Dinosaur State Park
80 acres in Rocky Hill, CT
Parking: Large lot at 400 West St, Rocky Hill, CT
Trail Map Trails: 2.25 miles Rating: ★★★☆☆
The discovery of dinosaur tracks in 1966 turned this area into a National Landmark which provides 2.25 miles of hiking trails with informational sign boards on native plants, habitats, and natural history. The main feature is the exhibit center which preserves one of the largest displays of dinosaur tracks on public display in the world and offers many educational features and programs.
Exhibit Center – CURRENTLY CLOSED IN 2021
The exhibition center is a geodesic dome which encloses a wide swath of the dinosaur footprints which can be viewed from a raised walkway over the area. The exhibits are geared towards children and the walkway provides a view of at least 500 Theropod footprints (experts best guess is Dilophosaurus).
Hours: Open Tuesdays -Sundays from 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Admission to the exhibit center:
- Adults (ages 13 and up) are $6
- Youth (ages 6 – 12) are $2
- Children under 6 are free
In 2014 the Discovery Room was renovated to include hands-on activities, displays of Connecticut rocks and minerals, and a large-screen interactive program covering the Connecticut River Valley.
In 2018 a “Dig Pit” designed by Dr. James Hyatt and his students at Eastern Connecticut State University and added to the main exhibit. The 5×5 area features an exact replica of the actual trackway which visitors can discover by brushing and digging through a layer of substrate.
The property also contains an arboretum, casting area, amphitheater, and picnic pavilions. Hiking trails are open Tuesdays – Sundays from 9:00 am to 4 pm. The grounds are closed and no public access to the park on Mondays. Pets are not allowed on the paths.
I hiked the outermost loop on my latest visit taking the blue trail out and over past the meadow and butterfly garden and onto the short boardwalk in the marshy area. Then onto the yellow and orange loops. There were occasional signboards with varied information about the history as well as native plants and animals. The trails were wide, mostly dry, and easy walk with a few small hills. All in all a pleasant walk without much to note.
The park sits atop sandstone of the East Berlin formation which dates back 200 million years to the early Jurassic period.
Established as a park in 1968. The dinosaur tracks were uncovered on August 23rd, 1966 during the construction of a planned Highway Department research laboratory state building on the site.
Experts converged on the area including Joe Webb Peoples (pictured pointing below) Director of the Connecticut State Geological Survey as well as professors from the University of Connecticut and Eastern Connecticut State University. They lobbied Governor John Dempsey and the state assembly to preserve the area. While they worked on legislation to protect the site it was fenced in and guarded by state troopers to prevent souvenir hunters.
Excavations uncovered about 25% of the tracks with the rest being partially uncovered by experts to photograph and map before being reburied.
A “bubble building” was built for the park’s opening in 1968 but was fragile and prone to falling down. It only lasted until a severe winter storm in 1976. The current geodesic dome was built in 1977 thanks to public support. The first plants of the Arboretum was in 1979
- Official Site
- Friends of Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum
- National Natural Landmarks – Dinosaur Trackways (1968)
- CTMQ – 96. Dinosaur State Park & Museum
- A Shared Landscape: a Guide and History of Connecticut’s State Parks & Forests, by Joseph Leary, Friends of Connecticut State Parks, Inc., 2004, pp. 69–71.
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Last updated October 11th, 2015
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