Digging Dinosaurs and Fossils

2023-01-11 17:55:44

Southeast Montana is full of paleontological wonders from the Late Cretaceous period. Eastern Montana’s Hell Creek Formation yields a high concentration of dinosaur fossils due to its unique erosion and ground disturbance. Alongside paleontologists, visitors too can help make big discoveries each year as snow, rain and wind expose more finds.

Museums & State Parks

If you are dying to see dinosaurs up close and personal, start with our museums and state parks. At Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum, you’ll find an awe-inspiring collection of 24 full-sized dinosaur fossils and replicas. Exhibits are presented in the context of the biblical timeline, and it is the country's largest creationist dinosaur museum.

Photo by Glendive CVB/Kristi Powell

Another stop with dinosaurs and fossils in Glendive is the Frontier Gateway Museum which features a full-size Struthiomimus replica named Margie. Your third and last stop in Glendive is Makoshika State Park, where some of the world’s best preserved dinosaur fossils have been found on its 11,000 acres. Inside the visitor center, you can view the remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex and Triceratops.

Head down the road to Ekalaka for one last big stop at Carter County Museum. There’s an impressive collection of paleontological finds, including a mounted skeleton of a Hadrosaur, complete skulls of Triceratops and a juvenile Tyrannosaur—all of which were collected in the local Hell Creek Formation.

Guided Gigs & Digs

We dig dinosaurs out here, and you can, too. Several regional organizations lead individuals on private or group digs and teach fossil preservation and preparation.

  • Carter County Museum’s Dino Shindig event brings in leading paleontologists to lecture about their most impressive research and kid-friendly dinosaur activities. Purchase additional tickets to the Fossil Field Expedition to excavate fossils alongside professionals from one of the museum’s active dig sites. The expedition tickets sell out every year, so plan early.
  • Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs conducts day trips on private land near Makoshika State Park in the Hell Creek Formation. Their experienced guides show you what to look for in excavating fossils and how to cast or prepare them. This dinosaur hunt is a family friendly adventure for children ages six and over.
  • Makoshika State Park offers a variety of special events throughout the year, including their seasonal Paleo Experience, which includes a look behind the scenes in the paleo lab and an interpretive hike on the Diane Gabriel trail.
  • Register at one of Dawson Community College’s Paleo Experiences with Dino Dave in Glendive. This hands-on program allows participants to sift through microsites with teeth, vertebrae and fauna from the Late Cretaceous ecosystem.
  • The Earth Sciences Foundation, located in Roundup, hosts open dig or prep days. Visit their dinosaur exhibit at Musselshell Valley Historical Museum, opening May 2023.
  • Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum offers full or half-day private digs contributing to their museum’s fossil collection.

Dig it Yourself

Southeast Montana has an abundance of public land open to recreationists; this includes fossil and rock hunting. Be aware collecting vertebrate fossils is illegal on public land, but there are several invertebrate fossils and pretty rocks you can collect. Along the  Yellowstone River, you can find ammonites, Pelecypods, gastropods, high-quality moss agates, patterned jaspers, colorful chert and other fossil imprints. We suggest Yellowstone River Adventures for an alternative way to fossil hunt and rock-hound.

Many well-preserved leaf print fossils have been discovered at Castle Rock Lake just outside of Colstrip. Walking the trails around the lake, you can also find fossils within the red clinker scoria. Traverse the deep canyons and hills of Strawberry Hills Recreation Area near Miles City for petrified wood of sequoia trees. The stream bottoms also contain large fragments of colorful agatized petrified wood.

Montana Dinosaur Trail

For those dinosaur fanatics who can’t get enough, discover our paleontological treasures along The Montana Dinosaur Trail. Trail followers will have opportunities to see one-of-a-kind specimens like “Margie,” the Struthiomimus or visit a dig site at Makoshika State Park. Visit MTDinoTrail.com to learn more about the Prehistoric Passport and all 14 locations across Montana to receive your dino stamps.