Dinosaur Valley State Park [Review]

Wildflowers in the Valley of Dinosaurs
Following in the footprints of dinosaurs at Dinosaur Valley State Park

Note: If you frequent Texas State Parks, we recommend you snag a copy of The Official Guide to Texas State Parks and Historic Sites, so you can make the most of your visit (that’s a referral link to a fantastic resource).

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Of the many state parks that dot the Texas landscape, Dinosaur Valley is one of the smaller ones, but it is also one of the more important parks, due to its abundance of dinosaur tracks. Located just west of Fort Worth, Texas, it is a park that is often overlooked, which is quite a shame considering how much it has to offer.

The entrance to the park, surrounded by wildflowers.
The entrance to the park, surrounded by wildflowers.

Of course, no trip is without its hiccups, and no park is perfect. The three days that we spent in the park had its ups and downs, and some of the downs did a good job of highlighting the pitfalls of being a state park (read: underfunded).

The Good

A Step into the Past

Tara already wrote up a great overview of DVSP’s importance in the world of paleontology. In a word? Okay, in two words? Dinosaur tracks. The riverbed is full of them, and visitors can get right up close and personal with our planet’s past. Even for the non-paleo nerd it’s an incredibly cool, and humbling experience. Not many people are able to get right next to something that stepped in the exact same spot millions of years before.

Tara hangs out with one of the many dinosaur tracks that adorn the riverbed.
Tara hangs out with one of the many dinosaur tracks that adorn the riverbed.

 

Blue Hole

The Blue Hole Swimming Hole is one of the best swimming holes in Texas, and after a long day of hiking it was exactly what we needed. The limestone rock shelf provides a shallow area to sit in the cool water that gives way abruptly to a deep pool that clocks in somewhere between 12 and 24 feet deep — plenty deep enough to jump in from the rocks, so long as you’re careful!

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Privacy

The park itself can get pretty busy, especially around the swimming holes. But for the primitive camping, it was relatively quiet, even though we were visiting on Memorial Day weekend. This may have been in part due to the weather, but we certainly weren’t complaining!

Our home away from home.
Our home away from home.

 

Hiking

For a relatively small park, DVSP has a decent amount of hiking (so long as the river doesn’t flood). Almost 20 miles worth of trails wind their way throughout the park, offering scenic overlooks and a smattering of Texan foliage.

Is there anything more Texan than cacti and barbed wire?
Is there anything more Texan than cacti and barbed wire?

We didn’t have an opportunity to hike the entire park due to the rain and a lack of time, but we did manage to get in a good 7-10 miles and make it to most of the major footprint sites along those trails. The hiking was relatively easy, with long, flat stretches interspersed by steeper climbs.

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The Bad

Campsite Confusion

When we arrived at the park it was almost 10pm and the front office had been closed for hours. Checking in through the self-pay station, we gathered around the map of the park to locate our campsite.

Facility map of DVSP

The electric campsites were clearly clustered in the center of the park, and to the right (read: east) of the park there were some scattered primitive sites labeled “North Primitive Camping Area”. Our reservation had placed us in the “South Primitive Camping Area”, so the map struck us as a bit odd.

We decided to drive around the south end of the park and see if we could find any trailheads that seemed promising. Sure enough, just across from the gift shop, there was a trail head. We weren’t entirely sure where it led — the map simply marked it as an equestrian trail — but we were tired from driving and we just wanted to set up camp. So we decided to explore a tiny bit…

Which naturally led us to becoming completely lost until a park ranger found us and directed us to the site. Where was it, you ask?

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Yeah. Right in the middle of a whole lotta nothing, according to the map. No wonder we had trouble finding it! Once we got there we were relieved to see a fire pit and lantern rod, and we eagerly pitched our tent. Later we discovered that the sites are brand new, which is probably why absolutely NONE of their maps depict them. This isn’t as big of a problem if you’re arriving when the office is open, but for us it was definitely an issue.

Poor Signage

The signage problems weren’t limited to facility maps. The trail maps were pretty well-made, but unfortunately on the trails things got a bit dicey. Some areas were very clearly marked.

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Others were a bit, well…confusing.

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This was the marker for the orange trail. Yes, there was a yellow trail too. This was not it.

 

Victim of the Elements

The North Primitive Area, which I mentioned above, is located across the Paluxy River, on the far east side of the park. I found myself incredibly grateful for the fact that we did not end up at one of these sites, because there is literally no way to cross the river except by trudging through it. This would have been a huge problem the weekend we were camping. This is what we would have crossed the first night:

Paluxy River, Day One

By all accounts, it isn’t bad. Some slippery shale, and a few pools of water, but a relatively easy crossing with larger stones that make good footholds.

However, when we returned to the same riverbed the next day, we were met with a very different sight:

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I have absolutely zero idea how the people camping on the other side of the river made it out. As with many rivers in Texas, the Paluxy floods quickly and runs swiftly, making the crossing too dangerous to attempt. If we had been camping on the east side of the river, we very well could have been stuck, cut off from the one main road in the park.

The Breathtaking

Memorial Day weekend was a wet and stormy one for DVSP. We spent a lot of time stuck in our tent, hoping that a tree branch wouldn’t bring an early demise.

Despite this, or rather because of it, we took full advantage of the moments when we weren’t being monsooned upon. And those moments outside of our tent paid off in spades. The air was cool and comfortable, the breeze was perfect for hiking, there were wildflowers everywhere and oh yeah…there was also this:

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RainbowDVSP2
Yes, that’s a full double rainbow.

Hands down, one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. Photos will never do it justice, and I’m incredibly awed and humbled that I had the opportunity to witness this breathtaking phenomenon.

The Consensus

Overall, the pitfalls of DVSP were the same faced by many state parks. A lack of funding doesn’t allow them to provide everything their visitors need. This really isn’t their fault, and is why it’s important to make sure that you support your parks. If the opportunity arises I will absolutely visit DVSP again.

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What are you looking at?

Do you have a favorite state park? What makes it unique?


 

This post is a part of the #SundayTraveler linkup!

Wildflowers in the Valley of Dinosaurs
Following in the footprints of dinosaurs at Dinosaur Valley State Park
  • I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gotten screwed up because of poorly labeled hiking trails but, you’re right, funding can be such an issue!

  • Dinosaur tracks, camping, and a swimming hole – sounds like a lot of fun! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

  • What a cool place! Love to see dinosaurs’ trails. We’ve got couple of them here in Croatia too. I have never seen the full rainbow though, let alone a full double rainbow. You were lucky, girls! 🙂

    • Oh, where are the tracks in Croatia? We’re headed there next month, and can’t wait!

      • If I had to guess, I’d say Hvar? There are also some interesting track sites in Istria…thanks for reading, Frank! We love your blog 🙂

  • I’m a massive dinosaur nerd and I don’t really know why. I’ve always been so fascinated by them so I think I would love visiting this park. Getting lost doesn’t sound fun at all especially at 10 at night! Good thing the park ranger spotted you guys. How lucky were you to spot that beautiful double rainbow! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler!

    • Thanks! It was a really cool part and Tara, being a paleontologist, was totally nerding out in the best way possible! I learned a ton, thanks to her!