There are so many great dinosaur museums in North America…but which ones are truly the most spectacular and absolutely must-visit places for the dinosaur lover? Naturally, this list is completely subjective. Allosaurus Roar has visited all of the museums and many more, and the rankings are based on the displays available to the public.
Here are Allosaurus Roar’s Top Twenty-Five:
(25) Fernbank Museum of Natural Sciences, Atlanta, GA
There are a lot of museums with more dinosaurs on display and active paleontological research laboratories that could be on this list, but the one thing that puts the Fernbank here is their bold “Giants of the Mesozoic” display featuring casts of two Argentinian dinosaurs not typically seen in North American museums: the giant carnivore Giganotosaurus and one of the largest sauropods to ever walk the earth Argentinosaurus. There are nice displays of the pterosaurs Pterodaustro and Anhanguera flying overhead the exhibit which add a nice touch. Children will also enjoy the sculpture garden featuring a family of Lophorhothon, a hadrosaur from the Appalachian side of the Western Interior Seaway during the Mesozoic era.
(24) Museum of Paleontology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
This wonderful but small museum is located in a modest building across the street from the large BYU football stadium. While there is not a lot of room for display, the Museum of Paleontology really packs in some nice fossils. My favorite is probably the menacing Torvosaurus, the only one I’ve seen on display anywhere. Other highlights include a nice Camarasaurus, the Utah state fossil Allosaurus, and some interesting parts of other dinosaurs, the majority found in the state of Utah. The Utahraptor foot is particularly memorable! One nice feature of the museum is a large window in which visitors can watch researchers cleaning and preparing fossils–and BYU is sitting on a large treasure trove of them found over the years by reknowned paleontologist Jim Jensen and his research teams. You won’t need much more than a couple hours here to see everything on display, but this museum is certainly worth your time.
(23) North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Raleigh, NC
One of the most dazzling dinosaur mounts in North America can be found in the rotunda of the North Carolina Museum, it is an Acrocranthosaurus, the great predator of the Early Cretaceous period. In the display, the Acro is “stalking” a large sauropod while a flock of pterosaurs circle overhead. It is a great fossil, in fact the only Acrocanthosaurus fossil on display anywhere in the world (there are casts on display in a few other museums). There are other dinosaurs to be found in the museum, among them a nice Thescelosaurus nicknamed “Willow” that made headlines for some time for having what was theorized to be a fossilized heart. Recent studies of the concretion found in the chest of the dinosaur have refuted that possibility however. The NCMNS is a good museum now; with the resources they have put into building a top paleontology lab I fully expect this museum to continue to rise in the rankings and become a truly great place for dinosaurs.
(22) The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia is the oldest “natural sciences institution” in North America, and the museum was opened to the public in 1828. There are quite a few dinosaur mounts, including Chasmosaurus, Deinonychus, and Hadrosaurus. The museum is also home to famed “bone wars” paleontologist Edward Drinker Cope’s Elasmosaurus, an ancient sea reptile on which he infamously placed the skull on the wrong end. If you are interested in other Cretaceous creatures, there is a very nice Xiphactinus mount exhibited here. In addition, more recent discoveries can be found including Avaceratops, a small ceratopsian with a very interesting skull.
(21) Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
The Science Museum of Minnesota is a large and interesting museum that sits in downtown St. Paul along the river. The museum is filled with great exhibits aimed (primarily) at children, although everyone is sure to enjoy something. Hanging above the lobby entrance soars a large Quetzalcoatlus, doing its job of letting museum visitors know they can expect to see some cool fossils inside. In the dinosaur exhibit area, the Triceratops that greets visitors near the entrance to the area is amazing–it is among the most complete and largest Triceratops fossils on display in the world. Another favorite among the other dinosaurs on display is the very large Diplodocus, discovered in the 1990’s by Minnesota high school students!
