Fascinated by fossils? Fossil Butte National Monument in southwest Wyoming is a paradise for fossil lovers. Well-preserved fossils are frequently found on the flat topped ridges in this high elevation sagebrush desert. The park is the discovery site of some of the world's best-preserved fossils, which include species of fish, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals, and plants, from the time the area had a subtropical landscape and lake.
Established in 1972, the monument covers 13 square miles, 8198 acres, of what was once ancient Fossil Lake. At its lowest elevation, the park is 6620 feet above sea level, and at its highest point, the summit of BullPen, it is 8084 feet above sea level. Situated on high, cold, sagebrush covered desert, the park experiences very cold winters and very hot summers so be prepared for the extreme climate conditions at the site.
There are numerous hiking trails for visitors to explore and do a little fossil treasure hunting of their own. Pets are allowed to join their people on trails, and in the parking lot area, provided they are kept under control and on a leash. The visitor center located at the monument has excellent indoor fossil displays and interpretive information available. There is no camping at the monument, however, informal camping in the surrounding countryside is permitted and RV camping with amenities is available at Bear Lake, a short drive to the west.
Fossil Butte National Monument is situated at the intersection of US Highway 189 and Highway 30, west of the town of Kemmerer on Highway 30. A sign at milepost 44 on Highway 30 direct visitors to the visitor center. Turn right onto Lincoln County Road 300 off of Highway 30 and pass the Historic Quarry Trail, which is half a mile down on the right, and continue on County Road 300 to Chicken Creek Road. Turn north onto Chicken Creek Road and proceed 1.3 miles to the visitor center on the right hand side of the road. All roads are paved and appropriate for RV and passenger vehicle travel.
From Salt Lake City, Utah take I-80 east to exit 18, which is a 95 mile trip. From exit 18, travel 48.4 miles on US Highway 189 north, and take Highway 30 northwest to Lincoln County Road 300. Take Country Road 300 to Chicken Creek Road and turn right. The visitor center for Fossil Butte National Park is on the right hand side 1.3 miles up the road.
The visitor center parking lot has some big pull through spots for large vehicles, buses, and RVs, but may fill up fast during the peak season.
Several government run campgrounds are available at Rendezvous Beach which is situated 35 miles, a 41 minute drive, from Fossil Butte National Monument off State Route 30. This area includes the Cottonwood, Birch, and Big Creek campgrounds with over 130 individual campsites for RV camping.
These well appointed campgrounds have full utility hookups for RVs, restrooms with flush toilets, and hot showers. The campgrounds have access to the wide sandy beaches and the clear blue waters of Bear Lake. The beach and lake are excellent for sunbathing, playing in the sand, swimming, and watersports. There is also a local concession stand that provides small boat rentals.
Popular activities at the campgrounds include water skiing, swimming, diving, sailing, and fishing. Anglers can fish for cutthroat, mackinaw, and whitefish in the lake, be sure to observe local fishing regulations. Pets are permitted but must be kept on a leash.
The west side of Bear Lake is the location of the Bear Lake KOA and Marina. The deep lake is 20 miles long and has turquoise blue waters with white sand beaches that provide excellent recreational opportunities. There is a marina one mile north of the KOA. Water sports, swimming, and fishing are popular lake activities, and those hauling a boat can arrange moorage at the nearby marina.
The KOA can accommodate RVs up to 80 feet in length and has 50 Amp hookups. A heated pool is available for KOA campers and there is also a wading pool for little ones. Other amenities include ping-pong tables, a jumping pillow, and a playground. A KOA grocery store and snack bar is situated on site and there is a Kamp Kitchen, Wi Fi, mini golf, pavilions, bike rentals, and a dog park.
There are fire rings at the campground, and you can purchase firewood on site or bring your own. The KOA is a little over 40 miles from Fossil Butte National Monument, about a 50 minute drive. Pets should be kept leashed in the campground.
