Yes, back by popular demand, Dino Dig has returned to Liberty Science Center for a third fossil-filled summer! From now until September 3, little explorers are invited to sift through 35 tons of sand in the museum's completely transformed backyard in search of T. rex bones and teeth, an egg nest with a baby Maiasaura, and even a 6-foot-long Triceratops skull. Aspiring dino hunters will be wowed as they unearth replicas of fossils first discovered by Jack Horner, the famed paleontologist who inspired Jurassic Park.
Just one mention of "dinosaurs" and my own 5-year-old, pint-sized paleontologist was all in for a trip the much loved exhibit. So, with two of her best buds in in tow, we traveled back in time 66 million years via Route 78 and the New Jersey Turnpike, to see what we could dig up ourselves at LSC.
After getting wrist-banded, our group was instructed by an attendant to "follow the footprints" to the exhibit. Sure enough, as soon as we got off the elevator on the second floor, massive, life-like brown prints pointed us in the right direction, and our eager crew made a dinosaur-esque stampede past the food court to a pair of glass doors.
Located down a set of stairs (if you have a stroller in tow, you’ll have to park it up top and walk down), the authentic-looking dig site is covered with white tents to provide some very welcome shade from the summer sun. That said, it's worth noting that since Dino Dig is completely outdoors, it does close due to extreme heat, rain, and other inclement weather, so call ahead before leaving home to make sure the exhibit is open when the forecast looks iffy.
A milk crate with Dino Dig-branded brushes rests right at the top of the steps, so enthusiastic explorers need not wait to get to work (although they may need a quick reminder to keep their shoes on in what may appear to be a giant sandbox...). My daughter and her pals wasted no time before staking out a spot and starting their search. Some of the larger fossils are already partially uncovered — offering welcome hints to younger visitors — while others still remain to be found, creating a challenge for older kiddos. With more than 60 hidden fossils throughout the exhibit, ranging from dinosaur bones and teeth to dragonflies, there's plenty of digging to go around, even when the exhibit is a bit busy.
Adding another level of learning to the experience, Dino Dig Guide Team members are stationed around the exhibit to lend a helping hand with fossil finding and to answer kids' probing prehistoric questions. Identifiable by their gray, purple, or green shirts, these are the people to seek out when your kids suddenly want to know "What did dinosaurs eat for breakfast?" and "Is this a mommy or daddy dinosaur?" Of course, if you're looking to impress the little ones yourself, a handy poster on a side wall provides a site map and important facts about each species. I mean, did you know a T. rex weighed about 18,000 pounds?
When they aren't busy dropping dino knowledge, parents can undoubtedly appreciate the breathtaking New York City skyline that unfolds behind the Hell Creek Formation-inspired dig site — that's where Jack Horner and his colleagues actually conducted their field studies in Montana. And if this isn't your first time at Dino Dig, you'll probably be excited to hear that there are a few new additions this year as well. Raptor Zone, located at the center of the exhibit, features full skeletons of a Velociraptor and a Deinonychus. Meanwhile, back on the museum's main level, there are two Chasmosaurus skull vertebrae waiting to be found. And these smaller, more secluded sandboxes are a great option for kids who require a quieter, less stimulating environment to enjoy the experience.
Since Dino Dig is included with regular LSC admission, visitors have access to the rest of the 300,000-square-foot learning center. My excavation team spent about 30 minutes exploring the exhibit, then after another hour and a half inside the museum, begged to go back outside before we left. If you're hoping to grab a healthy lunch or snack before or after your dig, the adjacent Cafe Skylines boasts a very kid-friendly menu, plus there are various small dining spaces throughout LSC. You'll also be happy to know there are family restrooms with changing tables on every floor of the museum, as well as a nursing room that's available to breastfeeding mothers.
Dino Dig is open through September 3, and admission to Liberty Science Center is $22.75 for adults, $18.75 for children ages 2-12, and free for kids under two. Start planning your visit and purchase tickets in advance by heading to LSC's website (before the exhibit's extinct)!