(20) Dinosaur Journey Museum of Western Colorado, Fruita, CO
A large number of dinosaur fossils have been found near Fruita, and the Dinosaur Journey Museum has some very nice displays about them. One of the smallest dinosaurs, Fruitadens, gets its name from the location, and you can learn all about this tiny creature on display here. Other Jurassic-era specimens include Allosaurus, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus and quite a few others. There is an interesting display that compares the size of a human heart to the size of the hearts of various dinosaurs, including Allosaurus. My children particularly enjoyed the various robotic dinosaurs on display, including one that surprised everyone (I won’t give away the spoiler here!). If you are driving through Utah/Colorado on I-70, it is definitely worth your time to stop at the Dinosaur Journey Museum.
(19) Sam Noble Museum, Norman, OK
The Sam Noble Museum in Norman, affiliated with the University of Oklahoma, has a very impressive dinosaur/prehistoric life display. The most jaw-dropping dinosaur in the exhibit is the Titanoceratops, featuring the largest skull ever found–of any kind of land animal. Ever. It is HUGE! I would say “don’t miss it”, but if you are there, you can’t miss it. Also impressive is the Saurophaganax display. While there is some debate about whether or not Saurophaganax should be considered a separate genus or is instead a very large Allosaurus, there is no debate that it is a massive and scary predator, and the display at the Sam Noble Museum is really good.
(18) Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland, OH
The Cleveland Museum of Natural History has a long and distinguished research record, and the dinosaur displays in the Kirtland Hall of Evolution are very impressive. One of my favorite fossils is Cleveland’s own prehistoric placoderm, the Devonian fish Dunkleosteus. Casts of this fossil can be found in many other museums, the original is in Cleveland. Highlights include a hungry Allosaurus attacking a Haplocanthosaurus. The Haplo fossil is the only one I have seen displayed and is the holotype for the species. Also, don’t miss the exhibits on human evolution…the Cleveland Museum is a leader in this area and has some great displays. Currently the museum is in the midst of a massive renovation that should be finished in 2020, it promises some spectacular displays.
(17) Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center, Woodland Park, CO
Mike Triebold, paleontologist and expert dinosaur preparator, has created his own museum in the hills near Colorado Springs and it is a great place to see prehistoric fossils. Triebold and his team are well known in the museum industry for their great work preparing and mounting fossils and creating exhibits that can be seen in museums around the world. Therefore it is no surprise at all that the displays in the Rocky Mountain Dinosaur Resource Center (RMDRC) are vivid and lively. Visitors can get up close to the exhibits and get a great view of dinosaurs like Pachycephalosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Edmontonia, Bambiraptor and many others, including T. rex. There is also a nice collection of pterosaurs and sea reptiles that hangs above the exhibit, and the Archelon and Tylosaurus are particularly impressive. From the moment my boys saw the life-size sculptures of Styracosaurus and Daspletosaurus in front of the museum, and quickly ran up to touch them, they had a feeling it would be fun inside. They were right!
(16) Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, ON
If you find yourself with some free time in the capital city, the Canadian Museum of Nature is a fantastic place to spend it. A very old museum, the beautiful stone building with a large glass “lantern” at the center houses some really interesting dinosaurs. Many of the them come from Canada’s Cretaceous-era badlands in Alberta, and the star of the collection is probably the great Daspletosaurus on display. There are some other cool fossils however, including the holotype Chasmosaurus, and an Edmontosaurus that was the first dinosaur ever put on display in Canada. The holotype Vagaceratops is also on display–it sat in storage undescribed for some fifty years until 1998. There are also a lot of prehistoric non-dinosaurs that will amaze, including an incredible giant Cretaceous era turtle called Archelon.
(15) Museum at the Black Hills Institute, Hill City, SD
No museum packs more punch per square foot than the Museum at the Black Hills Institute in Hill City, SD. Made famous by the legal dispute over “Sue” the T. rex back in the 1990’s, the Black Hills Institute museum is a small display site for the many discoveries of Peter Larson and his team at the Black Hills Institute. While “Sue” now resides in Chicago, much to the chagrin of just about everyone in Hill City, the museum displays their own beautiful and important fossil Tyrannosaurus rex “Stan.” “Stan” is well-known outside of Hill City, his fossil cast is on display in numerous museums across the world. In fact there are several T. rex skulls on display hanging on the walls of this small museum. Numerous other fossils more than fill the rest of the space, and even though it is small be prepared to spend at least a couple of hours in the building if you want to see everything. My sons particularly enjoyed the Deinosuchus and Sarchosuchus skulls, they are huge and very menacing!
