Where to Find Fossils in Your State | Detours | Prehistoric Road Trip
Did you know that nearly every state has an official state fossil? (The official state fossil of Illinois is the Tully monster, by the way.) While not every state is perfect for fossil hunting, there are opportunities all across the United States where you can get in touch with prehistoric creatures, whether you’re digging yourself or walking among articulated fossils in a museum.
As a very important reminder, every state has its own laws for fossil collection. Some locations require permits, and some forbid it altogether. Be sure to do your research before reaching for your rock hammer. Many of the sites below have admissions fees, permit requirements, other costs, or prohibit fossil collection altogether. Always be sure to check websites of dig locations for rules, tips, and precautions. It’s also important to note that to many communities, fossils and the land on which they are found are essential to their identities. Always be respectful. It’s never a good idea to just show up and start digging.
While a full-fledged T. rex fossil might be hard to come by in Alabama, visit the McWane Science Center in Birmingham and check out the Alabama Dinosaurs exhibit.
Alaska has strict fossil-collecting laws, so let the experts do the work for you and see what they have discovered at the Alaska Museum of Science & Nature in Anchorage. You’ll find various skeletons and models of different dinosaurs, including Albertosaurus, an Alaskan variety of T. rex.
Arizona certainly doesn’t lack fossil traces of prehistoric times. Visit one of its many museums, such as the Arizona Museum of Natural History in Mesa or the Flagstaff Museum of Northern Arizona. You can also see deposits of petrified wood at Petrified Forest National Park and intact dinosaur tracks near Tuba City. And if you’re interested in seeing how time deposits layers upon layers of rock, you might have heard of a little thing called the Grand Canyon (among many other famous national parks and monuments in the state).
Fossil hunters often dig up marine fossils in the Natural State. Search the Ozark Plateaus and the Arkansas River Valley for fossilized coral, trilobites, ferns, and more. The Arkansas Geological Survey provides this handy guide.
California is rich in geological history, but state law prohibits excavation and removal of fossils found on public lands. However, on Bureau of Land Management lands, you can collect fossils without a permit (as long as they aren’t bones). There are also private lands that allow fossil hunting for a fee. The Ernst Quarries near Bakersfield are full of large marine fossil deposits. Of course, if you’re just interested in looking at geological formations, California has plenty of state and national parks that will fit the bill nicely.
Much of Colorado’s fossil-collecting sites require special permits, so keep that in mind. You can pay to dig for plant and insect fossils at the Florissant Fossil Quarry. But there are plenty of ways to experience paleontological and geological treasures in this fossil-rich state without your brush and chisel. Roam where dinosaurs once walked at Dinosaur National Monument, where you can still see their remains embedded in rocks. You can also see dinosaur tracks and more at Dinosaur Ridge or geek out at the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center.
Visit the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven. There, you can see their vast fossil display, which was started by O.C. Marsh during the Bone Wars. You can also learn about dinosaurs at Dinosaur State Park and Arboretum in Rocky Hill, where more than 500 dinosaur tracks are preserved.
Stop by the Delaware Museum of Natural History in Wilmington to get a look at dinosaur skeletons up-close.
It might not be surprising that you can find fossilized shark teeth (even huge megalodon teeth) at Venice Beach in Florida, but did you know you can find evidence of the Ice Age in the Sunshine State? You can search for Ice Age animal fossils along the Peace River, but you’ll need a permit to do so – and be on the lookout for gators.
While Georgia doesn’t have any designated fossil-hunting sites, it does have lots of fossilized shark teeth along its coastline.
Hawaii’s volcanic rock is not the right type for fossil formation. While the state has some marine fossils such as coral and mollusks, you’re better off fossil hunting somewhere other than this relatively young, 5-million-year-old chain of islands.
You’ll need a permit to collect fossils in Idaho, and fossil excavation is mainly limited for the purposes of research and education. Stop by the visitor center at Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument to see a cast of the skeleton of the Hagerman horse. You can do a simulated dig at the visitor center, since many of the hillsides at the site are unstable due to frequent landslides.
