PLEASE NOTE: This post was written in 2012 and while it should still give you a great idea of the overall experience, it may also contain some outdated information. Please be sure to check their website for the most up-to-date information, especially about things like hours & pricing. If you notice something in this post that needs to be updated, please feel free to leave a comment with the updated information, or email us at email@example.com and we will be happy to make the updates. Hey, it takes a village, right? 🙂
Back in February, hubby and I took Boo to see the Exhibit Center (also referred to as “the museum”) at Dinosaur State Park, with its display of hundreds of real dinosaur footprints right on the very spot where the creatures walked millions of years ago. Although this was a perfect indoor activity for chilly February, we realized that we would have to return in the warmer months to check out the rest of this park’s vast outdoor offerings. So a couple weekends ago, we headed back for another jurassic adventure.
The main thing we wanted to check out was the network of nature trails criss-crossing the grounds. We’d seen hints back in February that at least one trail might be stroller-friendly, so that seemed like a good one to try out.
We had also seen the dormant casting area on our first visit, but now it would be in full swing having opened for public use in early May.
So that was the plan: a nice, quiet morning communing with nature in the great outdoors of Dinosaur State Park. And it had been a nice plan too.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on how you look at it, by pure happenstance we ended up picking the final day of Connecticut’s state-wide, month-long event called The Great Park Pursuit–an event we had known nothing about–for our return visit. So that meant that there was going to be a little more hoopla going on than we had anticipated.
The good news is that I can also show you some snapshots of this really neat, FREE family event. The bad news is that when I questioned one of the Park’s staff members about the possibility of this being an annual event, she wasn’t so sure. So, perhaps there will be another Great Park Pursuit event at Dinosaur State Park next spring, and perhaps there won’t. We will have to wait and see.
Anyway, good thing there is such a large parking area because it was filled with cars.
One of the nice amenities of Dinosaur State Park is the FREE parking. There is no entrance fee for the parking lot or the park grounds. There is a fee to tour the Exhibit Center, but even park patrons who are there solely for the outdoor activities are welcome to use the indoor restroom facilities at no charge. Well-maintained, indoor, air-conditioned restrooms with a baby changing station on a hot summer day? That’s pretty nice too.
So after we got over our initial confusion at seeing blue canopies and tons of people everywhere, we got Boo loaded into his stroller and made our way towards the sidewalk that leads to the Exhibit Center and back towards the picnic areas and trails. Now, this is not just any old sidewalk. It has a really neat feature. But for that, you are going to have to click over to my other post about Dinosaur State Park. Sorry. This post is going to be long enough without any redundant information 🙂
Here are some pictures of all The Great Park Pursuit hoopla.
Under each one of those little blue tents was some sort of fun, educational activity about things like recycling or sources of energy. I thought this one was particularly neat, and you can even try it at home. This booth was “recycling” incandescent light bulbs into really lovely ornaments by decorating them with paint. How brilliant is that? (Get it? “Brilliant” like a lightbulb? Okay, so perhaps I don’t have a future in stand-up comedy. No surprise there.) Look really closely and you can see all the finished bulbs hanging from the limbs of this tree.
As you can see from the schedule above, there were lots of great activities going on. However, since our site’s primary mission is to scout outings that readers can then enjoy for themselves, and as I write this post, the event is long over, I didn’t spend too much time documenting the details.
Instead, I headed for the Exhibit Center to pick up an outdoor bingo card that I had seen on our last trip to Dinosaur State Park. If they are not out on display, just ask at the cashier’s desk. You will be given a laminated bingo card and a marker.
There’s no charge, and upon return of a filled out bingo card, your little one will get a little prize. Did Boo get a prize you wonder? Well, you will just have to read on to find out 🙂
I was really delighted to find out about this outdoor bingo activity (there is also an indoor version if you are going to check out the Exhibit Center) because it provides a wonderful opportunity to engage children as they do something they might otherwise find a tad dull (i.e. walk through the woods). Boo is still a little too young for this activity, but hubby and I actually had a lot of fun trying to find all the items ourselves.
Bingo card in hand, we headed for the posted trail map. I’d heard from the staff in the Exhibit Center that the Red Trail is the one suggested for strollers.
I’m going to pause here to talk a little bit about clothing and accessories. I’ll start by saying that before we even set foot on the trail, we had already crossed mosquito off the bingo card. I would strongly suggest that you wear long pants and closed toe shoes on this walk, even though it’s not a particularly rigorous one. And bug spray. I know it can be smelly, but trust me, eau de Off is going to be much less unpleasant than the zillion itchy mosquito bites you will come home with otherwise. I really like to use Bullfrog Mosquito Coast, which is available at most drugstores. It’s DEET free but still seems to work great, and it’s actually a sunblock SPF 30 too. Boo has pretty sensitive skin, and he’s never had a reaction to it.
