Dinosaur Park



About Dinosaur Park

The Dinosaur Park located in Laurel, Maryland is a property of the M-NCPPC, Department of Parks and Recreation, Prince George’s County that provides a variety of educational experiences where the public can assist Dinosaur Park staff and be paleontologists for a day.

Fossils found at the Dinosaur Park are 115 million years old (Early Cretaceous period), occurring approximately 50 million years before the Tyrannosaurus rex. Dinosaur Park is also home to Astrodon Johnstoni, the Maryland State dinosaur, and the largest species found east of the Mississippi River. The area represents what remains of an Early Cretaceous period river and wetlands, similar in environment to the Patuxent River Park in Upper Marlboro, Maryland today.

For more information, contact dinosaurpark@pgparks.com or call 301-627-1286.

Public Programs1st and 3rd Saturday of Each MonthFREE
Playground & GardenOpen daily from Sunrise to SunsetFREE
Visitor Information

What to Expect

  • The fenced fossil site is only accessible during public or private educational programs to preserve the resources.
  • Personal fossil collecting is not permitted at the park.
  • Dinosaur Park is entirely outdoors, and the fossil site can get dusty or muddy. Please dress appropriately in closed-toed shoes and dress for the weather.
  • Restrooms are available during scheduled programs. A water fountain is available seasonally. Picnic tables are available year-round.
  • Pre-registration is not required for FREE Saturday public programs. Visitors sign in upon arrival.
  • During public programs, you will see displays of real fossils discovered at the park and learn about the ancient environment that once existed here.
  • Weather permitting, staff will direct visitors to designated areas to search for Early Cretaceous fossils.
  • Digging is prohibited by visitors. Instead, you will learn surface collection techniques used by paleontologists in the field.
  • Your fossil discoveries help park paleontologists better understand the ancient world of Prince George’s County. All fossils are stored and preserved in our Dinosaur Park lab.
  • If you find a significant fossil, your name is recorded with it! You will be forever immortalized in our museum collection.

Location and Directions

Dinosaur Park is located off Contee Road in Laurel, at the end of Mid Atlantic Boulevard.

From the D.C. area, take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (Route 295) to Route 197 (Laurel-Bowie Road). Turn West on Route 197. Turn left onto Contee Road. Turn left onto Mid-Atlantic Boulevard and proceed straight. Dinosaur Park is at the end of the road.

From Route 29, turn East onto Route 198. Cross I-95 and turn right onto Baltimore Ave/Route 1 South. Turn left onto Contee Road. Take the second right onto Mid Atlantic Boulevard and proceed straight. Dinosaur Park is at the end of the road.

Parking Information

Parking is permitted in the small Dinosaur Park lot and along Mid-Atlantic Boulevard. Parking in the business lots and side road next to Dinosaur Park is prohibited and vehicles will be towed at the driver’s expense.

Public Programs

Dinosaur Park Public Programs

Dinosaur Park Free Public Days 2024: October to May 12 pm to 4 pm; June to September 10 am to 2 pm (last entry a half hour before closing)

January 6th and 20th

February 3rd and 17th

March 2nd and 16th

April 6th and 20th

May 4th and 18th

June 1st and 15th

July 6th and 20th

August 3rd and 17th

September 7th and 21st

October 5th and 19th

November 2nd and 16th

December 7th and 21st

Education & School Programs

All Spring and Early to Mid Summer 2024 private educational programs are now full. We are currently only taking reservations for programs between August to September, and November 2024.

Paid Private Educational Programs 

Education Programs at Dinosaur Park – $50 per program

Dinosaur Park offers paid personalized educational programs for private and public schools, homeschool groups, Scout troops, and special family events. Our educational programs have been designed to meet Maryland Common Core Learning Goals in science. Each visit will begin with an orientation about the ancient world of Dinosaur Park with a show-and-tell presentation of the plant and animal fossils found here. Bring your questions! Afterward, participants will explore the site and collect fossils from the ground surface with the help of paleontologists.

Important Information

  • Please make reservations at least three weeks in advance.
  • Program fee must be paid one week in advance of program date.
  • Group size is limited to 40 participants.
  • Program ideal for people ages 5 and up.
education and school programs

Dig Experience at Dinosaur Park – $10 per participant

Dinosaur Park paleontologists are conducting a multi-year dig project within our fossil site, and we need your help! Work alongside staff during this paid program to carefully extract buried fossils using tools of the trade.

Important Information

  • The program is approximately three hours long.
  • Please make reservations at least three weeks in advance.
  • The program fee must be paid one week in advance of the program date.
  • Group size is limited to 10 participants per program day.
  • Dinosaur Park will provide tools and materials for the dig program. Outside tool use is prohibited.
  • Participants must be 8 years or older and children under the age of 16 must be accompanied by a participating guardian.

