Fossil Hunting as a Family

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fossilMy family and I love to go Fossil Hunting! I’ve always been a collector of interesting bits and pieces…and so are my kids. Pretty Rocks, Sea Glass, drift wood in interesting shapes all seem to find their way into our pockets or backpacks and into our family museum. So imagine my delight when I found there are places you can go to search out and even collect Fossils! Imagine! finding and taking home creatures that lived millions of years ago!

Now, whenever we have a camping trip planned, we try to include a Fossil Hunting expedition.

Because we are dealing with people of all ages and patience levels, and we do love the satisfaction of taking a bit of history home, we tend to choose pay to dig sites. Before you go thinking that this is like a theme park where everything is handed to you… picture this…. you are out in the dessert, it’s hot, dusty and dirty, you are armed with a pick, a bucket and some eye protection, and there is no guarantee that you will find anything. The only thing the pay site will guarantee? A spot, and advice.

We do also try other places that we find in books… sometimes we find treasure… sometimes we just end up dirty. It’s always an adventure though.


Now in some places… like the National Parks and Monuments there is NO collecting, so we just get the satisfaction of seeing pre-history. (Seriously… do not stick anything in your pocket… the Parks are for everyone, and if you take something, there will be nothing for future visitors) (plus the Rangers take their jobs seriously.. they will toss you into National Park jail). I’ve included some of the basic collecting rules at the bottom of the page…

Start a fun new Family Hobby… collect Fossils!

 Our Fossil Hunting Kit

Our Fossil Hunting Kit is pretty simple. It’s just a blue storage box with a lid and handles. It’s sturdy enough to carry heavy objects, and we can stack stuff on top of it. It’s not a huge box, since we also want to pack camping gear, food, and of course, people in the car… just big enough for the equipment, and some space left over for our finds.


Rock Pick– This is one of the most important tools in your kit. A Rock hammer has a flat head on one side, and a pointy long pick on the other side. I personally prefer a 22oz hammer.. has a bit of weight, but I get lighter hammers for the kids.. about 14 oz. If you have multiple people hunting, get multiple hammers. Seriously, it’s easier than refereeing the “it’s my turn” argument.

Safety Glasses– Your eyes are irreplaceable, protect them. Glasses to protect from flying rock chips are cheaper than a trip to the emergency room with an eye injury. There are special rock glasses… and they come as sunglasses too. You can use them or strong sunglasses.

Trowel- A Hand Trowel is great for scooping up or scraping away dirt. Take a few.

Work Gloves- Keep those hands looking model beautiful…. well… save your hands from getting totally scraped up on the rocks.

Ziploc Bags– I take along plastic bags in a variety of sizes…. gallon zipper bags… sandwich sized zipper bags…. non-zipper bread bags. All finds get wrapped in paper towels and stuck in a bag… then labeled.
We also use the bags to store .. plastic bags (ironic), sharpie pens, field guides, and labels…. and you can use them for wet bathing suits, half eaten fruit, trash carry out, and cookies.
They are re-usable.

Self-Adhesive Labels- Bring along sticker labels to stick on the outside of the bags that you stick your finds in. You may think you’ll remember where you found it… or what kid found it…. but you won’t. Label.

Sharpie Markers-I need to buy stock in Sharpie… Use an indelible marker to label your finds and your possessions. Keep them in a plastic bag.

Paper Towels -Take along a roll of paper towel (wrap a rubber band around it to keep it from unrolling). Use the paper towels to wrap your finds before bagging… keeps them from getting chipped and banged around.

Fossil HandbookIf you want to identify your finds on the spot… take along a small field guide. Stick it in a plastic bag to keep it clean.

I also like to bring along our Treasure and Gem Scoop.…It saves my back.


Where Can You Go Digging for Fossils?

Here are some places we’ve been.

fossil quarryU Dig Fossils

The U-dig Fossil site is a shale quarry where you can split the shale with picks and chisels to find Trilobites…ancient little sea animals that look like bugs.

Located outside of Delta, Utah, the U-dig Fossils is a great place for families and scout troops to head when it’s time to dig up some trilobites! This place is a bit off the beaten path (make that… 20 miles down a dirt road, so PLEASE make sure you have gas in the vehicle and water in your canteens.) Just when you think you will never get there, there it is.

After checking in at the office, you will be led to a spot in the canyon. Instructions on how to find the Trilobites come with the price… and you can use their tools. It’s shale, so, loose rocks. Wear sturdy shoes! And be aware that it’s dusty work. You have a set amount of time to split all the shale you want, then carry out what you like. The guide won’t stay with you, but you will get help identifying the trilobites you find.


Fossil Hunting on the Beach in Newport, Oregon

Fossil Clams, Crabs and Seal Poop

Years ago I read an article in a travel magazine about a man who takes people on Beach Combing Fossil Adventures in Newport, Oregon… Guy diTorris the Oregon Fossil Guy. I decided to get in touch with him, and off we went to Oregon. I don’t know if he still takes people out on tours, but you can reach him through his website Even if you go it alone, you might want to double check the rules about collecting. Removal is strictly restricted to personal use-

“Agates and other non-living items such as shells, stones, and fossils loose on the ground, in small quantities, defined as no more than a one-gallon volume container per person per day; up to three gallons per person per calendar year.”