Alright, back to the trail. Just beyond the posted trail map, you’ll notice a little brown hut. Inside, you will find trail maps and other helpful information. A little sign asks that you return your trail map after use. However, you can also print your own copy at home. Click here for a printable, full-color trail map. There is also a little refresher course on the anatomy of a particularly pesky plant (i.e. Poison Ivy). Yet another reason to cover up your legs and feet.
The trail started off as a mixture of gravel and dirt, and it was a little narrow but we didn’t have any trouble with our stroller. (Side note: I’m using a Baby Jogger City Mini, which is kind of a cross between an umbrella stroller and a jogging stroller, but it’s definitely not heavy duty or anything and it handled this trail just fine.)
Then it switched to a boardwalk. I knew I wanted to bring the stroller through with me as a test, but I had considered letting Boo out to walk with us because it is such a short trail. It probably would have been fine, but you do have to watch out because the boardwalk is elevated in places, so it is possible to take a little tumble off the edge.
Check swamp off the bingo card!
As you can see, some of the other trails that fork off from the Red Trail have things like big rocks in the middle, which are not much of an obstacle for pedestrians, but they would make it hard to navigate with a stroller.
So we continued on the Red Trail. We crossed this little bridge over the swamp. No problem there with the stroller, but again, it is elevated and open on the sides. So if you’re letting your toddler toddle along with you, just be prepared to keep a firm grip on him or her 🙂
Soon, we arrived at this distressing intersection. It seemed like the Red Trail was blocked off with an orange cone.
When another family decided to “risk it” on the Red Trail, we figured we’d follow along. Safety in numbers, right? So we bypassed the cone and continued on. The trail starts to get really gravely here, but Boo didn’t seem to mind the extra bumps.
We passed more interesting signs.
And an intersection with the Blue Trail.
Then we were in the home stretch, which happens to be a very long, very narrow bridge over the swamp. It was not a problem to bring our stroller through, but we were just crossing our fingers that no one with a stroller was coming at us from the other direction (the bridge is long and curves around so you can’t see the other side from where you enter). There was no way two strollers were going to get by each other. Someone would be walking backwards!
Fortunately, we did not run into that problem. As we walked along, we could look over the rail into the water and see tadpoles and frogs and other little creatures.
And then we were back! Just a few yards from where we originally entered the trail. (By the way, there was no sign of any trouble on the trail, so I’m still not sure what that cone was doing there.)
The Red Trail is very short. It’s just .3 miles. Actually, none of the trails are very long (the Yellow, Blue, and Orange trails are just over a half mile each), which is why they are so great for young children.
And since they all intersect, you can choose how long or short you’d like your adventure to be.
The walk, going slowly and looking at things along the way, had only taken us about 30 minutes, so we decided to go check out the nearby butterfly garden. Hubby says he saw a butterfly, but I didn’t see any. I think once the plants are in full bloom there should be more of them. There are some nice benches to rest on here too.
We decided to find some shade and let Boo have a drink and a snack. There isn’t any food available on site, but there is a vending machine with drinks outside the Exhibit Center. You’ll notice that family there bent over the counter-looking thing. That is another activity here called the mining sluice.
Inside the Exhibit Center, you can purchase a bag of “mining rough” in the gift shop (known as the “Friends’ Bookshop”). Then you can mine real fossils and minerals. Click here for more information.
Back on the grass, Boo took a break with his sippy cup and we took a look at our bingo card. Not bad. We didn’t get them all, but we got bingo! (And really, I did not need to see a snake anyway, thank you very much.)
Boo checked my work. I guess this means I passed.
We walked over to the Exhibit Center so Boo and I could return our card and get our prize. There are two really nice picnic areas just outside.
Turns out the prize (at least today) is a choice between a little fossil rock or a pencil. The fossil rocks were really neat, and there were lots of different ones to choose from. But Boo’s a little young to start a collection, so I opted for the pencil. I’m not sure Boo was too happy with my executive decision.
Before we headed for the car, I wanted to check out the track casting area. Originally, I had thought we might participate in this activity and document it for the blog. Then I did some research on their website and realized it was going to be a more involved project than I was ready to take on with a toddler in tow. For starters, you have to bring and mix your own Plaster-of-Paris. Ten pounds of it!
When we saw the track casting in action, I was doubly thankful we hadn’t come intending to participate. It’s messy work!
It’s a little hard to see in this photo, but this is one of the tracks you can make a cast from. Next to it is the ring that you use to contain and shape the plaster (the park provides the metal ring).
