If you have a dinosaur lover in your family (they could be young or young at heart), can you imagine if you told them they could actually visit and participate in an active dinosaur dig? Now imagine that you have to go no further than Laurel, Maryland.
It’s true! There are dinosaur bones and fragments currently being uncovered at a site aptly named, Dinosaur Park in Prince George’s County just outside of Washington, DC. And twice a month, you have the chance to participate in discovering some plant and dinosaur fossils.
Visiting Dinosaur Park
Get your GPS ready because you’ll probably need it to find Dinosaur Park at 13100 Mid-Atlantic Boulevard in Laurel, Maryland.
Although there are signs to help you when you get close, you’ll be surprised to find it tucked in the back of a business park. But it is a park and you’ll find a garden and play area open daily from sunrise to sunset (bonus: there’s a bathroom and water fountain there too).
But you’ll want to go on the 1st or 3rd Saturday of each month from 12 noon to 4 pm to attend one of their FREE Interpretive Programs. That’s what we did last weekend and this rock nerd absolutely loved it!
When you arrive, you’ll need to register which simply means providing your last name, the number in your party, and your zip code. They seem especially curious to know how you heard about them so be sure to tell them you read my blog!
After registering, you’ll spend 10 minutes or so talking to one of the docents about the history of the region and samples of some of the types of dinosaurs that lived in the area, along with sample fossils that have been found on site.
After your introduction to the history of the area, you’ll have a formal orientation on where to go and what to do when you’re allowed on the site. They’ll fill you in but here are the general guidelines:
- Stay within the perimeter of the yellow rope. That will designate the area where you’re allowed to explore.
- NO DIGGING. Although this is an active site, they don’t want you digging as there’s a good chance you’d destroy a fossil with your less than gentle techniques. Leave your shovels at home.
- Dress for the occasion. It was HOT when we went so I was in shorts and sandals but a hat would have been an excellent idea, as would sunscreen. Next time, I’d definitely wear shoes with better tread since it is a hillside.
- Bring water! Fossil hunting is hard work. Stay hydrated and refill your water bottle at the water fountain if needed.
Now, you might have some questions so here are some I had that might help you when planning your trip:
Is this really a dinosaur site?
Yep, it absolutely is. It occurred when the areas was flooded creating a rare deposit of fossils from the early Cretaceous period, about 115 million years ago.
Can I bring my kids?
Yes! I saw young kids (probably as young as 2) and older kids (like me!).
How easy is it find fossils?
I can almost guarantee that you’ll find fossils of some kind. The site is primarily interested in fossilized pinecones (they’re really tiny), dinosaur teeth, and crocodile teeth but you’ll easily find ancient remains of the tree and plenty of plant fossils.
Did YOU find any fossils?
Yes I did! It took me a while to realize I was trying too hard. You can walk around scanning for anything small and bluish-gray in color. That’s most likely to be a tooth. Or you can find a spot and just start turning over rocks sitting on the surface. I found plenty of lignite (the carbon remains of ancient trees) and plant fossils.
Can I keep the fossils I find?
Maybe. They will let you keep small fossils (usually smaller than the palm of your hand), especially if they are plant fossils. And you’ll be able to keep a sample of lignite (it’s everywhere). But you will need to have all fossils examined before you leave. Some will get tossed. Some will be your souvenirs. But if you find something really good, they’ll keep it and catalog it with your name forever and ever!
What happens if it rains?
Definitely call before you go (301-627-1286) but one of the volunteers told me that they are almost always open. The only time they may close the site is if the entire ground is covered in snow. And the rain is actually what washes away the dirt to expose new fossils!
If you decide to visit Dinosaur Park, I’d love to hear about your adventure and what fossils you found!
Location: 13100 Mid-Atlantic Boulevard, Laurel, MD 20708
Hours: Park open daily from sunrise to sunset, Fossil site open 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month from 12pm to 4pm
What Else to Do Nearby
We spent probably 90 minutes at Dinosaur Park. We probably could have lasted longer if the weather hadn’t been so brutal. So if you’re looking to make a day of it in the area, here are a few other fun places we checked out.
College Park Aviation Museum
This is a small museum for those interested in the history of aviation. It’s located adjacent to an active runway in College Park, Maryland and has quite a few lifesize airplane models on display.
For the kids (and ridiculous adults like myself), you can play dress up too!
For Marylanders, you’ll also appreciate reading about the rise and fall of the Ercoupe, a plane that was manufactured by the Engineering and Research Corporation (ERCO) in nearby Riverdale, Maryland to be spin-proof, stall-proof, and slip-proof. It was marketed as simple, safe, and a plane that “anyone could fly.”
Location: 1985 Corporal Frank Scott Drive, College Park, MD 20740
Hours: Daily from 10am to 5pm
Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $2 children, Free 1 and under
Pinball Room at MOM’s Organic Market
When you’re ready to take your science hat off, you can put your nerd hat on and head over the Mom’s Organic Market. It’s a pinball arcade cleverly disguised as an natural and organic grocery store.
MOM’s Organic Market CEO Scott Nash pays homage to his love of pinball with a “secret” room inside the CollegePark location. On the left side of the store, behind a velvet curtain, you’ll find over a dozen pinball machines (new and old) as well as a few vintage video games.
Location: 9821 Rhode Island Ave, College Park, MD
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 9am to 9pm, Sunday 9am to 8 pm
Cost: Free but games generally cost 50 cents per play, change machine is on site
Be sure to check out other family-friendly places I’ve visited in Maryland!