Everyone loves dinosaurs. Admit it! You liked them when you were five, and you still like them now! The action figures and dino jammies may be a thing of the past – hey, nobody’s judging if they’re not – but even grown-ups find these ancient monsters fascinating! If your interest in dinosaurs has evolved from Saturday morning cartoons to a more academic interest in fossils and geology, you’re in luck. There are dozens of places where you are able to not only admire fossils, but actually dig for them yourself! If that dream of becoming a paleontologist didn’t pan out, no worries—you can head over to one of the many public fossil gathering areas across the United States. From tooth-filled rivers to bones embedded in shale, here are the United States’ top fossil hunting areas.
1 Montour Fossil Pit, Pennsylvania
Chip away at the shale rock at this fossil pit, and you’ll be sure to come away with a few handfuls of fossilized treasure! You can bring your geologist’s tools and spend the day hammering away to reveal what nature has preserved. Common findings include the preserved remains of snail-like creatures, shells, and mossy animals that once populated this area of the world. This is a fun place to take older kids. It can get pretty hot in the pit, so it may be best to leave younger kids at home and be sure to bring lots of water.
2 Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite, Wyoming
Walk in the literal footprints of the past! Set against the beautiful backdrop of colorful, layered mountains, this Wyoming treasure is an awesome place to learn about the area’s ancient past. You can take a gander at the awesome dinosaur tracks that cover the rock, brushing away invasive dirt to see the outlines better, and then head to the nearby dirt cliffs for some fossil collecting. There are plenty of fossilized seashells to find and keep! This hands-on area is a lot of fun for people of all ages.
3 Big Brook, New Jersey
Discover the long-lost world of the Cretaceous era in the Big Brook region. Head down to Ramanessin Brook (which isn’t as “big” as you’d expect) for a hunt in the shallow water. You can use a gold-rush style panning box to sift through the rocks and silt. While you’re at it, you’ll likely find plenty of teeth, such as fossilized Goblin shark teeth! You may even find a rare land animal fossil if you look hard enough. There are multiple fossil-collecting sites in the area. They each have their own set of regulations, so be sure to check them in advance. You can find fossils at Big Brook Preserve or Shark River Park—why not hit both while you’re in the area?
4 Stratford Hall, Virginia
If you want to see some awesome fossils from the Miocene Epoch, check out the specimens embedded in the Stratford Cliffs! You can find all sorts of things here, from bones to ancient shells. Some of the most common finds are various shark teeth, which you can spot just washed up on the shores of the Potomac. Look a little harder, and you might find even more interesting objects.
5 Caesar Creek, Ohio
If you want to hunt fossils with your family, this is the way to go! Cesar Creek is located near Waynesville in Warren Country, Ohio. The creek’s spillway is filled with incredibly well-preserved fossils, such as trilobites and snails. You do need a permit to collect fossils here, but it is well worth the extra planning. There’s so much to see and collect here! Kids will never want to leave. And adults will only pretend they want to.
6 Wardensville, West Virginia
Head out to the small town of Wardensville for directions to a nearby fossil-filled quarry. There are many Devonian fossils embedded in the rock here! Grab your pickaxe and start chipping away at the rock. You never know what you might find hiding in layers of hardened ancient mud.
7 Peace River, Florida
It’s pretty cool to find a shark tooth in the Peace River, but it’s even better when you find a fossilized mastodon tooth! Shark teeth are free for the taking, but you do need a permit to get everything else. You also need a boat and the guts to hunt in a place patrolled by gators!
8 Brownie’s Beach, Maryland
This beach is located in the town of Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. You can visit this place to hunt for old teeth, particularly ancient shark teeth. If you’re lucky, you may unearth a Megalodon tooth!
9 Mineral Wells Fossil Park, Texas
From Friday through Monday during all daylight hours, you can visit Mineral Well Fossil Park for free! Bring your whole family and your knowledge of ancient species, because there is more than enough for everyone to discover here. You’ll go home with dozens of fossils of coral, trilobite, plant, shark and oyster remains, plus a variety of other species! This place will give you a taste of what it’s like to be a real paleontologist in the field, and it’s worth making a special trip for.
10 Oakes Quarry Park, Ohio
Fairborn, Ohio is the perfect place to find fossils of all types of sea creatures. Here, the limestone and dolostone that makes up the quarry is rich with ancient wildlife! Apparently, this area used to be covered with coral reef, because there are many coral fossils here as well as fossils of gastropods and other small marine creatures.
Are you intrigued yet? There are so many places to go fossil hunting all across the United States! You don’t even have to spend an arm and a leg to get into private property or get any certifications. Anyone can hunt for fossils, as long as you know where to go. So grab your hat and your chisel, and get ready to find some awesome fossilized souvenirs.