Here are some shots of the casting process.
Like I said, messy! (But notice the stroller in there– not impossible to do it with a toddler, I guess.)
Park staff members are present in the casting area to help, so you’re not totally on your own. Here, a staff member displays a finished cast. They are big!
I overheard him tell this family that after a few weeks of letting it dry out, they could varnish the cast to protect it.
What I thought was really sweet, was that many of the children making the casts with their families would put their own handprints, initials/name, and the date on the back of the cast. So the dino print would be on one side, and their little handprints would be on the other. How cute is that? I am totally doing that with Boo when he gets a little older. What a fun family tradition!
On the way out, we couldn’t resist snapping this pic of Boo in the dinosaur cut-out that was set up just for the special event that day. I know it’s kind of against OAAM protocol, but hey, is this pic cute or what?!
All told, we were at the park for about an hour and a half, which is just shy of Boo’s two-hour tolerance level for anything right now. I really wanted to stop at nearby On The Border for lunch, one of my favorite tiny dining spots, but sleepy Boo was nodding off before we even made it out of the parking lot. Now that’s the true sign of a successful outing 🙂
Have you tried the Dinosaur State Park trails?
Dinosaur State Park
400 West Street, Rocky Hill, CT
(860) 529-5816 (park phone)
(860) 529-8423 (info line)
Get directions here:
Hours & Admission
Hours (updated 2017):
The Exhibit Center is OPEN TUESDAY through SUNDAY, 9 – 4:30. The park and grounds are closed on Mondays.
The grounds and trails are open Tuesday – Saturday, 9 – 4:30. Hiking trails close at 4 p.m.
Casting area is open from 9:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Seasonal: May 1st to October 31st)
Check the website for the most up-to-date information including information about special holiday closings.
Admission (updated 2017):
Casting area: FREE, but you must bring your own materials.
Exhibit Center: Adults and teens (ages 13+): $6; Ages 6-12: $2; Ages 5 and under: FREE
$67 Heritage Pass for two adults and 4 youth provides unlimited admission to Dinosaur, Fort Trumbull, and Gillette Castle during the calendar year.
Attention Grandma and Grandpa! CT residents who are age 65 or older can also obtain a Charter Oak Pass that allows them free admission to this and other state park exhibit centers. Ask for details at the park.
Hints & Tips
- Although you could do both the outdoor and indoor activities in the same trip, if you have a toddler like Boo, my advice is to break it into two separate visits to make the most of each activity.
- If you are interested in visiting the Exhibit Center, be sure to read my previous post about it before you go for lots more great tips.
- I recommend wearing long pants and closed toe shoes, and also arming yourself with insect repellant in the warmer months, for walking on the trails as they tunnel through woods and stretch across a swamp.
- The Red Trail is the most stroller-friendly, and it is also the shortest trail at .3 miles long. It is mainly small pebbles/gravel or boardwalk. I would not recommend taking a very lightweight umbrella stroller, but there is no need for a heavy duty jogging stroller either.
- In general, Preschoolers would be fine walking on these trails, but I would caution you to make a toddler hold your hand since there are places where the trail is elevated, sometimes over water, and without side protection. This is not a trail where you can safely let a 22-month-old like Boo run a few steps ahead.
- If you plan to make a cast, be sure to read these instructions very carefully before you go so that you know what to bring. The ONLY things the park provides are the footprint you’ll be casting, the metal ring to shape the cast, and water, although I think I also saw a broom available to clean your work area prior to casting. The whole process should take about 30 to 45 minutes. NO CASTS MAY BE STARTED AFTER 3:30 P.M.
- Pets are not allowed on the trails, only in the picnic areas.
- There is a vending machine outside of the Exhibit Center where you can purchase assorted beverages.
- There is no food available at the park, but you can grab a bite at one of the many nearby restaurants including one of our kid-friendly picks, On The Border.
- However, there are tons of picnic areas if you want to bring your own lunch/snack.
- Restrooms with a changing station are available for public use inside the Exhibit Center. You do not need to pay the admission fee to use the restrooms.
- Enjoy additional fun, FREE events on Dinosaur State Park Day on Saturday, August 18th, 2012. This is an annual event. Check the website for details and updates.
- Click here for even more special events.
- If you like this outing, check out Mandy’s post on the trails at Westmoor Park, which are also short and sweet.
- If you’re looking for some longer trails, check out Mandy’s post on the West Hartford Reservoir.
Tomorrow, it’s time to get Wordless! Then, Mandy’s rounding up May, and you won’t want to miss her recap of all the fun places we’ve discovered this month
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