(14) Museum of Ancient Life, Lehi, UT
The Museum of Ancient Life at Thanksgiving Point is located about 30 miles south of Salt Lake City, and it is a must-see for any dinosaur lovers who are visiting Utah. There are more mounted dinosaur skeletons (60 or so) on display here than any other museum in the world, and some are very impressive. Many if not all dinosaur museums really struggle with display space, but that is less of a problem for the Museum of Ancient Life. There are several large galleries filled primarily with casts of dinosaur fossils from around the world, including giant specimens of Supersaurus and Brachiosaurus. Many of the most famous dinosaurs are included here as well, including Stegosaurus, Triceratops, and Tyrannosaurus rex. The museum holds the holotype fossil for the small Jurassic theropod Tanycolagreus, and it can be seen on display.
(13) Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, ON
Canada is home to several great dinosaur museums, and the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is one that should not be missed. The building itself is something of an architectural wonder, yet blends right in to the busy Toronto streets that surround it. Many of the Royal Ontario’s dinosaur specimens come from the great fossil fields of Alberta, and there are some really wonderful dinosaurs on display. “Gordo” the Barosaurus is featured here, and he is large and very impressive, but there is also a terrific collection of hadrosaurs, including beautiful examples of Corythosaurus, Lambeosaurus and Parasaurolophus. In the lobby/entrance area are Edmontosaurus and Saurolophus fossils, and the museum recently added a large Mamenchisaurus fossil as well. The dinosaur halls have examples from most dinosaur families, and some very nice pterosaurs as well, including Pteranodon and Quetzalcoatlus. There is also an exhibit on the recently discovered Wendiceratops. Toronto is a wonderful city to visit and the Royal Ontario is a perfect place to spend a day.
(12) Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, New Haven, CT
The Peabody is one of the most iconic dinosaur museums in North America. Yale University has played a huge role in the history of American paleontology, and not surprisingly the Peabody has a very large and important collection. Originally started with money from the uncle of “bone wars” paleontologist Othniel Charles Marsh, the Peabody houses several iconic fossils including Apatosaurus, several ceratopsians, and Deinonychus. Although visitors will stare in awe at the dinosaurs, the gigantic Cretaceous-era sea turtle Archelon commands attention as well. As great as the dinosaurs are, and they are great…the 110′ mural “The Age of Reptiles” by Rudolph Zallinger is one of the most memorable displays in the Great Hall. His “The Age of Mammals” can be found in the museum’s Hall of Mammalian Evolution. The Peabody is currently undergoing a large renovation which will update the displays and poses, among other improvements. This venerable museum (first opened to the public in 1876) is certainly among America’s great paleontological treasures.
(11) Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver, CO
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science is a terrific museum to see dinosaurs. The nearby Morrison formation has helped supply them with some great Jurassic-era specimens, including Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, and Diplodocus among quite a few other significant dinosaurs on display. Recently, Prof. Scott Sampson, of the hit PBS Kids show Dinosaur Train (and the author of Dinosaur Odyssey) fame has taken the position as VP of Collections and Chief Curator. Just walking in to the lobby of the museum is a treat: the kids love the gigantic T. rex there. Hanging from the ceiling just outside the entrance to the Prehistoric Journey exhibit are my personal favorites: two marvelous Elasmosaurus fossils.
(10) Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC
The Smithsonian has quite a few significant dinosaur and prehistoric specimens, including many favorites like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops. My favorite fossil there might be the beautiful skeleton of the Eocene whale Basilosaurus. Unfortunately the museum’s National Fossil Hall is currently closed while undergoing renovation. Some dinosaurs remain on display however. The good news is that in 2019 the new exhibit hall should be spectacular! I fully expect the new hall to help move the National Museum up toward the top of this list when it opens. In the mean time, if you get there be sure to check out the fabulous new Hall of Human Origins.
