Uncover Fossil Basin, Wyoming: The Fossil Fish Capital of the World

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March 10, 2022

Sign indicating Fossil Butte National Monument.

Many travelers discover Fossil Basin, Wyoming, on a trip to visit the state’s national parks and monuments. But the destination is worthy of more than just a quick stop. Plan to spend a couple days in the Kemmerer-Diamondville area and uncover all that the Fossil Fish Capital of the World has to offer!

Day 1

Fossil Butte National Monument

After you arrive in the area and get settled, head to Fossil Butte National Monument. Your first stop should be the Fossil Butte Visitor Center. Inside, you’ll find exhibits featuring more than 300 fossils, including some really unique specimens. During the summer, you can visit the Research Quarry, watch fossil preparation demonstrations at the visitor center’s scientific lab, and listen to park rangers talk about the geology of Fossil Butte and the surrounding area.

The hiking trails at Fossil Butte National Monument are another great way to see and learn more about the wildlife, geology, and history of Fossil Basin.

To get some incredible views of the area’s landscape, take the scenic drive up past the Nature Trail and picnic area. Visitors should be aware that beyond the Nature Trail parking area, the scenic drive is a narrow, steep, gravel road so RVs and vehicles pulling trailers should not be driven past that point.

Visitor center, exhibit and old structure.

Fossil Butte National Monument. Photo Courtesy of Fossil Basin

Around Town

When you get back to Kemmerer, take a stroll around downtown and the Triangle Park area. This part of town is steeped in history. The JCPenney Kemmerer Mother Store is right across from the park. Today, it’s part museum and part store. The store sells current JCPenney merchandise and also displays a variety of artifacts and items from the store’s early days. Just down the street from the store is the J.C. Penney homestead, where James Cash Penney (the founder of JCPenney) lived during his time in the Kemmerer area. One more piece of JCPenney history can be seen in Triangle Park—a statue of James Cash Penney that was originally located at JCPenney’s Plano, TX headquarters.

As you explore the small towns of Kemmerer and Diamondville, keep an eye out for fossil shops and galleries. InStone Fossils, Tynsky’s Fossil Shop and Wyoming Fossils are great places to shop for souvenirs and unique gifts.

The Fossil Country Frontier Museum has hundreds of artifacts from Fossil Basin’s past and is certainly worth a visit for those curious about the community’s story.

A town with JC Penny, gallery, museum, park and mural.

Downtown Kemmerer, clockwise from upper left: JC Penney, the Fossil County Museum, a mural depicting the town’s early days, Triangle Park and Fossil Gallery.

Day 2

Fossil Digging

With a little luck, today you’ll uncover several fossils at one of the area’s dig-your-own fossil quarries! The fossil most commonly found in Fossil Basin is the Knightia fish, which is also Wyoming’s state fossil. But, ancient Fossil Lake has been the site of several rare fossil discoveries too, so you never know what you might dig up!  For best availability, we recommend scheduling your fossil dig ahead of time. If you’ve never done a fossil digging excursion before, check out this article to get an idea of what to expect when visiting a fossil dig site.

Three images depicting people discovering fossilized fish.

Digging for for prehistoric remains in Fossil Basin.

Depending on when and how long your fossil dig is, you’ll likely have some time to do a bit more exploring in the area before or after fossil digging. Here are a few suggestions for how to spend the rest of the day.

Bridger-Teton National Forest

The southern part of Bridger-Teton National Forest is a scenic drive a little over an hour north of Kemmerer on state highway 233 and county road 305. This peaceful drive has beautiful views of rolling hills and the Hams Fork River. The Hams Fork is an excellent fishing spot, so if you enjoy fishing, you may want to stop and cast a line! This scenic drive, known as Big Spring Scenic Backway, meanders through a section of the national forest before joining up with US highway 30 near Cokeville, WY.

Five images showing dirt roads, streams, meadows and sign saying, "Bridger-Teton National Forest."

Bridger-Teton National Forest.

Fossil Island Golf Club

Fossil Island Golf Club, nestled next to the Hams Fork River in Kemmerer, has a nine-hole course with a unique feature—a dual island green. Yes, there’s a golf course in Wyoming with an island green!

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

About 45 minutes east of Kemmerer-Diamondville is another place where you can find scenic serenity and connect with nature. Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge encompasses over 25,000 acres along the Green River. It’s home to over 200 species of birds and lots of other wildlife including moose, North American river otters, coyotes, pronghorn and more. One of the best ways to spot wildlife is to bring a canoe or kayak and enjoy some peaceful paddling on the Green River.

Three pictures of a river winding through Western prairie. Far right picture shows a paddler propelling a canoe through tranquil waters.

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

Oregon Trail History

The Oregon Trail ran through southwestern Wyoming, and signs of those pioneers are evident at a few sites not too far from Kemmerer-Diamondville. At Names Hill State Historic Site you can see where emigrants, including Jim Bridger, carved their names into limestone after crossing the Green River. Other notable sites in the area include Emigrant Spring and the graves of Nancy Hill and Alfred Corum.

Explore More

Planning to spend more time in Wyoming and Utah? Take a look at this five-day itinerary that includes Fossil Basin and Wyoming’s national parks. Or, if you’re a paleontology enthusiast, consider a Wyoming & Utah road trip with stops at some of the best places to see fossils in the United States. Find more trip planning information at fossilbasin.org.