Hey there! It’s Allison from Tips for Family Trips and today I’m sharing my tips for visiting one of Utah’s most under-rated vacation destinations – Vernal. The Vernal area is Utah’s Dinosaurland, and if you haven’t been there lately, you might be surprised to find how much the area has grown and how many fun activities there are. Vernal is located about three hours’ drive from Salt Lake City, so for us, this was an easy weekend getaway.
Here are our recommendations for a fun weekend visit to Dinosaurland in Vernal:
Day 1 – Water play at Starvation State Park
Starvation State Park is a reservoir near the city of Duchesne that is lots of fun for families – especially those who enjoy boating, fishing, and camping. Even if you just stop for a picnic and a few hours of beach time – which is more our style – Starvation is a fun place to spend a day or more.
On a summer day at Starvation State Park, you can expect turquoise water, sandy beaches, green grass and clean bathrooms and showers. All of the facilities at the day use and two main camping areas are new, and there are three cabins for rent overlooking the water. Grassy soccer fields and volleyball courts and a new archery course are available at no extra charge. Boats, tubes and personal watercraft are available for rent. Four primitive campgrounds are also open. Reserve your cabin, RV or tent space at www.reserveamerica.com.
Day 2 – Whitewater rafting
Whitewater Rafting with Adrift Adventures was the highlight of our weekend. We took the one-day Split Mountain Gorge trip, which is good for kids over six years old. Our guide was great with our kids and he taught them what they needed to know to stay safe and have fun. We floated nine miles down the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument.
The trip included transportation and equipment, a short hike to some impressive 1,000-year-old petroglyphs inside a less-traveled section of Dinosaur National Monument, a hearty lunch, and a 7-day pass to Dinosaur National Monument. We met families from Kansas City and Hong Kong and all the kids played tag on the beach at lunchtime. My 7-year-old wasn’t sure he would like rafting, but he cheered as loud as any of us by the time we hit the last rapid.
Read more about our whitewater rafting trip here.
Day 3 – Dinosaurs, and more dinosaurs
The Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum is a fun museum for families. It is located in a new building on Main Street in Vernal, and has indoor and outdoor dinosaur exhibits, including lots of hands-on activities for kids. Plan for around two hours here.
Your next stop is Dinosaur National Monument, located about 10 miles east of Vernal. In my opinion, the wall of bones in the Quarry Exhibit Hall is something that every true Utahn should see at least once. Pick up Junior Ranger booklets from a ranger at the visitor center, then take the shuttle from the visitor center to the new Quarry Exhibit Hall where you can see over 1500 dinosaur bones. You can even touch some of them.
Next, take the scenic drive from the visitor center to Josie’s Cabin for a picnic, or just to look around. Pick up a self-guided driving tour brochure so you can stop at the hikes, American Indian sites and other points of interest that interest you.
Back in Vernal… If you have time and are as geeky about petroglyphs as I am, go see the Dry Fork Petroglyphs at McConkie Ranch. Find driving directions here. There are lots of good petroglyphs on this short, but somewhat rugged hike.
Many families will want to save time for the Ashley Valley Community Park at 500 North 900 West in Vernal. This may be the biggest and best public playground in Utah. All of the equipment is new and there is more of it than I have seen in any single park, anywhere.
For lodging, there are a number of hotels to choose from in Vernal. We stayed at Springhill Suites by Marriott, which has an indoor pool and complimentary hot breakfast.
My family had a great weekend in Vernal and would like to return for more play time at Starvation State Park and Dinosaur National Monument. If you’d like more information and ideas for visiting Utah’s Dinosaurland, go to www.visitdinosaurland.com. If you have visited Vernal and have tips of your own, please share your tips in the comments!
Disclosure: Our trip to Utah’s Dinosaurland in Vernal was sponsored by Uintah County Travel and Tourism and the Duchesne Chamber of Commerce.
Kandice Searle says
Can I just say–THANK YOU!!! It is so awesome to see a post about my hometown—isn’t it beautiful!!!?? And one of Utah’s best treasures. I was privileged to grow up here, and more than privileged to raise my kids here! So glad your family had fun in our ever growing and adventurous town!
ps–next time you want to come this way – I could show you some more secret amazing places that us lifetime residents know about 🙂
What great info! I have heard of it but have never visited and this post makes me want to take a trip. THANKS!
Kandice, I might take you up on your offer sometime! I had been to Vernal before, and was looking forward to a return trip with my family. Even then, it exceeded my expectations. I’m now trying to talk my extended family into a mini-reunion there!
Nichole, you’re welcome! I hope that you get to visit before too long and that you have a good time.
Sabrena Suite-Mangum says
I am so grateful for this post. I’ve been wanting an easy itinerary for our family of 4…and my husband keeps mocking me that I REALLY want to take the kids to Vernal. My son loves dinosaurs and so I knew this trip would be easy, and relatively inexpensive since we can drive.
Thanks for your comment, Sabrena! This is a great trip for a family that loves dinosaurs – and why not, if you live so close? Have fun!