Fossil Butte National Monument is located on what was once a subtropical lake ecosystem called Fossil Lake that is part of the Green River Lake System. The area provides fascinating geological formations to explore. The original lake was 40 to 50 miles in length and 20 miles wide and existed for approximately two million years.
Currently the park occupies 13 square miles of the former lake bed and harbors geological formations which consist of light colored strata formations made from the ancient lake sediments. These rocks are referred to as the Green River Formation. The rocks are exposed by the steep slopes at Fossil Butte and meet the Wasatch formation, which contains an outcropping of colorful rocks. You'll see pink, purple, yellow, and gray strata in the fossil basin.
This landscape is rich in fossilized plants and animals. The ridges, deep valleys, canyons, and desert highlands provide a spectacular scenic region for visitors to enjoy.
During the summertime young people can participate in ranger programs. These programs allow visitors to join the research quarry team, and learn about the work of a paleontologist. Participants will help search for fossils and record findings.
Please note that any fossils found remain with the park museum, participants can not keep fossils. This program is available Fridays and Saturdays during the summer.
A half mile hike is involved in the program, with a 300 foot elevation gain. There is no water or restrooms on the field trip. Participants are encouraged to use amenities at the start of the Nature Trail, wear sunscreen, have good hiking boots, and bring water and bug spray. Reservations are not required and the program takes about 1.5 hours.
There are over 100 species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and birds to discover in the Fossil Butte National Monument. Amphibians include the Utah tiger salamander, chorus frog, and northern leopard frog, and there are 93 species of birds that have been observed in the region. Bird species include the golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, northern harrier, raven, gray jay, and meadowlarks.
Commonly seen animals at Fossil Butte include American pronghorn, mule deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and ground squirrels. Small animals tend to be nocturnal, and are more likely to be spotted by visitors at dusk. Pronghorn and mule deer migrate in the winter, but still linger in the fall. Elk herds can be seen in the fall and winter, and the occasional moose wanders through Fossil Butte.
Due to the high elevation, there are no rattlesnakes in the area, but reptiles you may see are garter snakes and the short-horned lizard.
Hikers in Fossil Butte National Monument do not need to worry about rattlesnakes at this high elevation, but should carry plenty of water, sunscreen, and insect repellent, and have sturdy footwear. Hiking boots are recommended on the rough terrain.
In the fall temperatures cool somewhat before winter sets in, and temperatures may be more amenable for hiking. Hikers should also avoid venturing out during thunderstorms, which are less frequent later in the year, and should avoid wildlife.
There are four miles of maintained trails in the park and numerous unmaintained trails on the unpaved stretch of the scenic drive. Many trails involve significant elevation gains so choose a trail that is appropriate for your ability level. Maps are available at the visitor center.
When temperatures for outdoor fossil exploration are too cold, try checking out the indoor visitor center exhibits in climate controlled warmth. The visitor center contains more than 300 fossils and you are welcome to take pictures of the exhibits.
A timeline wraps around the visitor center with every 9 inches of timeline equaling 1 million years. Along the timeline you will see exhibits representative of the time period in which they were formed.
There is also a Fish Wall with 27 fish species that once lived in Fossil Lake. The Turtle Wall has 6 fossilized specimens representing 5 turtle species that lived in the once aquatic environment here.
The visitor center features a fossil rubbing table and preparation lab for some hands-on fossil discovery. Fossil preparation demonstrations are available daily.
With an extensive fossil record preserved at the monument, visitors should keep a sharp eye out for fossils and report them to the park staff. New fossils continue to be discovered at the Fossil Basin in the remains of an ancient lake bed.
The preservation of these fossils is excellent due to the still water, fine grained lake sediments, and lack of scavengers that existed here. Delicate fossils and articulated skeletons have been discovered at Fossil Butte that would not have remained intact at other locations. Birds, reptiles, fish, mammals, insects, and plants have all been discovered exquisitely preserved in this one of a kind location.