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Traveling to Vernal Utah or Dinosaur National Monument and wondering what the main highlights are? Want to make sure that you go on the best adventures, eat the most delicious food, and stay in the best places? In this post, we’re covering exactly what you need to know to plan a fabulous stay in Vernal Utah.
Everything you need to know about visiting Vernal, Utah
When you mention the name Vernal, to most people in Utah, the first thing that they think about is dinosaurs. And while there are a lot of amazing dinosaur things to do in Vernal, there is SO MUCH MORE that you absolutely don’t want to miss out on.
What is there to do in Vernal?
See petroglyphs and pictographs around Vernal
The Vernal area has a huge concentration of both petroglyphs (art carved into stone) and pictographs (paintings on stone) nearby.
By far the best place to go to see rock art is up Dry Fork Canyon to McConkie Ranch. It’s northwest of Vernal and we probably saw close to 100 different carvings on our walk there. While some of them were faint and hard to see, others were larger than life size!
We’ve also loved seeing other petroglyphs out in Dinosaur National Monument both in the Cub Creek area as well as in Echo Park.
If you’re looking for pictographs, I highly recommend doing the Jones Hole hike since the pictographs that we saw there were some of the best I’ve ever found. To see the pictographs, hike down about 2 miles until you cross the bridge. Just past the bridge, there is a trail that takes off to the right and leads up to the bottom of the cliff. Follow that trail for about 0.2 miles and you’ll see several different sets of petroglyphs.
For more details or information about where to see petroglyphs and pictographs near Vernal, we’ve written up everything you need to know here.
Go mountain biking in Vernal
Vernal is surprisingly close to one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the state of Utah, the Uintahs. And while it’s nice and close to the Uintah’s the best mountain biking trails are actually found really close to Vernal.
If you’re wanting to stay close to town and can sneak in a ride in the morning or evening, a desert ride through McCoy Flats is a fantastic option. We only saw two other riders in the few hours that we were there, and saw at least a dozen antelope frolicking alongside the trail. With 35 miles of trail, there really is something for everyone and every ability here.
If you’re looking for a more mountainous setting, then Dry Fork Canyon is a great bet. Between the Dry Fork Flume trails and the Wild Iris Loop, you can get in some amazing rides in the bottom of the shaded canyon and if you’re timing is right, you’ll get to ride through some fields of wildflowers as well.
For more details and specifics on these rides and the rest of the top mountain bike trails in the area, go here where we also include a map to where you need to go!
Hiking trails near Vernal
The hiking trails around Vernal are some of my absolute favorite desert hiking trails anywhere! You see, when you’re hiking around Vernal, you get the beauty of a great desert hike, without having to brave the heat of Southern Utah or Arizona.
My all time favorite hike around Vernal is the Jones Hole Trail. This trail starts northeast of town and is an 8 mile out and back trail. The best part of it is that you’re hiking in a canyon with massive red sandstone walls towering above you and right next to you is a river. So you get stunning views and if you ever start getting too hot, you can just JUMP IN!
Plan on bringing a swimming suit on this hike so you can take a side trail up to Ely Falls, about 2.5 miles into the hike. These falls are big enough that you can go in and stand underneath, yet not big enough that you’re going to be pummeled by all of the water. Above the falls, there’s a great flat area for kids to play around in the stream and if you sit in just the right spot in the stream, you can completely stop the waterfall (this was our kids favorite part). Along the way there are also pictographs that you can stop and see.
Moonshine Arch is another fantastic desert hike and is a great one to do early in the morning or in the evening (you’ll be hiking through a lot of sand and it can burn your feet mid day). It’s a really short hike with a huge reward – Moonshine Arch.
If you head out to Dinosaur National Monument there are tons of options for hiking and exploring. My favorite place to go for a short hike is out at Josie’s Cabin. Josie’s Cabin is a beautiful historical site about 10 miles away from the Quarry. It’s the perfect spot to go for a picnic and then a short hike. From there you can hike both Box Canyon and Hogs Canyon in under 2 miles.
We’ve written all the details that you need to know about hiking in Vernal here.
Best lakes near Vernal
In the summer, temperatures can get quite hot in eastern Utah and one of the best ways to beat the heat is by heading to the lake. Red Fleet State Park can be accessed from Vernal in less than 20 minutes and there you can swim, fish, kayak, paddleboard, cliff jump or powerboat. The water is surprisingly warm for a lake of this size, so spending the whole day here was no problem. In fact, if you’re heading up there, you might as well stay the night in one of their teepees (they are only $30 per night and sleep 6). Head here to rent them. There is also a lot of hiking and mountain biking right around Red Fleet, so it’s easy to fill your time even if you don’t want to be on the water always.
If you’re going to Red Fleet you need to make sure not to miss the Dinosaur Trackway. It’s located just north of the boat dock on the giant slanted rock and can be accessed from the lake or from a hiking trail above. I share all the details here.
At Red Fleet you can rent boats by the hour, but if you’re planning to rent anything for more than two hours, we’ve found Wet and Wild Rental to be cheaper and they are incredibly easy to work with.
