Detours for dinosaurs: 5 places to see prehistoric creatures

Visitors check out an animatronic dinosaur at Field Station: Dinosaurs in Secaucus, New Jersey.
Visitors check out an animatronic dinosaur at Field Station: Dinosaurs in Secaucus, New Jersey.Courtesy Field Station: Dinosaurs

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By Harriet Baskas
A visitor checks out the Dryptosaurus at Field Station: Dinosaurs in Secaucus, New Jersey.RON WYATT / Today

If your family is on the hunt for dinosaurs this summer, there are plenty of places to get up-close-and-personal with the prehistoric creatures. The famed Dinosaur Hall at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is closed for a $48 million makeover, but the museum offers a “Where to See Dinosaurs” list on its website highlighting attractions in nearly all 50 states, plus Canada and Mexico. Here are five places where you can get your dino fix. 

Field Station: Dinosaurs 
Field Station: Dinosaurs opens Saturday for its 2014 season in Secaucus, New Jersey. The 20-acre attraction is geared for young children (ages 3 to 11) and has a three-quarter-mile trail dotted with 32 animatronic dinosaurs.

“These are full-size dinosaurs, including one that’s 90-feet long,” said Guy Gsell, the park’s president and executive producer. Gsell created the park and its family-friendly programming with the help of paleontologists, robotists and theater designers. Among his favorite dinosaurs is the Dryptosaurus, which once roamed territory that now includes New Jersey. “This was a New Jersey dinosaur with New Jersey attitude,” said Gsell. “It was meat-eating, angry and very cool.”

Adults $25, children (3-11) $20. Discounts for online purchases. Extras: A 3-D dinosaur movie and a "Dinosaurs After Dark" experience.

American Museum of National History
Once kids meet an animatronic dinosaur, they’re sure to be curious about the real thing. The American Museum of National History in New York City obliges with two popular dinosaur halls filled with just about every major dinosaur imaginable and special exhibits, such as the recently opened "Pterosaurs: Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs," which will nest at the museum until early January 2015.

Adults $22, children (2-12) $12.50; seniors/students $17.

Children’s Museum of Indianapolis
In the Dinosphere at the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, there are full-size dinosaur skeletons, a paleo-prep lab and several celebrity specimens, including Leonardo, a 77-million-year old mummified Brachylophosaurus found in the Montana badlands in 2002, and the Dracorex hogwartsia, a fairy-tale-looking dinosaur with a bony head covered in spikes and knobs that was named the “Dragon King of Hogwarts” to celebrate Hogwarts, the academy for wizards in the "Harry Potter" novels.

Bucky, the first teenage Tyrannosaurus rex put on permanent display in a museum, is here, too.

Adults $19.50, seniors (60+) $18.50, youth (2-17) $14.50. Extras: Paleontologists-led, museum-sponsored dino digs in South Dakota.

Dinosaur Trail  
Farther west, there’s a 14-stop Dinosaur Trail stretching across central and eastern Montana, offering fossil fans a chance to see unique dinosaur exhibits and participate in guided tours and hands-on field digs.

“If people want to see where many of the fossils displayed in museums elsewhere came from, this is the place,” said Victor Bjornberg, tourism development and education coordinator for the Montana Office of Tourism.

More than 200,000 people set out on Montana’s Dinosaur Trail each year, many of them carrying the $5 Prehistoric Passport filled with fossil facts and information about the various locations. Anyone who visits all 14 spots on the tour — and collects all 14 “Dino Icon” stamps in their passport — gets a gold seal, a certificate of completion and a special T-shirt. Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Bynum has numerous opportunities for hands-on dinosaur research.

Museum of the Rockies
Visiting all the museums, interpretive centers and parks on the trail is encouraged, but for those with limited time, Bjornberg suggests the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana, which has one of the largest collections of dinosaur fossils in the world.