Free Private Programs

Dinosaur Park in the Classroom

Can’t make it out to Dinosaur Park? Our paleontologists can bring the dinosaurs to you! We offer a FREE one-hour show-and-tell presentation about the Early Cretaceous with authentic fossils and casts of the plants and animals that roamed Maryland 115 million years. Bring your questions!

Important Information

  • This program is available only to private and public schools, daycare and early learning facilities, nature, and community centers, Scouting groups with access to public indoor facilities, etc. Not offered for private residents.
  • Please make reservations at least three weeks in advance.
  • The program is suitable and customizable for all ages.

For more information on programs, please email dinosaurpark@pgparks.com 


Park History

Although dinosaur discoveries are often associated with the western United States, significant fossils of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are also known from the east coast. In the 1800s and early 1900s, the Arundel clays in Prince George’s County were mined for siderite or iron ore. Iron furnaces located throughout the region melted down siderite to produce iron used in construction and manufacturing. In 1858, African American miners working in open pit mines were the first to discover dinosaur fossils in Maryland.

The group of advanced prehistoric reptiles known as dinosaurs was first recognized in 1842 by British anatomist Richard Owen based on very fragmentary fossils found in England. However, it was not until more complete dinosaur fossils were found in the United States, including in Prince George’s County, that scientists were able to reconstruct the true life appearance and diversity of these extinct animals.

Among the first scientists to explore the Muirkirk deposit in Prince George’s County was geologist Phillip Thomas Tyson. He brought some of the strange bones discovered in the iron mines to a meeting of the Maryland Academy of Sciences in 1859, where his colleagues identified them as dinosaurs. Famous 19th-century paleontologist Othneil Charles Marsh of Yale University was also interested in Maryland fossils. In the winter of 1887, he sent fossil collector John Bell Hatcher to search the iron mines. Hatcher recovered hundreds of fossils, including the remains of ancient turtles, crocodiles, and several dinosaur species. Fossil collecting at the Muirkirk deposit essentially stopped when the iron industry died out in the early twentieth century, but it was revived in the 1980s by paleontologists Peter Kranz and Tom Lipka.

Fossil discoveries continue to happen at Dinosaur Park today. Since October 2009, the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission has protected the site from development and unrestricted collecting. Dinosaur Park serves as an outdoor laboratory where the public can work alongside paleontologists to help uncover the past. Hundreds of fossils discovered by visitors have been collected and cataloged to date, enhancing our knowledge about the ancient ecosystem that once existed here. Perhaps, you will make an important discovery on your next visit!

Dinosaur Park in Deep Time

Dinosaur Park isn’t the only place in Maryland where you can look for fossils. Our great state is also the home of the world-famous Calvert Cliffs, where legions of avocational and professional fossil hunters collect the shark teeth and shells found there. Not surprisingly, Dinosaur Park visitors often ask whether the two sites are related.

The Chesapeake Group rocks of the Calvert Cliffs and the Potomac Group rocks of Dinosaur Park are actually separated by 100 million years. The shark teeth commonly found at the Calvert Cliffs date from the Miocene epoch, around 15 to 20 million years ago. This is very old, to be sure – the entirety of human history could be repeated 2,000 times in the timespan between the Miocene and the present day. Nevertheless, Dinosaur Park fossils are much older. Dating to the early Cretaceous Period, our fossils are a mind-boggling 110 million years old.

Dinosaur Park

The Earth and life upon it underwent numerous monumental changes between the Cretaceous and the Miocene. When dinosaurs roamed Maryland, eastern North America was sandwiched between a narrower, shallower version of the Atlantic Ocean and the Western Interior Seaway, a body of water that once split the continent in two. This contributed to a warmer, wetter climate than we know today, but it would not last. By the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago, North America had become cooler and drier, with more pronounced seasons. Meanwhile, the landscape was transformed by the proliferation of flowering plants, which make up more than 90% of all plant species today.

A mountain-sized asteroid struck the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago, wiping out the large dinosaurs and allowing mammals to take over as the dominant land animals. Aside from a hot spell 50 million years ago, the overall trend over the last 66 million years was toward a cooler climate (human industrial activity has reversed this trend in the last two centuries). At the start of the Miocene, a slight rise in sea level led to eastern Maryland being completely submerged under the Atlantic. This near-shore environment was home to sharks, whales, and sea cows, all of which are found at the Calvert Cliffs.

Anywhere we find fossils, we are looking at just one of an endless parade of ecosystems that have come and gone. Despite the drastic differences between Maryland’s Miocene and Early Cretaceous fossils, the past 110 million years is still but one tiny fraction of the 4.5 billion year age of the Earth. Deep time is almost unfathomably immense and takes place on a scale that we are not used to comprehending. Still, by comparing fossils of different ages, we gain valuable insight into our changing world. The study of past life gives us a long view of life on Earth and can help us predict how it might respond to today’s environmental changes.