About 35 minutes southwest of Joliet, stop by the Mazonia-Braidwood State Fish and Wildlife Area. You’ll need a permit and a canoe, but you can hunt for fossils leftover from the time Illinois was covered by an inland sea. You might come across the fossilized remains of ferns and jellyfish. The Illinois State Geological survey recommends scanning the cliffs and bluffs along the Mississippi, Illinois, Ohio, and Wabash rivers.
Discover fossils from the Devonian period at the Falls of the Ohio State Park in Southern Indiana, right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. Depending on river levels, you can scan fossil beds for fossilized shells and corals. If you don’t feel like getting your shoes muddy, venture indoors to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, which has a dedicated dinosaur exhibit with a fossil prep lab.
Nearly 365 million years ago, Iowa was covered by an ocean. Take home Devonian period fossils such as brachiopods, corals, and cephalopods at the Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve near Rockford. And if you’re near Iowa City, stop by the Devonian Fossil Gorge to take a look at what would have been an ocean floor that was exposed after flood waters washed away soil to reveal 375-million-year-old fossils. Note that these are the kinds of fossils that are embedded in bedrock, so you can’t exactly walk away with these.
During the Permian and Cretaceous periods, Kansas was covered by an inland sea, like much of the American Midwest. As a result, you can find small invertebrate fossils in Kansas. According to the Kansas Geological Survey, you can find them in the limestone that lines Kansas’s roads and highways. Bigger vertebrates have been found in some parts of Kansas, such as the official state fossil – Tylosaurus, a hefty, predatory, marine reptile similar to a monitor lizard or a snake. These larger fossils have been found particularly in the chalk beds of western Kansas, but be sure to get the landowner’s permission first.
In addition to finding actual fossils at the Falls of the Ohio State Park (see Indiana), you can walk among life-sized dinosaur statues at Dinosaur World in Cave City, Kentucky, near Mammoth Cave National Park. While you might not find fossils at Mammoth Cave, you can explore this 10-million-year-old cave system and see unique geological formations.
Though you might come up dry looking for fossils in the Louisiana humidity, you may have some luck in the city of Natchitoches along the Cane River. The Pelican State has mostly invertebrate marine fossils and other specimens such as mollusks and corals.
You might find small, fossilized sea critters in rocks along Maine’s coast. Bowdoin College and the Maine State Museum have fossils on display. And if you’re at the Maine State Capitol building, look down. The black limestone floor contains fossilized marine invertebrates.
Snag shark teeth and other marine fossils at Purse State Park on the Potomac River. You can also examine the cliffs at Calvert Cliffs State Park that were covered by a shallow sea 10 to 20 million years ago. You might find the fossilized remains of whales, huge seabirds, and more.
The Bay State may not be a prime fossil-hunting location, but the Harvard Museum of Natural History boasts Cenozoic-era fossils, as well as displays that show the evolution of animals, plants, and human beings.
Michigan isn’t known to be a great site for fossils, but the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan offers Fossil Parks, where you can dig at both indoor and outdoor locations. Be sure to visit in the summer when the area isn’t covered in snow.
Head to the Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester where you can explore two quarries and take home any fossils you find. Look out for brachiopods and trilobites all over the state, too. But if you head to one of the state parks, keep in mind that you are not allowed to collect fossils (or rocks and flowers, for that matter).
Check out the Mississippi Petrified Forest in Flora and walk among tree remains that date back millions of years. You can also visit the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science to explore the Stories in Stone exhibit, where you’ll find dinosaur and whale fossils.
Like other midwestern states, Missouri has plenty of marine fossils in its rocks. Find a place with moving water, and you’ll probably find some fossils. If you prefer to stay out of the mud, make your way to the Missouri Institute of Natural Science in Springfield where you’ll find plenty of specimens, including Henry the Triceratops. You can also hunt for fossils on museum grounds and take home your own fossils.
Montana is a gold mine for fossils. But because so many iconic dinosaur bones have been found in the state, there are a lot of restrictions, so make sure to check before you dig. One option for dinosaur enthusiasts is to participate in the annual Dino Shindig at the Carter County Museum in Ekalaka every summer. This event allows you to dig, hear lectures from experts, and participate in activities for the kids, too. The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum in Malta also offers public digs led by experts for both adults and kids. You can find similar programs at Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum. Plus, the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman has a large collection of dinosaur fossils.
