Family-Friendly Guide to Fossil Butte National Monument

When it comes to finding unique things to do with the kids in Wyoming, a trip to Fossil Butte National Monument near Kemmerer, Wyoming, has to be top of the list for its treasure trove of fossils. Not only can your kids learn about paleontology, but they can see rangers in action, dig their own fossils, hike nature trails, explore historic towns and much more for kids in Fossil Butte.

5 Fossil Butte Kid & Family-Travel Tips

A blue sky with wispy clouds overlooks the Fossil Butte National Monument in Lincoln County, Wyoming.Butt

We’ve pulled together five not-to-miss tips to consider when you’re visiting Fossil Butte National Monument with your kids. You’ll find things to do for a safe and enjoyable family-friendly Wyoming vacation. 

1. Ranger Programs

Calling all young adventurers! Get ready to journey back in time at Fossil Butte National Monument. Your kids will love the fun things to do here on weekends and some weekdays during the summer. During Fossil Preparation Demonstrations, rangers prepare fossils for display right before your eyes. You all can lace up your explorer boots and hike to the Research Quarry, where you can become a junior paleontologist uncovering fossils just like the pros.

A ranger speaks mid-demonstration at the Fossil Quarry Program at the Research Quarry for Fossil Butte.

Summer Highlight for Kids: Fossil Quarry Program

During the summer, kids can participate in the Fossil Quarry Program and watch in awe as rangers carefully chip away at rock to unveil ancient treasures. This free program gives kids the chance to hike on Fridays and Saturdays and learn all about the job of a paleontologist and their important, ongoing research. Don’t miss the chance to talk to a real ranger during Ranger Talks. These up to 25-minute sessions are filled with cool facts about fossils and rocks and are offered on weekends and some weekdays during the summer.  Grab your hat (you’ll be outside with no shade, water or restrooms) and join the adventure at Fossil Butte—where history comes alive.

2. Explore Fossil Butte’s Nature Trails

A lush green landscape full of big sagebrush sprawls across The Fossil Butte Nature Trail.

For kids at Fossil Butte National Monument, there’s a whole world waiting for you to discover beyond the fossils, including some amazing hiking trails. Family-friendly trails include the maintained Historic Quarry Trail and the Fossil Butte Nature Trail loops. 

Learn about the geology and paleontology of the park from wayside exhibits along the Historic Quarry Trail. This 2.5-mile loop passes through parts of the Wasatch and Green River Formations and includes a short side loop to see a historic side quarry. Fossil Butte Nature Trail is a shorter trail that winds through sagebrush and a spring-fed aspen forest on a 1.5-mile loop. If you reach the top, your reward is scenic views at the benches overlooking Fossil Butte. What will keep you going are wayside exhibits that help you interpret the wildlife, plants and geology of this high desert oasis.

Carry-In, Carry-Out: Bring Snacks & Fluids!

Before you go hiking with your kids in Fossil Butte National Monument, take this opportunity to learn how to recreate responsibility and review how to Wy Responsibly. From carrying out what you carry into the area to having a plan for unexpected challenges, these tips will keep you safe while you’re on the family adventure of a lifetime. Make sure you pack some snacks and plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Watch for picnic areas or benches where you can stop to rest and refuel. 

3. Take an Awe-Inspiring Scenic Drive

Gorgeous flowers bloom among the grass swaying on either side of the scenic drive through to Fossil Butte National Monument as a pink and purple sunset glows above the idyllic valley.

If your family is visiting Fossil Butte National Monument anytime from late spring to early fall, you’re in for a real treat. Jump in your trusty automobile and hit the 5.5-mile Scenic Drive. This beautiful ride delivers you to the top of a ridge for a panoramic view of the valley below, and it is the perfect place to snap another treasured Wyoming family vacation photo. You’ll start cruising just outside of the visitor center parking lot on paved roads for 2.5 miles, ending at the Nature Trail parking lot. From here, the gravel road starts heading up for another three miles (do not take RVs or vehicles towing anything here). If you’ve got a four-wheel-drive, high-clearance vehicle and a map, you can exit the park onto Bureau of Land Management (BLM) roads.

