Did you know there’s a place just east of Austin where dinosaurs run free in the woods, pooping and laying eggs, leaving footprints and prehistoric fossils? If that’s news to you, clearly you’ve never heard of the Dinosaur Park in Cedar Creek, Texas. But that’s okay — until recently, I hadn’t either. This week we went, and y’all, can I just say? It was so fun!
Actually, we made multiple stops, which made the whole outing just great, and really educational. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s a lot to see and do on that little stretch of Highway 71 running between Austin Bergstrom International Airport and the little town of Bastrop. If your kids are budding naturalists, they’ll love this outing.
We started with the Dinosaur Park, which was our main attraction. It’s in Cedar Creek, just a few miles east of the airport. From east Austin, it only takes about 20 minutes or so to get there (it took 35 minutes from our home in the southwest part of town).
Union Chapel Road comes up pretty quick, so it’s helpful to use your GPS or your phone’s navigation app so you’re ready to hit the brakes and the turn signal.
The Dinosaur Park is just off the highway, down at the end of a little one-lane road. Be sure to heed the 10 MPH signs, as the road is pitted and you’ll need to pull off the shoulder if another car comes along. Around a couple of bends, you’ll reach a small parking lot and a little house painted with a beautiful dinosaur mural. That’s the toy store and gift shop, where you pay your entrance fee of $7 per person over age 2 (babies and toddlers up to 24 months old get in FREE; if you know you’ll want to return, you can also purchase a $20 annual pass — cheaper than three separate visits).
Before you set out along the dino path, be sure to grab a laminated scavenger hunt list. Yes, there’s a scavenger hunt! We found about half the items on the list, including fossilized dinosaur poop and some very large cockroaches (eek!!).
At the time of this writing, the park website lists the path as being a quarter-mile long, but they actually recently expanded it to a half-mile path. Therefore, you need at least 30–40 minutes to explore, so be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before closing time (see info on hours below).
Our walk down the dinosaur path was really sweet and whimsical. It really is cool how these enormous prehistoric creatures just rear up out of the cedar thicket. They’re simultaneously beautiful and kind of…funny looking. I don’t know how to describe it. You just need to go see for yourself, or check out my photos at the bottom of this post.
The Dinosaur Park’s hours through August 24, 2014, are Tuesday through Sunday, 10 AM – 4 PM (closed Mondays). After school is back in session, the park will follow the school schedule (calendar here). I recommend going as early in the day as possible, or on a cloudy day. While there is plenty of shade along the half-mile path, it gets pretty hot on an August afternoon, as we found when we visited. Fortunately, you can purchase bottles of cold water, juice or Gatorade inside the toy store. There is also a playground outside behind the toy store that has misters (meaning, hoses spraying mist, not men!). The playground is pretty sunny, but there are several shaded picnic tables that looked like a good spot to enjoy a snack or a cold drink.
The kids wanted to hang out in the toy store forever after our walk, and not just because it was cool and airy. There’s a play area for little ones with a padded floor, where they can play with toy dinosaurs. There are all kinds of puzzles, stickers, necklaces, keychains, dinosaur toys, and so on to buy for your favorite future paleontologist.
Speaking of keychains… When you’ve had your fill of dinosaurs and you’re ready to head back toward Austin, head west on Hwy 71 and stop at the Bonsai Garden of Texas. It’s on your right (the westbound side of the road), just over a mile down the highway from the Dinosaur Park. It’s easier to see the big sign at the top of the hill that reads “FOSSILS … BONSAI” when you’re heading east, so keep a good eye out, and get ready to pull over quick so you can turn right into the driveway!
Inside you’ll find the owner and bonsai artist, Marlon Chen, who opened the gallery in 1998. He is from Taiwan, and when I walked into the shop, I was greeted first by a recording of a woman’s voice saying “Ni-hao!” (Mandarin for “Hello!”), and next by Mr. Chen himself.
The gallery was a little warm but airy, and Mr. Chen was sitting behind the counter in the front room. Right in front of the counter was a display of scorpion keychains — little (or not-so-little) scorpions forever imprisoned inside some kind of clear plastic, so you can see their every little detail from all sides. Pretty creepy/cool.
Mr. Chen invited me to look around, so I did, and boy, that place is fascinating. It’s a warehouse filled with rocks, bonsai trees, arrowheads, quartz crystals, jewelry, Chinese art… Everything is a little dusty and there’s just a whole lot to look through, which gives the place a slightly hoarder-ish feel in the best way possible (seriously). It’s free to browse, and everything is for sale. I paid $3 for two little arrowheads and a quartz crystal for Pearl and Zephyr.
If you make the same outing we did, by this point, you’re probably pretty hot and tired, and in need of some refreshments. No problem! Once you’re back out on the highway heading west, make just one more stop at the big red warehouse on the right (again, the westbound side of the highway) with the huge scrolling digital sign advertising “PECANS … LOCAL HONEY … PEACHES …” and a lot of other things. This is the Berdoll Pecan Farm store, and it’s yet another wonderland of yummies and gifts.
I kept thinking the Dinosaur Park would be a great place for homeschooled or unschooled kids to explore. They do offer discounts for groups of 15 or more students who visit with a field trip. The Bonsai Garden would also be great for future geologists who enjoy poking through rocks, arrowheads and other natural treasures.
The what, the where and the when:
The Dinosaur Park
893 Union Chapel Rd.
Cedar Creek, TX 78612
Hours: Summer (through August 24, 2014):Tu – Sun, 10 AM – 4 PM (closed Mondays) School Year: See calendar
The Dinosaur Park on Facebook
Here are some more photos from our visit to the Dinosaur Park: