How to start

Learning About Fossils

Imagine not knowing about dinosaurs — or woolly mammoths! It’s thanks to fossils that we know that these creatures existed, and what they looked like.

Step 1

Find out if you live near a national forest with paleontological resources.

Step 2

If you live near one, think about planning a field trip for your family.

Step 3

If you don’t live near a forest, you can still have a “fossil day.” Go to the library and let your child pick out some books on fossils.

Step 4

When you get home, complete one of the activities below to get a more “hands-on” experience with fossils.

Step 5

Ask your child to draw their favorite animal from their reading and research. Once they’ve drawn it, ask them questions like ‘why did you choose to draw this animal?” “Did you give it a name?”

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Exploration Ideas

  • Make your own fossil rocks

    Follow these instructions to create your own fossil rocks, using small plastic dinosaur toys, flour, salt, coffee, and water. When you’re done, your kids will be able to “excavate” their dinosaur toys. Make it more challenging by taking the rocks to a local forest and hiding a few, then helping your child locate and dig them up.

  • Construct noodle fossils

    You’ll need construction paper, glue, and several different types of pasta — elbows, spaghetti broken into smaller pieces, small and large rigatoni, rotini, and shell pasta to represent the head. Your child’s assignment is to use the pasta to create dinosaur skeletons on the paper. Feel free to look up pictures of fossils online for reference.

What to Bring

  • Plenty of water, even for short hikes — a gallon per person per day is a good guide
  • Snacks such as fruit or trail mix and empty bags to collect any garbage
  • Sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen
  • Insect repellent
  • Lightweight rain jacket


Safety Tips

  • Before you get on the trail make sure you have the local Forest Service Ranger District’s or Supervisor’s Office phone number with you. If someone gets hurt this should be the first number you call.
  • Always let someone know where you're going and what time you expect to be back.
  • Avoid going if a thunderstorm is in the forecast. Seek shelter in a car or house if you’re caught in a thunderstorm. If you're caught outside, the safest place to be is crouching in a cluster of trees — not in a clearing, out on water, or next to a lone tree.
  • Be mindful of the sun. Use sunscreen, seek shade, and drink plenty of water — even in the winter.
  • Animals have their own natural food supply so please don’t feed them.
  • Fruits and mushrooms can look tasty, but some are poisonous. To be safe, do not eat anything you find growing in the forest.
  • Railroad tracks are for trains only. Keep to the side and stay off the tracks.
  • Set a turnaround time when heading out that gives you plenty of time to get back before it gets dark. Expect to spend at least the same amount of time hiking back as you did hiking out.
  • Bring a small flashlight or another source of light with you if you'll be out close to sunset.