4. Experience Unforgettable Fossil Tours

A family smiles as they dig through fossils together in Wyoming.

When you’re visiting Fossil Butte with kids, there is no question—you have to go on a real fossil dig. These tour companies offer fun for everyone and the opportunity of a lifetime, all rolled into one. You’ve got three tour operators to choose from: American Fossil, Ulrich Fossil Gallery, and Fossil Lake Safari. Each company offers professionally guided tours in the Green River Foundation, where you can dig for fossilized treasures you can actually keep, including dozens of species of fish, stingrays, gars, plants, insects and more.

Ulrich’s Fossil Gallery

After you’ve visited Fossil Butte National Monument (and hopefully found some fossils on your own dig!) stop by the Ulrich Fossil Gallery. This gallery is chock full of inexpensive gifts and souvenirs, plus large works of paleontological art. The acclaimed Ulrich family dedicated their lives to preserving the unique ancient life of the Green River Formation and continues decades of traditions of hand-excavating and hand-preparing the finest specimens found here.

5. Stay in Kemmerer and Explore More Sights

The street corner of the historic JC Penny’s “Mother Store” in Kemmerer in Wyoming.

To experience all that there is to do in Fossil Butte National Monument, spend a night or two in nearby Kemmerer, Wyoming. The kids will love camping or staying in a motel in this historic southwest Wyoming town. 

Stop by JC Penny’s “Mother Store” in Kemmerer, where the popular retail chain initially began in 1902 as the Golden Rule Store by James Cash Penney. You can even explore the J.C. Penny House in downtown Kemmerer. On the National Register of Historic Places, this home is now a museum about the region’s history. You can end your night watching the latest movie at the Victory Theater. When hunger strikes, you can enjoy a slice at Scroungy Moose Pizza, your favorite Mexican dishes at El Jalicience or grab breakfast at Place on Pine. If you’ll be in the area in June, don’t miss out on the annual Fossil Fest event, which offers a host of activities for the whole family.

FAQ: Things You Should Know for Fossil Butte

Can you dig for fossils at Fossil Butte National Monument?

No, visitors cannot dig fossils at the national monument. Families can arrange to go on a real fossil dig hosted by one of these area tour companies: American Fossil, Ulrich Fossil Gallery, and Fossil Lake Safari. Find more places to dig for fossils in Wyoming.

What Types of Fossils have been found at Fossil Butte National Monument?

Fossil Butte National Monument boasts a large collection of fossils, including 27 species of fishes, eight species of turtles, eight species of primitive fishes, as well as insects, plants, and even coprolites (fossilized poops). These fossils are on display in the museum, and on weekends, you can see rangers in action, uncovering more fossils.

What are some family travel tips for Fossil Butte?

Research the guided tours and visitor center information before you go to plan accordingly. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing, including hats, and bring sunscreen, as you’ll most likely want to explore a hiking trail. Bring plenty of water and snacks as well; the park has limited amenities.

When is the best time to visit Fossil Butte with kids?

The best time to visit Fossil Butte National Monument with your kids really depends on your personal preferences. Summertime is the most popular time, with warmer temperatures and longer daylight hours. However, it can also be crowded during this time. Spring and fall offer milder weather and fewer crowds, making them ideal times to visit if you prefer a quieter experience. Winter can be cold and snowy, but it provides unique snowshoeing and wildlife viewing opportunities. The ranger programs are mostly offered on the weekends, so plan accordingly.

How much time is needed at Fossil Butte with kids?

Between the visitor center and its interactive educational opportunities to the ranger programs and the outdoor adventures (hiking and fossil digs), you could easily spend a whole day at Fossil Butte National Monument. Nearby Kemmerer offers great family-friendly places to stay, giving you ample time to explore everything as a family.

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