OK, now that the legal stuff is out of the way…

The beaches in Newport are windswept and rocky, and some of those rocks contain fossils. We were shown which rocks were the most likely to contain fossils…and then we split them open to see what was inside. If we were lucky… chose the right rock…and smacked it just right…we would find treasure.

The kids and I found fossilized clams and scallops, some fossilized plant parts, and the kids were most delighted to find a massive piece of fossilized poop. ( I will have to find out what the kids did with it for a photo!)

Coprolite…. Fossilized Poop… My Kid’s Pride and Joy

Fossil Butte National Monument

Kemmerer, Wyoming

Ok… this is a National Monument, so there is no digging, but the sheer number of fossils that you can see in the visitor center of this National Monument is MIND BOGGLING! It’s wonderful. I absolutely loved this place. There is some camping near the monument on BLM land. We stayed in an RV park in Kemmerer (Riverside RV & Mobilehome Park)… but there are other campgrounds in Wyoming that are more picturesque.

Go…see it… learn something… and donate a bit… they are struggling to stay open. You will see loads of Fossils… No Collecting, but GREAT for Learning

Ulrichs fossilsUlrich’s Fossil Quarry

Ok, so maybe you can’t dig at Fossil Butte National Monument, but you CAN dig for fish at Ulrich’s Fossil Quarry just down the road. 

Near Fossil Butte National Monument, you will see Ulrich’s Fossil Gallery. Inside the Gallery you will find many wonders that they have pulled out of their Quarry… and you can make arrangements to dig there. This is a family run, private quarry, and reservations must be made (it’s off the beaten path, so they will actually drive you up the hill to the quarry…. an e-ticket ride on its own!) You are given instructions on how to properly dig for the fish fossils, and you will be supplied with the right tools. In the time allotted, you should have no trouble finding your limit of fish (kind of like regular fishing, only you also get to keep the little ones).

My kids also delighted in finding fossilized fish poop. (They do love Poop)

The Guide stays with you and shows you how to chisel the slabs out of the quarry. He also loads the pieces into the jeep. Later, the pieces are cut to size with a massive saw, and wrapped for you to safely transport home.


Make your reservations here—–>> Ulrich’s Fossil Quarry Trips


dinosaur national monumentDinosaur National Monument


f you love fossils… if you have a person in your world who loves dinosaurs… RUN, don’t walk, to Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. What an amazing experience. NO, you can’t take the dinosaurs home with you! But fossils are EVERYWHERE.

The visitor center was built over an upthrust… at some time in history, a flood swept a load of dinosaurs downstream… they died and stayed… and when the earth shifted… they were thrust up. Now there is a wall of dinosaur bones. And you are allowed to touch. It’s a dream come true. YOU CAN TOUCH!

The rangers also take you on fossil finding walks. You will see plant fossils and loads of dinosaur fossils. It’s ok that you can’t collect… this is a great education so you know what to look for in the future.

Take a drive out to see the petroglyphs.. and picnic along the Green River. There is so much to do here!

There are 6 Campgrounds in the National Monument—->>- Camping at Dinosaur


Looking for more Fossil Dig Sites? Check this National Geographic Page—–> Dig Your Own Fossils


Now for a some VERY IMPORTANT information.


Don’t dig and collect where you aren’t supposed to.

Fossil Collecting Laws and Regulations

There are laws and regulations regarding the collection of Fossils… you can’t just take fossils any time you find them. I found this list of laws, rules and regulations on… read them, know them… take them with you… don’t mess it up for the rest of us.

National Parks and Monuments It is ILLEGAL to collect fossils from National Parks or National Monuments. DON”T DO IT. If you find something… tell a ranger where it is, and let them pass the word to the paleontologists to study.

Bureau of Land Management Except where posted or on developed recreation sites, the casual collector may collect reasonable amounts invertebrate and plant fossils if collection is for personal, non-commercial purposes. Surface disturbance must be negligible. Collection of large quantities or for commercial purposes requires a permit from the BLM. (Commercial collecting of fossils is not allowed). Petrified wood may be collected for personal use up to 25 pounds plus one piece per day up to a maximum of 250 pounds per calendar year. Use of explosives and/or power equipment is forbidden. Collectors wishing to resell their petrified wood specimens must obtain a permit.

US Forest Service Fossil collecting on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service requires a permit. Although collecting for personal use is allowed in most districts and permits are typically free, collecting rules vary. (Commercial collecting of fossils is not allowed).

State Lands Most state-owned property is managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (Trust Lands) and a rock hounding permit is required to collect on these lands. A fee is charged for the annual permit. Rock- hounds may collect up to 25 pounds plus one piece per day, up to a maximum of 250 pounds per year. This permit does not authorize collection in areas where active mining operations are in progress or in areas that are leased for the mineral being collected unless permission is obtained from the lessee. The permit does not authorize collection on other state-administered lands, such as state parks. Commercial collectors must follow specific regulations and obtain a mineral lease or materials permit. For permits and fee information, contact the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administrations.

Private Lands To access or collect on privately owned lands, collectors must contact and obtain permission from the owners prior to entering the property.

Indian Reservations Indian reservations are considered sovereign nations and subject in part to their own laws and regulations. It is possible to obtain permits in some circumstances, and this is accomplished by visiting official tribal headquarters for the reservation. Generally entering on reservation land with the intent to collect anything is considered trespass, and most of the time you will be first “gently” asked to leave.


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