15 Best Fossil Dig Sites Open To The Public

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15 Best Fossil Dig Sites Open To The Public

In just about any state some type of fossils have been found, cataloged, and displayed in museums for the public see and enjoy. But for some geological rockhounds or fossil enthusiasts, looking at a display behind glass is just not good enough.

If you enjoy collecting for yourself, here is a list of fossil dig sites open to the public. Remember that fossils often settle in concentrated areas, so there may be several sites in similar geological areas. A bit of research may keep you busy digging for a long time.

1. Caesar Creek State Park, Waynesville, Ohio


Caesar Creek in southwestern Ohio is a great place for beginners or children to make easy finds. No tools are allowed. A fossil permit is required but free of charge.

Fossils no larger than the palm of your hand may be kept, and there are a lot of them. Just observe the rules of the hunt and you'll be sure to have a treasure to show for it!

2. Montour Fossil Pit, Danville, Pennsylvania

Located south of I-80 in eastern Pennsylvania, this is another easy, accessible site for a family daytime activity. Wear long pants, as some rocks can be sharp. Bring plenty of water in warm weather. Children should always be supervised.

The pit is about one acre of exposed Mahantango shale. It's open year-round, and many of the most common fossils can be found there. You can keep any fossils you find. Happy hunting!

3. Fossil Park, Sylvania, Ohio

Fossil Park is located in northwest Ohio. You'll need to check to make sure the season is open for fossil hunters. Fossils are actually brought in and dumped in a five-acre area from nearby working rock quarries. The park is free unless you schedule a guide, which may be helpful for beginning fossil hunters.

At least 200 species of fossils have been found in this discarded shale. Digging is free and your finds are your own. Most of the shale is soft and easy to break apart with your hands, so few tools are needed and the results can be addictive.

4. Mineral Wells Fossil Park, Mineral Wells, Texas

Mineral Wells is about 80 miles west of Dallas. It's located on the site of a landfill's borrow pit. After years of erosion, a treasure trove of ancient sea fossils has become exposed. The plethora of preserved flora and fauna have made it a favorite for fossil hunters.

This is a primitive site. There is very little shade and no running water. So take steps to protect yourself from the elements and local critters. Take plenty of water. The hunting is free, and the finds are all yours.

5. Big Brook, Colts Neck, New Jersey

Big Brook is not the easiest place to find, but the search will be worth it for serious fossil hunters. You will need to know the rules of the area, many of which are listed on the above site. You're allowed to keep no more than five fossils a day, so you may want to plan regular visits.

Waders and a small trowel and sifting screen are among the recommended tools. You will be looking for fossils such as shark's teeth that erode from the banks and bed of the local brooks. Fossil hunting is allowed year-round.

6. Florissant Fossil Quarry, Divide, CO

There are hundreds of places to find fossils off the beaten paths of Colorado. Just one is the Florissant Fossil Quarry located off Hwy 24 west of Colorado Springs. There are many interesting sites to visit throughout the area.

The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument does not allow collecting. However, the Clare family allows excavating in their private quarry, just north of the National Monument, for a fee. Any major scientifically significant finds will be donated to the National Park Museum, but other finds may be kept by individual fossil hunters.

7. Sharktooth Hill, Bakersfield, CA

Sharktooth Hill is located near Bakersfield, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It is one of the world's leading Miocene fossil sites. There is an abundance of aquatic fossils to be found in shallow layers.

Most of the excavations are conducted through Ernst Quarry on specific days with a fee of $40 per person. For more information, visit http://www.sharktoothhillproperty.com/. Children must be at least 10 years old to participate in these digs.

8. Dinosaur State Park, Rocky Hill, Connecticut

Located in central Connecticut, Dinosaur State Park is a wonderful place for a family outing. The main attraction is a huge amount of dinosaur footprints. Visitors are permitted to make castings of these footprints. The park website has a list of materials you'll need to bring for the project.

Kids may also enjoy trying their hand at the provided mining sluice. Bags of rough may be purchased for the sluice activity. State park fees apply.

9. Calvert Cliffs, Maryland

Calvert Cliffs are located along the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County. Most of the cliff area is privately owned, but there are three main areas where fossil hunting is permitted. The cliffs contain Miocene Age formations that are especially fruitful at low tide or after a storm.

Some collecting areas are restricted and some fees apply. Not all areas are open year-round. The Matoaka Cottages area is privately owned and has summer cabin rentals for longer expeditions. Digging into the cliffs is not allowed in any area. If you enjoy both the beach and fossil hunting, this may be a great vacation destination.

10. Peace River, Florida


Peace River is located near Port Charlotte in southwest Florida. Shark teeth, invertebrates, and plant fossils may be kept by individuals. A permit is recommended before you begin.

This is a river location, so be careful of weather and current conditions. Also, a shovel and sifter of some kind will make your hunting more productive. There are a couple of canoe rental services in the area to make your search easier.

11. Dinosaur Center, Wyoming

If you want to get a feel for what a paleontologist does all day, the Wyoming Dinosaur Center's "Dig for a Day" program would be a great experience. Located near Thermopolis in central Wyoming, this family-friendly activity includes working on an active dig site with experienced paleontologists, as well as cleaning and preparing specimens in a lab.

The experience is an educational, hands-on way to generate interest and understanding of the fascinating world of fossil collecting. It will prepare you to properly handle any future fossil finds for your own collection. An admission fee does apply. For more information, go to https://wyomingdinosaurcenter.org/.

12. Penn Dixie Paleontological and Outdoor Education Center, Blasdell, New York

This area just south of Buffalo has been ranked one of the best in the world for an amazing fossil hunting experience. Layers of Devonian Period fossils have been exposed as a result of past quarry operations.

Admission tickets are required and may be purchased online. The quarry is only open certain days of the week. There is a list of recommended tools in the 'frequent questions' section of the website. You get to keep what you find, and it's rare that a visitor leaves empty-handed.

13. U-Dig Fossils, Utah

Located near Delta in central Utah, U-Dig is a privately owned site made available to the public for an hourly fee. Tools and helpful advice are provided, and the whole family is welcome.

U-Dig contains one of the world's largest trilobite deposits. The fossils are in shale which is ready to split to find the treasures within. It's not unusual to find dozens, if not hundreds, of specimens in a single visit. This is a great experience for anyone, young or old, novice or pro.

14. Hell Creek, North Dakota

Here is another experience opportunity for those seriously interested in the science of paleontology. Each season interested people can apply to join actual excavation expeditions. Participants work alongside experts to learn field techniques, fossil preparation, and other fossil collecting skills.

Meals and tent accommodations are provided. Tours last about a week and cost about $1,000. A student discount is available. Twenty individuals are allowed in each outing. There's a lot of hiking and sitting and hard work in the sun. Enjoy. You're a paleontologist!

15. Mazon Creek, Illinois

Mazon Creek is part of a strip mine that has now become a preserve. The site is open to fossil hunters. It is well-known for fossilized, soft-bodied fauna such as jellyfish. Most of these fossils are encased in stone concretions which are scattered throughout the area.
Sections of the park are periodically plowed up in order to bring these concretions to the surface.

The website has some excellent pictures of what you'll be looking for when you visit this site. I don't know if it's possible to find out if any area has been recently plowed, but it might be worth asking, especially later in the season.

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15 fossil dig sites