Outdoor Activities

White tipi on green grass in front of sunset lit hills
See and explore traditional Lakota tipis before your hike up the fossil hills!

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Get out and stretch your legs during your road trip through the plains!
During the summer months, visit the tipis raised by members of the Lakota tribe.

We have two trails for you to hike and explore:

  • The 1 mile Daemonelix Trail features in situ fossil exhibits of the spiral corkscrew fossil of the Paleocastor, an ancient land beaver that lived here in the Miocene.
  • The 2.8 mile Fossil Hills Trail takes visitors to the historic dig sites. Explore the source of our famous fossil discoveries. On the way, a boardwalk takes you over natural wetlands and the Niobrara river. Please note that while there are many interpretive signs telling you about the paleontology history of the monument, there are currently no fossil displays on this trail.

Paper trail guides are available in the visitor center or download the NPS App before you visit and with our free visitor center WiFi.

 
Rock formation in the shape of a spiral corkcscrew within a rectangular glass case in the side of a low hill. A sign stands to the right, and a bench to the left.
One of the fossil exhibit cases visitors will see when walking the Daemonelix trail.

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Daemonelix Trail
This one-mile (1.6 km) trail at the west entrance is a tour through time. Two displays highlight the fascinating spiral burrows of the Paleocastor -- an ancient dry-land beaver. On the way up the trail to these "Devil's Corkscrews," you'll see ancient petrified sand dunes. Beyond them, look carefully at the bluffs around you for "Paleosols": fossilized roots, insect holes and small rodent burrows. These give scientists a rare glimpse of the ecological context that the fossilized animals lived in. And it lets us track how changes in Earth's climate impact mammals across time... including today.
 
The Fossil Hills on a spring day.
University (left) and Carnegie Hills. The 2.7-mile Fossil Hills Trail allows visitors to walk up to and see the famed early 1900s quarries. From these quarries, paleontologists recovered some of the world's best preserved and most complete fossilized Menoceras, Moropus, and Dinohyus skeletons.

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Fossil Hills Trail
This 2.8-mile (4.3-km) accessible concrete trail begins at the visitor center just past the tipis. It passes through native wetlands, over the Niobrara River -- a surprisingly small stream at this end of its course -- and up about 300 feet through restored mixed grass prairies.

At the top of the hills (about 250 feet elevation gain), you will find signage pointing out menoceras tracks, paleosols, Beardog den sites, and the historic excavation sites.

It was on these hills that future local rancher James Cook discovered fossilized bones in the mid 1880s. Excavations didn't commence until nearly twenty years later, following a 1904 visit by Olaf A. Peterson, a paleontologist from the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 
Windmill in front of multicolored small buildings
Visit the historic Bone Cabin... but watch for rattlesnakes!

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The Bone Cabin

About midway between the visitor center and Fossil Hills is an unpaved one-mile side trail that leads west to Harold J. Cook's homestead cabin. Restored to what it looked like in 1910, while Harold and his wife Eleanor still lived there, the "Bone" cabin was used after 1914 as the temporary residence for scientists who worked the fossil quarries. The American Museum of Natural History's lead excavator, Albert "Bill" Thomson, lived there whenever conducting field work in the bonebed in the late 1910s and early 1920s.

Last updated: August 2, 2021

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Mailing Address:

301 River Road
Harrison , NE 69346

Phone:

308 665-4113

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