Home to more than 17,000 fossil deposits featuring insect and plant species that are both extinct and still in existence, it’s pretty easy to see why Florissant Fossil Beds was designated a National Monument in 1969.
Unfortunately, that designation date should’ve come much sooner. Until 1969, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument operated as a tourist attraction that allowed visitors to take home fossils and pieces of petrified redwood trees, ultimately depleting the National Monument of many of its coveted redwoods and rare fossils.
But the National Park Service finally stepped in to preserve thousands of fossil deposits and some of the largest petrified redwood trees on the planet — and it remains one of the most unique places in Colorado.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Hours
Since Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument features many indoor and ranger-run exhibits, it’s open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the spring, fall and summer and 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the winter. It’s also closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
What to Do in Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument isn’t filled with your typical towering Colorado Mountains or scenic overlooks like Copper Mountain. But what it lacks in mountain ranges, it more than makes up for in unique features like fossils and petrified redwood trees.
Hike the Trails
While you won’t find world-class hiking in Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, you will find just over 14 miles of excellent trails winding through the wilderness and open-areas of the park. There are only eight trails inside the park, six of which are rated easy, and each interconnects with one another.
The interconnection of trails makes it really easy to see most of the park without having to stop and start on trails throughout the day. I wound up taking a few connecting trails through Florissant Fossil Beds to see most of the park, and hiked 7.43 of the park’s 14 miles in a few hours before a storm rolled through and cut my hiking short.
Aside from being cut short, I still found the hiking excellent! There are a few challenging sections, like the uphill part of Sawmill and Hans Loop Trail that takes you to the most remote corner of the park. Here you’ll find wide-open pastures with open views for miles.
On the Sawmill section of the trail, I saw the bones of baby deer that had become the prey of a mountain lion a few days prior. One of the rangers told me a hiker spotted the mountain lion protecting its kill a few days prior, so I had to check it out to see if I could get lucky and spot the mountain lion.
While I didn’t spot the mountain lion, I did enjoy the easy hike through the woods on interconnecting trails that took me through Boulder Creek and past all of the petrified redwoods on display.
My favorite trails were as follows:
- Petrified Forest Loop and Ponderosa Loop Trails
- Boulder Creek Trail
- Sawmill and Hans Loop
Check Out Fossils
Located in a section of the Florissant Formation, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is home to one of the largest collections of plant and insect fossils on earth. There are more than 17,000 fossil deposits, mostly found in shales and mudstones, and I can’t even imagine how many fossils haven’t been discovered yet.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is still an active site with fossil exploration and uncovering still occurring today. Go inside the visitor center and you can get a close-up view of an array of different fossils that have been uncovered, preserved and are now on display for all to see.
Unfortunately, I visited the park during the pandemic, so the visitor center was closed while I was there. Fortunately, the park rangers brought about 20 fossils outside so everyone could get a glimpse of these incredible forms of historical preservation.
See Petrified Redwood Trees
Aside from many fossils on display, there are also around 20 petrified redwood trees poking out from the ground on the premises of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. The same thing that created the fossils also destroyed the landscape and petrified the towering redwood trees that once stood tall in the area more than 30 million years ago.
More than 30 million years ago, a series of stratovolcanoes that encompassed the 39-mile volcanic field in where the park sits today erupted simultaneously, creating a violent eruption that covered the area in a thick layer of ash. The lava took down the trees and killed off all the plants and animals in the area and the ash came in behind it and preserved everything — from petrifying what was left of the once-towering redwoods and preserving the remnants of the plant and insect species.
Today, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument is home to the largest collection of petrified redwood trees on the planet — and the largest petrified redwoods in existence.
Petrified redwood stumps can be seen on self-guided hikes through the front-country of the park. The Petrified Forest Loop and Ponderosa Loop Trails takes you past all the park’s petrified redwoods, including the coveted Big Stump, which provides an excellent view of the different layers of rock formation inside the park.
Visit the Hornbek Homestead
In 1878, Adeline Hornbek made the trek to what is now Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, built a one-bedroom homestead on the property and ultimately owned and discovered the prehistoric gem until selling it to rival tourist companies to make a pretty penny.
Her homestead grew into a fully functioning ranch through the years and you can now visit and walk inside the two-story homestead today. Walking through it was incredible because it makes you realize how hard she worked on it as a single mother raising a family in the late 1880s.
When to Visit Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Since much of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument’s petrified tree stumps are located off the trails and on the ground, it’s better to visit when there isn’t snow on the ground. The weather is fairly mild during the summers, so spring, summer and fall are best to visit. Plus, it’s open 30 minutes longer during those seasons.
How Long to Stay in Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
If you plan to hike many (or all) of the trails inside Florissant Fossil Beds, you may need a full day to explore the park. However, the park is fairly small, so I wouldn’t spend more than a few hours or a full day inside the park.
I saw about 20 fossil specimens, explored the Hornbek Homestead and hiked 7.43 of the park’s 14 miles and I was only inside the park for about seven hours — and I felt that was the perfect amount of time to spend there.
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument Camping
Unfortunately, there are no campsites inside Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, but there are a ton of campsites within a 30-mile drive from the park. Since it’s Colorado, many of these campsites are on public lands, so they’re free to camp at!