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Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo Credit: Mark Levisay - OutThere Colorado.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. Photo Credit: Mark Levisay - OutThere Colorado.

Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument

A National Monument is a protected area of land of historic, cultural, and/or scientific significance. While the National Parks Service oversees National Parks, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Defense, and the Bureau of Land Management can all manage National Monuments. Additionally, the office of the President has the power to designate National Monuments (National Parks are designated as such by Congress).

Paleontologists have been studying fossils from the Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument area since 1870. Petrified redwood tree stumps dot the landscape and hide fossilized remains of insects, spiders, fish, leaves, cones, and seeds. The fossils date from the Eocene Epoch, 35 million years ago, when a one-mile wide, 12.5 mile long lake covered the area. The fossil beds at Florissant are considered one of the richest fossil deposits in the world. One of the primary missions of the national monument is continued and ongoing paleontological research.

More than 90 Culturally Modified Trees (CMTs) have been found within the boundaries of the National Monument. The Ute Native Americans used the trees in four main ceremonial and spiritual ways: Peeled bark signifies a Medecine Tree; Bent trees are called Prayer Trees; Juniper or cedar trees were planted on sites of burial; Arborglyphs or messages depicting battles or hunts were carved into the bark of aspen trees. Anthropologists surmise that there were likely many more CMTs around the National Monument but that white settlers likely cut them down for building and firewood in the mid-19th century.

Pro Tips


  • The one-mile Petrified Forest Loop leads directly through the area that was once Lake Florissant. Signage along the trail will guide you through its ancient history.
  • Extend your hike with the two-mile roundtrip Geologic Trail that will guide you through ancient lake beds, remnants of volcanic pyroclastic flow, and ultimately ends at a beautiful Florissant Valley overlook.

Outdoor Exhibit Area:

The outdoor exhibit located adjacent to the visitors center has displays of petrified redwoods and other side exhibits about geologic history and fossil significance.

Fossil Learning Lab:

The ranger-led Fossil Learning Lab is the perfect way for kids to try their hand at paleontology. The lab includes hands-on learning stations as well as a chance for kids to search shale pieces and find their own fossils.

Recommended season(s): Monument is open year round and daily. Fall is the ideal season to visit the monument. Autumns months tend to be dry with moderate temperatures, and the flora produces beautiful fall foliage.

Sophie Goodman

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