(9) Wyoming Dinosaur Center, Thermopolis, WY
A relatively young museum (est. 1995), the Wyoming Dinosaur Center is a wonderful place to spend a day in central Wyoming. Over 30 mounted dinosaur skeletons can be seen in the main exhibit hall, one in particular stands out: “Jimbo”, a 130′ Supersaurus that dominates the space. Jimbo is one of the largest mounted skeletons in the world, and it is a lesson in humility to stand next to him. The museum also boasts the only North American exhibit of a fossilized Archaeopteryx, one of the most famous prehistoric creatures since its discovery in the 1860’s. My favorite feature of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center is the bus tour of the S.I. “something interesting” dig site, which features one of the world’s only fossil sites that contains teeth from a predator (Allosaurus), bones from a prey dinosaur (Camarasaurus), and footprints of both predator and prey. It is not clear that they are all from the same historical incident, but it is certainly possible and very interesting to see in person.
(8) The Field Museum, Chicago, IL
I was born in Chicago and one of my earliest memories is seeing the dinosaur hall (and the awe-inspiring Charles R. Knight murals) at The Field Museum. I don’t know if that’s what made me love dinosaurs or dinosaur museums, but it certainly didn’t hurt. The Field Museum is on the bucket list for every dinosaur lover: it houses the most famous dinosaur in the world (Sue, the T. rex) in the main hall, and there are great displays of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures in the Evolving Planet exhibit hall. Among them are wonderful displays of Parasaurolophus, Daspletosaurus, and Protoceratops, among many others. Watching the crowds admire Sue is fun…especially when young children look up for the first time and stare right into her massive jaws. If you want to see another famous fossil replica from the Field Museum, fly into Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and see the Brachiosaurus skeleton located in United Terminal 1. (Don’t worry, if you don’t fly United you can see a similar mount outside the Field Museum posed facing the Chicago skyline).
(7) Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA
Recently renovated, the dinosaur hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County displays some spectacular fossils. The highlight of the display is certainly the T. rex “growth series”, which contains three separate fossils of Tyrannosaurus rex at various ages, together in a feeding scene. It is amazing and beautiful, one of the most interesting dinosaur displays in the world. NHM has some other great fossils on display, including a very large Mamenchisaurus, a nice Carnotaurus, and a Velociraptor. The new hall is a must-see for any dinosaur fan. In the main hall of the museum just outside the dinosaur hall, the iconic battle scene of a T. rex facing a Triceratops is still on display (it continues to be a regular in TV commercials).
(6) Natural History Museum of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
A plethora of recently discovered dinosaurs can be found at the fantastic Natural History Museum of Utah in Salt Lake City: Lythronax, Nasutoceratops, Kosmoceratops, and Teratophoneus have all been described in the past ten years or so and UMNH is the only place to see them all under one roof. UMNH has a terrific wall of ceratopsian skulls and a very interesting and informative display about the state fossil of Utah, the Allosaurus. Included in the Allosaurus section is a very well done display highlighting the discoveries and mystery at the famous Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry near Price, UT.
(5) Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, TX
I have visited the Houston Museum of Natural Science a couple of times, once before the massive renovation to their dinosaur hall, once after. There really is no comparison! The old museum had a nice dinosaur display, but it was nowhere near the top museum for dinosaurs. That all changed the day the museum brought in Dr. Robert Bakker to head up the design of the Morian Hall of Paleontology. Today the museum is one of the most dynamic and interesting dinosaur museums in North America. Some very memorable displays include: a truly magnificent group of Quetzalcoatlus fossils; a Triceratops with some preserved skin patches; a Tyrannosaurus fighting an Anyklosaurus; a Stegosaurus rearing on it’s hind legs, a pose I’ve never seen anywhere else. The collections include an amazing group of trilobites, and quite a few wonderful pre-dinosaur reptiles including “Willie” the Dimetrodon. The remarkable transformation puts the Houston Museum of Natural Science among the very top places to see dinosaurs.