If you don’t mind going home empty-handed, visit Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. Fossil collection is prohibited, but the site allows you to visit a fossil prep lab and talk to paleontologists. The site is named for the volcano that erupted and killed the mammals and birds that roamed the grasslands 12 million years ago. You can also stop by the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument to check out the displays of ancient mammals and walk through the hills where paleontologists found the remains of their real-life counterparts.
Though it’s now mostly desert, Nevada was once covered by a sea. If you’re up for a remote adventure, head to the Bureau of Land Management’s Oak Springs Trilobite Site near Caliente to check out the marine arthropods from the Cambrian period some 540 million years ago. Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park is named for two things: a small ghost town dating back to the 1890s and the marine reptile dating back 250 million years ago. You can find the remains of both things at this park. If you need a break from the slot machines, visit the Las Vegas Natural History Museum for plenty of dinosaur-related exhibits, including dinosaur models.
The Granite State, thanks to all the granite, doesn’t have any fossils. Fossils form well in sedimentary rock, but granite is an igneous rock.
Wade through the wetlands to find fossilized shark teeth at Big Brook Park near Marlboro. But you don’t have to go too far into nature to find fossils. Near a shopping center in Mantua Township, you can find a large quarry with marine fossils, including turtles and mosasaurs. Now owned by Rowan University, Jean & Ric Edelman Fossil Park is no longer a public site, but it does host public digs.
Follow in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Clayton Lake State Park and Dinosaur Trackways or at Prehistoric Trackways National Monument near Las Cruces. You’ll see intact footprints from dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures. You can also explore the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science in Albuquerque where you can look at specimens found in New Mexico and hang out with models of a T. rex, an Albertosaurus, and a Pentaceratops. The museum also offers training courses that allow volunteers to assist with fossil preparation. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources has some tips and guidelines on fossil collecting that might be useful if you plan to go in search of bones on your own.
The Empire State has plenty of opportunities for fossil lovers. Visit the Penn Dixie Fossil Park and Nature Reserve near Blasdell to unearth Devonian period fossils yourself for a small fee at their dig site. The Paleontological Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth in Ithaca has a nearly complete mastodon skeleton and plenty of other specimens. The institution also hosts fossil collecting trips. And of course, there’s always the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, with exhibits on T. rex, titanosaur, mammoths, and more.
As is true of much of the southeast coast, you should be able to find shark teeth along the North Carolina coast. The Aurora Fossil Museum has marine fossils on display and has a kid-friendly dig pit across the street from the museum. Many of the fossils come from a nearby phosphate mine.
North Dakota is one of the best destinations in the world for fossil excavation. As a result, definitely do your homework on where you can dig. The North Dakota Geological Survey and Hell Creek Fossils offer paid digs for fossil lovers. The Dickinson Museum Center is a 12-acre museum campus located about 90 minutes directly west of Bismarck. The Badlands Dinosaur Museum has an exhibit full of dinosaur specimens and a fossil-preparation lab with public viewing. You can volunteer to help with their fieldwork, too. You can also visit the Pioneer Trails Regional Museum in Bowman to see a Triceratops and another fossil-preparation lab.
Thanks to its many lakes and moving waters, Ohio has a few places where you can sift through the dirt yourself. Visit Trammel Fossil Park just outside Cincinnati or Fossil Park near Toledo. You can find plenty of brachiopods and other small marine fossils at Caesar Creek State Park, an hour northeast of Cincinnati, though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a few rules to keep in mind. Ohio has many other state parks that are ideal fossil locations.
Roam the Hall of Ancient Life at the Sam Noble Museum in Norman to look at dinosaur models and other prehistoric creatures. The museum also offers various educational programs that gives kids a chance to experience fieldwork. Since much of the state is made up of sedimentary rock, you should be able to find small marine fossils almost anywhere, as Oklahoma was once covered by a shallow sea.
