6 Weird Animal Fossils You Can Find At National Parks

Paleontological dig at a site with sabertooth cat fossils at Badlands National Park
Badlands National Park — National Park Service

Few things have the power to transport your imagination back in time the way fossils can. From ancient seas that receded long ago to the forests dinosaurs once prowled, the prehistoric world comes to life through fossils. Head to one of these national parks and take a trip back in time to the ancient world.


Stromatolite from bass limestone from the the South Kaibab trail at Grand Canyon National Park

Stromatolite from bass limestone from the the South Kaibab trail

Michael Quinn/NPS

A lot of people head to Grand Canyon National Park for the views, but one of the park’s most remarkable secrets is on a much smaller scale. Once at the bottom of a vast sea, the canyon's foundation, limestone, consists of the remains of ancient sea shells. The exposed rock strata of the canyon harbor fossilized sea creatures that span an enormous amount of time, from stromatolites dating back 1,200 million years to the comparatively recent bottom-dwelling trilobites that lived 500 million years ago.

Dinosaur Tracks

Fossils of grallator trackways of what was most likely a megapnosaurus at Zion National Park

Grallator trackways of what was most likely a megapnosaurus

Sarah Stio/NPS

Imagine if someone found your footprints 200 million years from now. What would they deduce about your lifestyle? That's essentially what scientists have been trying to do for decades at Zion National Park – decoding some of the most well-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world to find out a little more about what life was like during the Triassic period. Head to the park's St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site and see what you can figure out for yourself.

Columbian Mammoth

Mammoth fossil seen at Waco Mammoth National Monument

Mammoth fossil

National Park Service

One of the newest entries into the National Parks System, Waco Mammoth National Monument spans about 100 acres along the Bosque River in Texas. Beneath the park's wooded landscape, paleontologists have found several species of animals, likely killed and preserved during a series of ancient floods. The remains are roughly 70,000 years old – practically new by fossil standards – and include the only nursery herd of Columbian mammoths ever discovered, with at least 19 individuals of varying ages.

Petrified Redwood Tree

Rare petrified redwood stump trio seen near the visitor center a Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

Rare petrified redwood stump trio

National Park Service

In the unassuming mountain valleys of this Colorado national monument, one of the most diverse treasure troves of fossils in North America is preserved. From tiny fossilized insects and spiders to some of the largest petrified redwood tree remains in the world, more than 50,000 specimens representing more than 1,700 different plant and animal species have been found at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument.

Prehistoric Camel

Fossil of a sabertooth cat skull found at Badlands National Park

Sabertooth cat skull

National Park Service

The White River area of Badlands National Park is the resting place for an enormous variety of ancient mammal fossils, ranging from deer- and antelope-like mammals to prehistoric camels and rhinoceroses. Most of these remains date back roughly 35 million years to the late Eocene and early Oligocene epochs, during a time when a mysterious extinction event similar to the one that killed the dinosaurs affected plants and animals all over the planet.


Fossil of an Allosaurus skull on display at Dinosaur National Monument

Allosaurus skull

National Park Service

If you want to see the remains of dinosaurs that once roamed North America, there is simply no better place than Dinosaur National Monument. Straddling the border between Colorado and Utah, this park includes hundreds of paleontological sites that have yielded some of the richest dinosaur fossil beds in the world. The "Wall of Bones," reopened for public viewing in 2011, includes more than 1,500 dinosaur fossils still embedded in the rock. Other fossils, like those of the carnivorous Allosaurus and the spike-tailed Stegosaurus, have been reconstructed in the Quarry Exhibit Hall.

New species continue to be discovered in national parks across the country, bringing the lush forests and seas of prehistoric North America a little more clearly into focus. Don’t miss a chance to explore this fascinating history within the parks and let your imagination run wild!


What are some fossils that you can find/see at Bryce Canyon?
Sad to see that you forgot Petrified Forest National Park. For example Vancleavea is a genus of extinct reptile related to dinosaurs and crocodiles that is named after a park naturalist from the 1960s Phillip Van Cleave. That is just one of the many fossils first found in America’s first fossil park founded which was founded in 1906.
Nice dinosaur display at Big Bend NP too.

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