If you’ve got a little more time or are looking for longer paddling options, head north to Flaming Gorge. It’s just one hour outside of Vernal and is incredibly beautiful. While Flaming Gorge is well known as a place to waterski and fish, they have recently set up a series of paddling trails that are 4-6 miles long. By following these trails, you can get a glimpse of some of the most beautiful sections of Flaming Gorge. Also, if you have a little time, make sure to head to the Dam Visitors Center before 4pm so you can get a tour of the dam!
Get all the details you need about paddling near Vernal here.
Raft down the Green River
The Vernal area is home to some of the best sections of whitewater in the west. From Flaming Gorge all the way down to the Moab area, you can raft different sections of the Green River on trips from a few hours up to 6 days. If you’re looking for something really mild, Section C is your best option. Section C is east of Flaming Gorge and is a nice mellow section that’s great for fishing or for a float trip with really young kids. If you’re looking to spend an adventurous afternoon on some great whitewater, you’ll want to head down the Split Mountain section of the river. I recommend going with either OARS or Adrift.
The Split Mountain section of the river will just take a couple of hours, but in that time, you’ll go through several class III rapids (super fun, but not terrifying), float through a massive canyon, and if you’re as lucky as we’ve been, you’ll see some wildlife as well.
If you’ve got more time, I can’t recommend enough that you take a multi-day trip down the Green River. We’ve floated both Desolation Canyon as well as The Gates of Lodore and both have been some of the most incredible experiences of my life.
Amazing scenery, great whitewater, and days and days to unplug and really connect with family are just some of the reasons that I love it. Combine that with the fact that there’s just about no better way to grow a family bond than through adventure and it’s really a trip that’s hard to beat. We’ve taken kids down both of these sections of river, though they’re absolutely just as thrilling and exciting for adults. You can read about our trip with kids down Desolation Canyon here and our most recent trip down The Gates of Lodore here.
For all the details on rafting the Green River, we’ve written up everything that you need to know here.
Go look for dinosaurs
Of course, we couldn’t have a guide to Vernal that failed to mention the best places to go for DINOSAURS!
If you’re looking to see or learn about Dinosaurs, the number one place that you need to plan on visiting is Dinosaur National Monument. When you first get there you should stop at the visitors center first to learn more about the area, decide where you want to spend your day, and talk with a ranger about any questions you might have about your visit.
If you’ve got kids, I also recommend signing them up for the Junior Ranger program as well. It’s a great way for them to learn about the Monument and dinosaurs, stay engaged all through your visit, and get rewarded for their work from a park ranger.
One spot not to miss at Dinosaur National Monument is the Dinosaur Quarry. The famous Carneigie Dinosaur Quarry is within the monument and an exhibit hall has been built over part of it where you can see and identify over 1500 dinosaur bones. There are even a couple of places where you can actually touch the dinosaur bones! Kids will be especially excited to learn that the bones that they’re seeing are from familiar dinosaurs they’ve heard of like Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Diplodocus.
While you’re in Vernal, the best place to learn about dinosaurs is at the Utah Field House of Natural History. This field house will be sure to amaze anyone that loves dinosaurs, history, geology, or just cool things in general. It’s very well put together and the exhibits are not only informative but they’re engaging as well. As you visit the Field House, you’ll be taken through geologic time as you learn about plants, animals and the geology that shaped the earth. There’s even an exhibit where you can help excavate dinosaur bones. The Utah Field House is also the best place around to see dinosaur bones that have been discovered and excavated in the Vernal area.
Address: 496 E Main Street
Admission: Adults (13+) $7
Children (6-12) $3.50
5 and under: Free
Best park in town.
Ashley Valley Community Park, 500 N 900 W
If you’re visiting Vernal with kids, make sure to plan in some downtime for them to play. Whenever we travel we’re always on the lookout for great parks to let the kids run around and go wild for a while (which really helps our sanity as parents as well). The Ashley Valley Community Park in Vernal should absolutely NOT be missed. It is one of the best playgrounds that we’ve seen in America and all our kids had so much fun there.
From the rock climbing area, to the giant rope maze, everyone found something that they loved. Besides the playground, there are also several covered picnic pavilions and baseball diamonds you can enjoy as well.
We love visiting recreation centers when we travel because it’s one of the best ways to pack in a lot of family fun for a great price
The Uintah Community Center is a great place for the whole family to play for a while. With a pool that includes 2 big waterslides, a diving board, a high dive, and a younger kids play area with tons of fountains, waterfalls and several small slides, our kids were in heaven. We headed over there after a long day of hiking and it was such a perfect way to end the day.
They also have a rock climbing wall that’s open every evening that we especially enjoyed. There are lots of different routes to choose from, starting from a dinosaur bone themed route that’s great for kids, all the way up to some overhanging sections that will challenge skilled climbers. It’s included in the admission fee and there are staff there who will set you up with the gear that you need as well as belay you on the routes.
The community center also has an indoor playground, cardio equipment, weights and even a small track.