Take in the colorful landscape at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument near central Oregon, which is home to a variety of mammal fossils. You can also stop by the visitor center to see fossil exhibits and a fossil lab. But take note: because it’s part of the national park system, collecting is not allowed, unless it’s for research. Oregon actually has a town called Fossil, and – you guessed it – you can find fossils there. There is a public dig site behind Wheeler High School where you can find traces of prehistoric plants. You can also check out the Oregon Paleo Lands Institute, which has guided digs and information about other sites. Many of Oregon’s beaches have marine fossils and petrified wood, as well.
You can find trilobites and other marine remnants from the Devonian period at the Montour Preserve Fossil Pit near Danville. At this site, you can keep what you find. You can also visit the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh for a large dinosaur fossil display.
Unfortunately for paleontology enthusiasts in Rhode Island, there aren’t any public dig sites since there just aren’t that many fossils in the state.
Much like its neighbors to the north and south, South Carolina has a surplus of fossilized shark teeth. If you look closely enough at the sand beneath your feet, you might find shark teeth and other fossilized remains of sea creatures and mammals on South Carolina’s beaches. Charleston Fossil Adventures can guide you on a fossil outing and help you identify what you’ve found.
There is no shortage of fossils in the state where Sue the T. rex was found. Stand beside mammoth remains at the Mammoth Site and Museum in Hot Springs. If you’re looking for a good photo op, Dinosaur Park in Rapid City has great views and giant dinosaur statues. If you’re looking to dig yourself, you’ll need a permit and express permission from the landowner.
Get your hands on Cretaceous marine fossils, including sharks and mosasaurs, at the Coon Creek Science Center in southwest Tennessee. Jump more than 100 million years ahead to the Pliocene epoch at the Gray Fossil Site in northwest Tennessee. Saber-toothed cat and mastodon remains have been found at this site. You can also visit the Middle Tennessee Museum of Natural History in Murfreesboro to see fossil displays.
Your fossil brush could uncover Pennsylvanian subperiod marine fossils at the Mineral Wells Fossil Park about an hour west of Fort Worth. Or visit the riverbeds of Ladonia Fossil Park in the northeast part of the state. Walk alongside dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose, or check out the paleontology exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see what the dinosaurs would have looked like in action. There are plenty of other museums in Texas, too, such as the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, where you can check out more giant fossils.
Utah also is also rich in paleontological sites. From April to October, you can visit a site led by U-Dig Fossils near Delta to uncover a large deposit of trilobites. If you’re after ancient seashells and a bit of an adventure, visit Spanish Fork Canyon. But since you can find fossils all over the state, the Utah Geological Survey has a helpful set of rules to guide you in your fossil hunting.
Vermont may not be known as a rich fossil locale, but you can see plenty of marine fossils, such as corals and trilobites, in Fisk Quarry Preserve on Isle La Motte. It’s a nature preserve, though, so leave your tools at home.
Westmoreland State Park is an ideal location for fossil hunters looking for shark teeth, and it’s just 90 minutes from Richmond. You can find fossilized teeth along the banks of the Potomac River. York River State Park near Williamsburg has similar fossil beds and the aptly named Fossil Beach. The state park system sometimes hosts fossil events at these two parks, too.
Check out fossils embedded in shale at the Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil Site in Republic where you can take home three fossil pieces per day. There are a variety of educational programs you can enroll in, too. You can look at fossilized wood at Gingko Petrified Forest two hours east of Seattle, or peruse the fossil collections at the Burke Museum.
Many fossil experts cite the Lost River off Route 55 as an ideal spot to find trilobites and other marine fossils. You can also visit the Mini-Museum of Geology and Natural History from the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey in Morgantown to see a small collection of fossils.
The Wisconsin Geological and Natural History Survey says that Precambrian and Paleozoic fossils can be found in gravel all over the state. Other than that, your best bet is to visit the Milwaukee Public Museum to explore a mammoth and other models.
Wyoming is another great state for fossil lovers. Visit the Red Gulch Dinosaur Tracksite of Red Gulch Road an hour west of Bighorn National Forest to see intact dinosaur footprints from 167 million years ago. You can dig for a fee at both Warfield Fossil Quarry in Kemmerer and American Fossil Quarry. The Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis offers various dig programs in the summer and has a museum full of dinosaur displays. The Tate Geological Museum in Casper also offers paid digs. In addition, Fossil Butte National Monument has well-preserved fossils and displays in the visitor center.