Dead Horse Point State Park visitor's center

Around Moab with Kids: Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracks and Dead Horse Point

posted in: Destinations, Utah | 0

You can only spend so much time in Arches National Park. Well, that might not be true, but you shouldn’t miss the many other amazing things to see and do around Moab, Utah, with kids. Two of our favorites are the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracks – because what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? – and Dead Horse Point State Park.

You may already taken the kids to Salt Lake City and explored Utah’s magical hoodoos and are thinking seriously, how much more is left to do in Utah with kids? The answer is lots. LOTS more.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite

If you are visiting Moab, Utah, with kids DO NOT MISS seeing the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite. It would be easy to miss, too, as many people don’t know it exists. I wondered why my parents never took me here as a kid, and was feeling very self-congratulatory for planning this trip with my child, but then I found out the site was only recently unveiled in 2016.

The tracksite is found off a dirt road 15 miles north of Moab, just hanging out in the wide open – an incredibly valuable resource relying on the good graces of humanity to protect it. Yes, this is how loaded Utah is with paleontological jewels: it just throws up a sign and a boardwalk and basically hopes for the best.

Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite
Fun and educational: these dinosaur tracks are pretty impressive, once you figure out how to decipher what you are looking at.

More than 200 individual dinosaur tracks have been discovered at this site, and it’s one of the largest and most diverse sites known from the Early Cretaceous period in North America. There is a 0.25-mile interpretive trail here composed of boardwalks and information signs. It’s a pretty great place to sit and contemplate what the landscape would have looked like millions of years ago.

The challenge here, of course, is keeping little ones on the trail, which is critical to protecting the dinosaur tracks. I would recommend just yelling at your children continuously to stay on the damn trail, like I did with my six-year-old. Alternatively, you could prepare your kids with a lecture about this precious resource and the importance of staying on the marked trail and not trying to jump into the dinosaur footprints to compare your shoe size to that of an Allosaurus. Not that my child would do that, of course. I mean, he didn’t, (don’t send me hate mail!)…but he almost did.

Mill Valley Dinosaur Tracks
The beauty of the sparse landscape of southern Utah, embodied in the Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite.

All in all, it’s pretty impressive, and absolutely worth a stop coming or going from Moab. The Mill Canyon Dinosaur Tracksite is 15 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191. To get here, if you’re traveling north from Moab, turn left at the intersection just north of highway mile marker 141. You’ll drive over a wash and cross the railroad tracks. Follow the dirt road 2 miles to the Dinosaur Tracksite and small parking lot. Four wheel drive is recommended; you might be able to make the drive okay in a sedan if the conditions were just right, but if you miss the parking lot you’ll get stuck in sand. Just saying.

Dead Horse Point State Park

Why is it called Dead Horse Point State Park? There’s a story, and I could share it with you, but it’s more fun to let the kids come up with their own theories. Also, once you tell the kids the story (hint: it involves corralled horses tragically dying of thirst on the edge of cliff) and watch their poor little faces, you wonder if you should just stop sharing any history with them at all.

Nevertheless, if you happen to find your family in Moab, you are cheating yourself if you don’t drive the winding, beautiful road over to Dead Horse Point State Park. They filmed that final convertible-over-the-cliff scene from “Thelma and Louise” here, and while it is possible that you might be wishfully replaying it in your head after all those hours in the car with the kids (or was that just me?), this canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon and should not be missed.

Dead Horse Point
Dead Horse Point at sunset. You can almost imagine those horses…just kidding, stop thinking about it! I’m not crying, you’re crying!

Stop first at the visitor’s center: there is a trail along the edge of the canyon here that is worth a walk, and if you feel like “hiking,” there are a few other trails to follow from here. Stand at the edge and look over in awe. There is a stone wall here, so it’s unlikely your toddler will fall to her death, but like most places, you should probably keep an eye on her.

This is a good place to teach your kids desert etiquette — by which I mean I had to teach my rainforest kids how not to destroy the delicate desert ecosystem. Where we live, a tree will regenerate a limb in a year, so my kids think nature is just there for them to play with. It is possible that my child maimed a thousand-year-old tree. Don’t let that happen to you. Remind your kids to obey posted signs about staying on trails; the crust on the sand here is cyanobacteria, which stops erosion, and that delicate vegetation has been struggling to grow for many, many years. Don’t let your kids make it any harder for it.

dead horse point hiking
Somebody should get that kid back on the trail.

From the visitors center, drive the 1.5 miles down to the actual Dead Horse Point. Challenge your kids once again to watch for and stay on trails (it’s a lot harder than in a forest!). Although you should still keep an eye on your kids, the edge of the cliff here has been pretty well built up with stone walls and a sidewalk and a viewing area, so with minimal effort you should be able to keep your children from falling into the abyss.

This incredible view may allow you put that Grand Canyon trip off for a few years. To get to Dead Horse Point State Park from Moab: go 9 miles north on US Highway 191, then turn left onto Utah Highway 313 and drive 23 miles southwest to the end of the highway. There are gorgeous places to stop along this road to explore and take pictures.

Happy travels!


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