If you’re on vacation as a family and need a little break just for mom and dad, the easiest way to get that in Vernal is with the drop-in childcare they have available here. It’s only $2/hr for the first child and every other child is $1/hr. You could take a little workout date together and climb, swim, play basketball, or even head to a kickboxing or spinning class together.
Location: 610 South Vernal Avenue
Admission: Youth (1-17) $3.85
Adults (18+) $5.50
Check out the street art along Main Street
As you drive by Main Street, you’ll quickly notice a couple of things. First of all, if you’re there in the summer, you’ll see tons of petunia planters, overflowing with flowers.
They line all of Main Street and give the town such a cozy and welcoming feel. The next thing you’ll notice is the dinosaur street art along Main Street.
Our kids loved looking for the different paintings on the buildings and also getting out to check out dinosaur statues as well. The best street art is found at Cobble Rock Park (corner of Main Street and Vernal Ave), where there is also a fun little splash pad with some fountains to cool off in the summer.
We also found some street art next to the Vernal Brewing Company, our favorite stop for lunch or dinner, (about 500 E, 50 S).
Best Restaurants in Vernal Utah
We have tried lots of restaurants in Vernal. Some were great, others were horrible and a few were just okay. Here, we’re sharing the best places to eat in Vernal
Where to eat breakfast in Vernal
Address: 941 W Hwy 40, Suite E
This is our favorite place in town for a light healthy breakfast or a nutritious snack any time of the day. B Fruity specializes in smoothies, fruit bowls and crepes and every single thing we tried on their menu was amazing. Our top recommendations are the Mango Tango smoothie, Hunk protein shake, Maui Bowl, and the Bursting Berry Crepe.
Note: B Fruity is a bit hard to find, but it’s worth it. It’s just north of the Maverick gas station, and behind the Century 21 office.
Address: 416 W Main St
Betty’s Cafe is everything you’d expect from a homestyle diner.
Big portions, comfort food for breakfast, and lots of locals getting together to visit. The bacon strips are enormous, the pancakes light and fluffy and the side of ham is really more of a ham steak! The food is a bit greasy (as all diner food is), but it’s delicious and very filling.
Where to eat lunch and dinner in Vernal
Address: 55 S 500 E
The Vernal Brewing Company is hands down our favorite place to eat in Vernal. Although it is a brewing company, it’s very family friendly and kids are welcome. The atmosphere is very cool, and everything we tasted was amazing. Start off with a house made soda (sweetened with honey), and you really can’t go wrong.
The must try foods on the menu? The Mac and Cheese with candied bacon, the VBC Burger, and the Stacked Tostada. And if you happen to have any room left after you eat, you absolutely need to get a skillet cookie. The day we were there, the cookie of the day was coconut white chocolate and it was easily big enough for 4 people to share!
Address: 251 E Main Street
Best pizza place around, HANDS DOWN! Antica Forma is authentic wood fired Neopolitan Pizza, not thick crust chain store pizza.
It can get really busy during the summer months, so consider a reservation, but it’s also the best place we’ve seen in Vernal for accommodating large groups. We had 13 in our group and there was another group of 20 there and they had no problem fitting either group, so if you’re traveling with lots of people, you absolutely should stop here! The pizzas were spectacular, but the very best item we tried was the lasagna – SO GOOD!
Our favorite pizzas were the Antica Forma, the Cappriciosa, and the Regina, though after trying about half of their pizza menu, I don’t really think you can go wrong with any of their combinations.
Address: 2419 S 1500 E
I’m convinced that almost every small town has a great burger restaurant, and Country Grub is Vernal’s (well technically it’s in Naples, but it’s really close to Vernal). The burgers were amazing and our kids were seriously fighting over the last of the English Chips (they were fantastic). The kids meals all came with a free kids ice cream cone after they ate as well, which was a huge hit in our family.
Our top recommendations: the Bacon Ranch Burger and the Aussie Burger. YUM! And don’t forget to order a side of English Chips to go along with your meal.
If you’re heading out to Dinosaur National Monument, Country Grub is right along the way, so it’s a perfect place to stop on your way out or as you’re coming back to town.
Best places to stay in Vernal Utah
There are lots of hotels in Vernal but how do you know where the best hotel in Vernal actually is? We’ll make it easy for you.
We spent most of our time at the Spring Hill Suites in Vernal. It’s a fantastic option for families since they have suites that can sleep 6, they have an indoor pool and a workout room, outdoor firepits, and a great breakfast buffet that’s included in your stay.
The staff were friendly, helpful and made sure that we had everything we needed. My favorite feature of the hotel was that in our room, there were 2 separate bathroom areas – one with a sink and a shower/tub and another with a toilet and sink. This was a lifesaver for us, because 7 people sharing one bathroom can get a bit tricky at times.
While the Dinosaur Inn was fully booked during our stay, we heard such great things about it, that we popped in to see what it was like. There’s a good sized outdoor pool, they offer family rooms and it’s right next to Antica Forma restaurant!
Perhaps the thing that made me really want to stay here on another visit is that in addition to a breakfast buffet, they also offer cooked to order eggs – YUM!!
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