretches of the coast — such as Charmouth — are open to the public for collection. To see examples of fossils found on the Jurassic Coast, visit the Natural History Museum in London, where some of the extraordinary discoveries of Mary Anning, 18th-century paleontologist, and fossil collectors, are displayed.
In the early 1920s, an expedition headed by scientist Roy Chapman Andrews (the alleged inspiration for Indiana Jones) into the Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi Desert was launched. Within the red landscape of Mongolia, Andrews and his team made many impressive discoveries, including the first nest of dinosaur eggs known to science, currently displayed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The Gobi Desert is thought to be the site of a mass extinction of dinosaurs, so the place is the motherlode of bones, eggs, teeth, and prints. In 2016, some of the largest dino footprints (42 inches) were found in the Mongolian desert, and over the years, 47 dinosaurs were found in Mongolia. Many of the area’s findings are now on display at the Central Museum of Mongolian Dinosaurs, located in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. Dinosaur tours of the Flaming Cliffs paleontology site, such as National Geographic’s “Discover Mongolia” expeditions, are available.
5. Hawaii, United States
For those who got their fascination for dinos from pop culture, head over to Hawaii where much of the Jurassic Park franchise was filmed. While you won’t find any giant cloned dinosaurs roaming around, you will find many photo-ops at the filming locations, particularly on the islands of Kauai and Oahu. On Kauai, visit Manawaiopuna Falls (aka Jurassic Falls), where the helicopter lands in the first film, and the famous Na Pali Coast, which is featured in both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World in the scenes where guests arrive on fictional Isla Nublar. The only way to see the falls is from the air as it’s located on private land, so you’ll need to book a helicopter tour. To get a view of the gorgeous Na Pali Coast without the pricey air tour, hike the Kalalau Trail. On Oahu, spend the day soaking up the sun at the secluded Halona Blowhole (where Owen, Claire, and Franklin wash ashore in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom).
6. Montana, United States
One of the most well-known dinosaur fossil deposits in the world is Montana’s Hell Creek Formation, where one can easily find the remains of dinosaurs if they are willing to get their hands dirty. Proof of the extraordinary discoveries that can be made in this corner of the United States is Clayton Phipps’ incredible find. In 2006, Phipps, a Montana cattle rancher passionate about dinos, uncovered the extremely well-preserved fossil of a Triceratops horridus and a T. rex who seemingly died fighting each other. Note that collecting fossils in Hell Creek is illegal unless you have a permit from the appropriate federal land management agency or permission from the owner of that particular plot of land. To avoid any accidental fees, it is best to join public digs. Alternatively, Montana is also home to the Bighorn Basin Paleontological Institute, a nonprofit dedicated to paleontology and earth science research. The institute offers dino-hunting and fossil-collecting expeditions for children, teens, college students who wish to earn credits, and passionate adults.
7. Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico
It has been long speculated by scientists that it was a deadly asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. The leading theory is that the apocalyptic asteroid landed in present-day Mexico, near the coast on the Yucatán Peninsula. The resulting crater is the Chicxulub crater, named after the nearby port town, Chicxulub Puerto. The Yucatán Peninsula’s famous cenotes — sinkholes filled with incredibly clear water — are the result of the impact. Take a dip in one of these cenotes, which were instrumental in the discovery of the crater. This 66-million-year-old crater is an excellent place to learn about geology and the factors that triggered global extinction. While you won’t find any dinosaur bones laying around here, you can still head over to the Museo de Ciencias del Cráter de Chicxulub to see fossil displays and other geological exhibits.