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Monday, October 2, 2023

Dinosaur State Park - Rocky Hill

Dinosaur State Park

On another soggy September day, a Friday where I am solely in charge of keeping both kids alive, I did some research to find a state park that could offer some kind of indoor adventure (if you are just tuning in, I set the goal of visiting all the Connecticut State Parks). I did a little bit of research and found a wildly unique state park that fit the bill. 

I'm embarrassed to admit I've lived in Connecticut for many years and I had never heard of the Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill. I soon discovered the Dinosaur State Park has a lengthy trail system and outdoor area, but also a geodesic dome built over the dinosaur tracks with various exhibits, perfect for a rainy day. 

Outdoor area at the Dinosaur State Park

For this adventure, I left the dogs at home and packed up my two kids and the stroller and headed 40 minutes north to this state park. Let me start by saying this place is wildly unique. State Parks are assigned to protect pieces of history, natural landscapes, and recreation opportunities. While the park has your more typical trail system, it also has a large indoor exhibit which serves to protect this world class collection of dinosaur footprints. It's completely opposite from many museums in the sense that instead of bringing the artifacts to the museum, the museum was brought to the artifact. Along with the boardwalk which takes you over the actual footprints, there are really awesome exhibits including educational signage, interactive hands on exhibits, various reptile tanks, a classroom, an auditorium, and a gift shop. We didn't get to enjoy the trails with the heavy rain but we loved the indoor exhibits and we are coming back with supplies to create dinosaur castings soon. 

Dinosaur State Park footprints
Trackway over the foot prints at the park


The park owes its existence to a bulldozer operator named Edward McCarthy who discovered the footprints in 1966 when the state was excavating the area for a Highway Department research laboratory. Dinosaur tracks have been uncovered in the Connecticut Valley since the early to mid 1800s as the geological conditions are perfect for preserving footprints (not as great for preserving bones). The state quickly jumped into action, hopeful to preserve this slab when many others were weathering away. Protective legislation in the form of a State Park was crucial in protecting the site and preparing the exhibits. The budget for the project was quickly depleted and 2/3rds of the trackway were documented and reburied to preserve them. The remaining 1/3, about 500 tracks were left open and preserved under the dome space. The state park was also registered as a Natural Landmark by the National Park Service, offering additional protection to this immense treasure. The prints featured in the park are thought to be made from a large amount of Dilophosaurus running through the mud. The Dilophosaurus was a 20 foot dinosaur that walked upright on its hind legs and left behind prints as big as 16 inches across.

Entrance to the indoor exhibits at the Dinosaur State Park


Unlike the other state parks, there is an admission to enter the indoor exhibits.
Adults (13+): $6
Youth (6 -12): $2
6 and under: Free


Grounds are open daily 9 - 4:30 (trails close at 4)
Exhibit Center is open Tuesday through Sunday

Trackway at Dinosaur State Park
Trackway at Dinosaur State Park

Indoor exhibits

Trackway over the footprints with a life size dilophosaurus, various educational exhibits (a lot of different hands on interactive and audio exhibits), a classroom, an auditorium, reptile exhibits, and a gift shop.

Indoor exhibits at Dinosaur State Park
Indoor exhibits

Classroom at the Dinosaur State Park
Classroom at the Dinosaur State Park

Outdoor exhibits

The park covers 60 acres of land. Outdoor exhibits include a butterfly garden, hiking trail system (2.5 miles), an arboretum, a mining area, and an area where you can make your own dinosaur cast from footprints.

Trails at the Dinosaur State Park
Trails at the park


There is a designated area in the back where you can make your own cast between May and October. The casting area has running water and the footprints but you will need to bring your own supplies which includes: ten pounds of plaster, cooking oil, a plastic bucket, and rags. This is a "go on your own" activity and you will need all of the above mentioned supplies.

Red Tape

This property is well known among geologists and schools and is a common spot for meetings and field trips. Head to the exhibits right when they open at 9 during the weekday if you want some quiet time to enjoy the exhibits.


Leave the dogs at home for this one as they are not allowed in the building or in the trail system.

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