(4) Museum of the Rockies, Bozeman, MT
Jack Horner’s museum in Bozeman is quite a treasure. While not a particularly large museum, the dinosaur section dominates the space and has some terrific fossils. My favorite is the growth series of Triceratops skulls, from very small juveniles (babies?) all the way up to gigantic full-grown skulls. It is extremely interesting and really demonstrates the work that Horner has been involved with recently on dinosaur ontogeny. If you are unfamiliar or undecided on the Triceratops/Torosaurus debate, you need to see the display in Bozeman. The Museum of the Rockies now has a beautiful Tyrannosaurus “Montana Rex” on display (as of April 2015) as well as quite a few other fossils from Montana’s famous Hell Creek deposits. The collection of T. rex skulls is particularly impressive. Although the famous “Wankel Rex” that was displayed here for years is now on loan to the Smithsonian and will be a main attraction there (when the new exhibit opens in 2019), the “Big Mike” statue outside the Museum of the Rockies represents the same T. rex and remains among my favorite dinosaur mounts. If you see that as you walk in to the museum and aren’t excited about what you might see inside, then maybe dinosaurs really aren’t your thing!
(3) Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh, PA
The holotype Tyrannosaurus rex? Check. The holotype Diplodocus? Check. Lots of dinosaurs in creative, interesting displays that emphasize putting them in their proper chronological time and environment? Check. The Carnegie Museum is and has always been one of the premier dinosaur museums in North America, going back to the first golden age of American fossil collecting during the 1880-1920 period. Renovated in 2008, the dinosaur exhibit “Dinosaurs in Their Time” contains some incredible specimens and wonderful displays. One of the highlights features dueling Tyrannosaurus rex fossils, captured in a scene where they warily eye each other while circling some food. In the Jurassic display, the iconic “Dippy” the Diplodocus fossil is paired with a large Apatosaurus (and a baby as well). The Carnegie is one of the only dinosaur museums to feature two large sauropods in the same display. Very few museums have so many interesting fossils or display them in such a creative and beautiful manner.
(2) American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY
From the wonderful Allosaurus/Barosaurus scene in the lobby to iconic displays in the great halls on the 4th floor, the AMNH in NYC receives a lot of acclaim for its prehistoric collection and it deserves it all. The blockbuster movie Night at the Museum takes place here (well, a very fictionalized version in the film) and there are many well-known and historic fossils on display in the museum. Traveling the halls is like taking a journey through the history of American paleontology. There are many different dinosaurs represented. My personal favorites include the growth series of Protoceratops skulls; the Glen Rose, TX/Paluxy River dinosaur trackway under the Apatosaurus fossil; and naturally, the Allosaurus (which was one of the first dinosaur fossils put on display in a North American museum). One could easily spend all day here (I have several times) and still feel like you have only seen a small portion of the exhibits. The AMNH is one of the best museums in the world, and I try to get there every time I am in New York. You should too!
(1) Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta, Canada
The Royal Tyrrell Museum is truly a wonder–despite being quite young among natural history museums (it opened in 1985), and despite being fairly remote (for anyone not living in Alberta), the Royal Tyrrell is a fantastic museum that anyone who loves dinosaurs needs to put on their bucket list, pronto. Beautiful fossil specimens of a large variety of dinosaurs have been found in the nearby Canadian badlands, including Dinosaur Provincial Park (which is about 100 km southeast of Drumheller), and these fossils make up the majority of the displays at the museum. The famous T. rex fossil “Black Beauty” is stunning to view in person, and many of the displays at the Royal Tyrrell show the dinosaurs in gorgeous, active recreations. With many significant fossils, a great variety of dinosaurs on display, a plethora of excellent programs for children to participate in, among many other highlights…the Royal Tyrrell is simply the finest dinosaur museum in North America.