My husband and I love to take our two young daughters on adventures. Sometimes those adventures make for the best days ever, and sometimes they fall flat. Kids are unpredictable, and going to new places can be overwhelming for them (and for us). Have you ever looked at reviews online and gotten so intimidated by the bad reviews that you decided to just forget the whole thing? That’s almost what happened to us when we decided to visit the Dinosaur Park in Laurel. In case you didn’t know, the park sits on land in Prince George’s County that has been a hot spot of dinosaur discoveries for hundreds of years!
Thankfully, I did my research ahead of time and figured out how to get the most out of this incredible, one-of-a-kind park. Lucky for you, I’m willing to share. Here are six things to know before you go!
The hours listed online aren’t what they seem
A simple Google search will show that the park is open daily. This is true, but not really. (Confused yet? So was I!) Allow me to explain. There are two sections of the park. One is a play area, which is very small and contains a few dinosaur-themed climbing structures as well as a shaded picnic area. This area is the cause of many of the negative reviews of the park, and the reason it’s so important to plan your visit accordingly. The play area is the only attraction available to visitors on any given day. Even the bathrooms aren’t open during regular hours!
If you live close, having some climbing fun and a picnic is a great way to spend an hour or so. However, if you traveled a decent distance just for your kids to climb on some dinos for a few minutes before complaining that they’re bored (and you know they will), you’d be less than thrilled. To get the FULL dino experience, you need to know the best time to visit.
Visit the park during their open houses
The park hosts open houses on the first and third Saturday of every month. You can find the open house dates on the park’s visitor information page. This is when you want to visit. Trust me! It is worth waiting for one of these dates to come around. During the open houses, you’ll have access to the play area, picnic tables, and bathrooms. You will also get to meet with real-life paleontologists and learn about the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that once shared our home state. All of this is worth a visit alone, but the best part is that during the open houses, you get to access the dig site and look for fossils. REAL FOSSILS!
The Dinosaur Park in Laurel is an active dig site
I didn’t have a super clear idea of what we were walking into when I planned our visit. I thought for some reason that it would be a glorified sandbox with some fossils for the kids to find. I was shocked to discover that it was a real-life active dig site! The paleontologists were in the process of digging up an actual dinosaur bone the day before, and someone that was there earlier that day found a raptor claw!
The chances of finding a dinosaur bone or anything super noteworthy are low, but not impossible. There is a one hundred percent chance that you will find a piece of fossilized wood or ironstone, and you’re allowed to keep one of each that you find. However, in the rare event that you find a bone, tooth, etc… you are not allowed to keep it. You’ll present your find to one of the paleontologists on site, who will identify it and fill out a form that will include the information of the person who found it. From there, the fossil will go to the Natural History Museum, where the finder’s name will be attached to it forever. How cool is that?
There is fun for *almost* all ages
Due to the fragile nature of the site, I would not recommend bringing toddlers. While it is called a “dig site,” they actually do not allow guests to dig in the dirt as it could disrupt the site and potentially destroy the fossils. They ask instead that you gently brush away the dirt. If you’re confused about why this may not be a great place for toddlers, you probably don’t have one. Toddlers and young kids aren’t going to understand the fragility of the environment, and as well behaved as your child may be, if they see a giant pile of dirt they’re going to want to dig.
Additionally, you are not allowed to run around the dig site or cross any of the barriers that are put up by the paleontologists. Again, not ideal for super young kids. My three-year-old lasted about forty-five minutes on the dig site before she started getting a little too enthusiastic with the dirt. At that point, my husband took her to the shaded picnic area for a snack, while my five-year-old and I continued to look for fossils.
The location is not what you would expect
You probably have a picture in your head of what a dig site might look like. Forget that. The Dinosaur Park in Laurel is located in a business park. Seriously. If not for the signs, you would never in one hundred million years know it was there.
Due to the location, finding a place to park can be tricky. The Dinosaur Park has a tiny parking lot, but if it is full you can pull in along the curb or at one of the parking spots within the business park (unless otherwise stated).
Follow the rules and you’ll have a great experience!
I understand that it can seem intimidating to plan a fun family adventure and be met with a slew of rules, especially when you have young kids. I promise you, the Dinosaur Park in Laurel is one of the coolest places you will find in Maryland and is totally worth the trip!
My advice would be to prepare your children in advance for what they are going to experience. There is no other place like this in Maryland, and despite how it may sound, it is extremely kid-friendly. Kids are better at following rules than we think, and let’s be honest, the love affair that kids have with dinosaurs is older than… Well, let’s just say it’s prehistoric.
Lead Photo: Rachel Zillig