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Dinosaurs of Maryland

Dinosaurs are a group of reptiles that ruled the Earth during the Mesozoic Era, 252 to 66 million years ago. As a group, dinosaurs are some of the most successful animals the world has ever known, thriving on every continent and in every kind of habitat. Although most dinosaurs are now extinct, one kind – birds – is still with us today.

During the Mesozoic, many kinds of dinosaurs evolved and went extinct. Dinosaur Park preserves one particular dinosaur ecosystem that existed in Maryland 110 million years ago. However, these dinosaurs did not live alone. They shared their world with a variety of other animals, including crocodiles, insects, and fish. Our own distant ancestors – small, shrew-like mammals – also lived in the shadow of the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs of Maryland


Astrodon was a member of the group of long-necked dinosaurs called sauropods. A plant eater, Astrodon was related to Brachiosaurus, which lived about 40 million years earlier. Although an adult Astrodon may have exceeded 60 feet in length, most sauropod fossils found at Dinosaur Park come from juveniles. The name Astrodon means “star tooth,” because its teeth have a star-like shape in cross-section. Named in 1858, Astrodon was the first sauropod discovered in North America, and the second American dinosaur to be scientifically described. Astrodon became the Maryland State Dinosaur in 1998.


Ornithomimids were feathered dinosaurs with small heads and narrow, toothless snouts. They strongly resembled modern ostriches, and they probably lived in much the same way, feeding on seeds, fruits, and possibly insects or other small animals. New research suggests that two different ornithomimid species lived in Maryland 110 million years ago.


Priconodon was a low-built and stocky herbivore belonging to a group called nodosaurs. Along with their cousins the ankylosaurs, nodosaurs were among the most well-armored animals ever. Their backs, legs, and tails were studded with bony knobs and spikes, which were embedded in their skin. Nodosaur heads had built-in helmets, made from outgrowths of bone from the skull itself. Priconodon and its kin apparently preferred watery habitats, like hippos today.

Giant Theropod

A small number of teeth and bones from a giant meat-eating dinosaur have been found at Dinosaur Park. This predator was probably a relative of Acrocanthosaurus from Texas and Oklahoma. The 35-foot-long Acrocanthosaurus may have hunted sauropod dinosaurs, such as Astrodon.


Dromaeosaurs (commonly called “raptors”) were a group of small meat-eating dinosaurs with large, hooked claws on each foot. They were swift and agile hunters, using a long, stiffened tail as a counterbalance when running. Dromaeosaurs are very closely related to modern birds. Dromaeosaur fossils from China have been found with feathers, and their Maryland relatives were certainly feathered as well.

Climate & Environment

The fossils found at Dinosaur Park inform our understanding of a relatively unknown time in Earth’s history called the early Cretaceous Period (about 110 million years ago). In many ways, the Early Cretaceous marked the birth of the modern world. In North America, the previously hot and tropical climate became cooler and drier, with pronounced seasons. Meanwhile, flowering plants first became widespread during the Cretaceous, replacing ancient fern and conifer forests and irrevocably transforming the ecosystem. Fossilized remains of plants and animals from Dinosaur Park help us understand how and why these major environmental transitions took place. They may even help us predict how our world will respond to climate change in the future.

climate and enviroment

Plant fossils are especially important because they are reliable indicators of climate and environment. The environmental tolerances of modern plants (such as preferred temperature, annual rainfall, and soil acidity) give paleontologists a good idea of what the ancient environment was like when we find their fossil relatives.

We can also compare the plant communities in fossil deposits of different ages to learn how the Earth’s climate has changed over time. At Dinosaur Park, we find abundant wood and cones from conifer trees, especially cypress. Today, cypress trees are common in lowland swamps throughout the southeast United States. These trees are well-adapted for life in waterlogged, swampy soil. In addition to their rot-resistant wood, their knees (woody extensions of the roots) help to stabilize the trees in soft ground.

Animal fossils also hold clues about prehistoric climate. For example, some of the most common finds at Dinosaur Park are crocodile teeth and armor fragments. Crocodiles are endothermic (“cold-blooded”), meaning that their body temperature is dependent on the air around them. This means that crocodiles can only live in areas without long periods of freezing temperatures. Since crocodiles were plentiful in ancient Maryland, the climate must have been warm and subtropical, similar to southern Louisiana or the Florida everglades today.

Taken together, the fossils found at Dinosaur Park indicate that central Maryland was warm, wet, and swampy during the early Cretaceous. Swimsuits, anyone?