The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is an anomaly in the National Park Service collection of parks and monuments. It is a natural museum, preserving fossils embedded in shale and redwood trees that date back 34 million years to the Eocene-Oligocene era. But it is also a stunning backcountry playground of beaver ponds, gently rolling foothills and ponderosa and aspen forests perfect for hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
What Makes It Great
There aren’t a lot of descriptions of Colorado trails that include the words “turn right at the giant redwood.” But that’s just how you can navigate at this monument. The giant tree stumps are found at the start of the main trail system – some of them are covered in a yurt that protects them from further destruction. And they sit alongside some of the other trails as well.
There are 14 miles of trails here; all of which are easy to moderate. The Petrified Forest Loop is a one-mile stroll past the petrified giants. Shootin’ Star Trail (about two miles round-trip) traverses silent woods and, in the winter, can have great stashes of snow perfect for snowshoeing. Boulder Creek Trail can be combined with Hans Loop and Sawmill for three miles of moderate up and down.
Who is Going to Love It
Fossil fans will love the visitor center, where they can see examples of the most important finds. But the valley – once a giant lake filled with fish and ringed by maple, oak and redwood trees, and now a wildflower-filled basin – is what brings them back again and again. The redwood trees, ragged and stained with age, date back millions of years, to a time before violent volcanoes and all they brought with them covered everything in ash and mud.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
To get to the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument from I-25 in Colorado Springs, take U.S. Highway 24 35 miles west to Florissant – it takes about 45 minutes. At Florissant, turn left on Teller County Road 1 and watch for the Fossil Beds entrance on your right. Before you get there, you might want to visit the Hornbek Homestead, a restored ranch that is part of the Fossil Beds and dates back to the 1870s.
The trails in the Fossil Beds are for pedestrians only; dogs are allowed in the picnic area near the Visitor Center and main trailhead.
The Fossil Beds are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Labor Day through June 1, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. June 1 to Labor Day. During summer hours, park rangers present talks, walks and a fossil learning lab. The park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Because it is a part of the National Park System, all federal or annual passes apply.