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The Best Places for Fossil Hunting in Montana

From the first tyrannosaurus rex that was unearthed in Hell Creek in 1902 to the many points along the famous Dinosaur Trail, Montana has contributed endlessly to our understanding of dinosaurs.

Today, Big Sky Country is bursting with opportunities for budding paleontologists. Here are the best places for fossil hunting in Montana.

Guide to Fossil Hunting in Montana

take home dinosaur fossils at baischs dinosaur digs

Take home dinosaur fossils at Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs

One of the most popular places to hunt for dinosaur fossils is Baisch’s Dinosaur Digs, located in the Eastern Montana Badlands.

This privately owned ranch is a short distance from Makoshika State Park (known for its paleontological discoveries), close to Glendive. Previous digs in the area have found triceratops, turtle, and tyrannosaurus rex fossils!

Baisch’s knowledgeable guides run day trips that allow participants to search for fossils in the rich gumbo terrain of the Badlands.

Guests will be shown how to identify any fossils they come across, how to unearth them, and how to prepare them properly so they don’t deteriorate after exposure to the air.

Guided fossil hunting trips usually run from April through October, and reservations are a must. Guests can choose to experience full or half-day trips.

All excavation tools are supplied, and at the end of the day, fossil hunters can take home fossils, petrified wood, and other treasures that they turn up.

If you’re staying in Glendive, also be sure to check out the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum and the Frontier Gateway Museum, which are both essential stops for dinosaur enthusiasts.

Here, you can learn about the creatures that once resided in the area and observe several fascinating fossils and artifacts.

Dig with the Montana Dinosaur Center

montana dinosaur center

Located in Bynum, in Teton County, the Montana Dinosaur Center is another important stop on the Montana Dinosaur Trail. First opening in 1995, the non-profit museum is renowned for housing a skeletal model of a diplodocus, which is the longest dinosaur in the world.

Along with hosting a range of fascinating models and fossils, the museum offers dinosaur digs in its active fossil sites. The digs are run from May through September and all ages are welcome to attend—this definitely isn’t just for qualified paleontologists!

The Montana Dinosaur Center offers several types of digs, and expeditions last anywhere from half a day to a few days. Group sizes feature a maximum of 10 people, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to talk to the guides and have all your questions answered.

Lunch is included in the full-day and multi-day digs, which are great options for those who want to know what it’s like to be a paleontologist. On these expeditions, guests will learn the basics of fossil hunting before participating in real digs.

Join the Team at Hell Creek Fossils

join the team at hell creek fossils

Hell Creek Fossils are dedicated to researching the Hell Creek Formation and understanding the ecosystems that are preserved in the rocks.

To get as much help as they can with meeting their goals, they now offer all-inclusive public dinosaur digs every field season.

Regardless of who you are or how much experience you have, you are welcome to join a dig with Hell Creek Fossils, which is made up of scientists and research students.

You’ll have a chance to take part in all steps of the fossil hunting process, from digging to preparation in the field lab.

While acting as part of the team, you will be taught how to use official scientific field techniques and will learn the basics of fossil preparation, mapping, and geology.

You will also have the opportunity to attend educational seminars in the evenings, where you can learn more about fossil hunting from guest speakers.

Included in the price of the dig are meals, accommodation, and transportation to field sites, the most prominent of which is located near Marmarth in North Dakota.

This camping experience includes electrical outlets, modern restrooms, and shower facilities, and tents and cots are provided. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and water are supplied.

Fossil hunting near Lewistown

fossil hunting near lewistown

If you are interested in fossil hunting in Montana, the best thing to do is join an official guided digs, such as those run by Baisch’s or the Montana Dinosaur Center.

There are limited opportunities to dig on private or state-owned land, but if you do get the chance (if you manage to lease land or know someone who owns land locally), you may be able to search for your own fossils.

In some cases, you’ll need special permission to collect fossils, but in others, you don’t. Note that who gets to own any fossils that are found can be a matter of hot debate, but it is fun to dig for fossils even if you don’t find anything significant!

There are several areas near Lewistown which are known for producing an abundance of fossils, including the Morrison Formation, which extends from New Mexico and contains sauropod fossils, as well as those of fish and frogs.

There is also the Bear Gulch Formation, and the famous Judith River and Hell Creek Formations, which are sometimes called the Dinosaur Capitals of the world. This video gives a little more insight into the Hell Creek Formation!

In these locations, you can find fossils from a range of creatures, plants, geological formations, and sea life. Along with dinosaur bones, there have also been bones from mammoths and saber-tooth cats found in the vicinity.

Fossil Hunting in Montana – Conclusion

Montana is a haven for dinosaur lovers and aspiring paleontologists. Although there are many museums along the Montana Dinosaur Trail where you can view artifacts, there’s no experience quite like hunting for your own fossils.

Reserve your place in one of these digs and who knows—you might make the next big discovery in the paleontological world!

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