Guest writer Kimberly M. is back to share her family’s experience collecting dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve in New Jersey.
My kids and I were looking for something different to do this week, aside from the classic beach and boardwalk summer scene so we decided to go hunting for some dinosaur fossils in Big Brook Preserve! It’s a popular NJ location for finding fossils from the Cretaceous period.
We heard about Big Brook Preserve in Monmouth County and decided to give it a try! I knew my 6-year-old son was going to love it but was pleasantly surprised by how much my 4, 10, and 12-year-old daughters were into it as well!
Our experience collecting dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve
Our drive from South Jersey was a pleasant one, we had no issues with the GPS directions, and the area around the preserve was beautiful.
When we arrived at the park, we were met with a big sign displaying a map of the area, as well as some photos of some of the fossils and artifacts we could potentially find there. I took a photo of the sign with my phone, so we could compare our finds with the photos when we got home, kind of anticipating that my gang would be tired and ready to get back on the road by the time we were done exploring.
We dove right in and started down the first path we saw. There were a few other families we saw on our travels, but there was plenty of space for everyone to explore. The kids dug right in shoveling mud from the river bank to sift through for fossils, and found some really cool things along the way! (Please see rules below regarding digging in the stream.)
I’m not sure if many of our treasures were, in fact fossils, but the kids were convinced they were, so we all left happy!
Things to know before you go digging for dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve in NJ
Before heading out to the Big Brook Preserve in search of dinosaur fossils there are a few things to be aware of.
Where is the dinosaur dig site located?
Big Brook Preserve is located at 95 Hillsdale Road in Colts Neck, NJ. Colts Neck is in Monmouth County, central New Jersey. The Monmouth County park system says, ‘access is from the Boundary Road parking lot.”
Where can we park?
When you arrive at the preserve, there is no real parking lot aside from about 6 parking spots on either side of the road, and it would be easy to drive right past if you weren’t looking for it. The address above is what we used and our GPS took us right there!
Is there an admission fee?
This is no admission fee for Big Brook preserve, nor is there a fee to dig for dinosaur fossils in this New Jersey location.
Is there a picnic area?
We didn’t see any kind of a picnic area at the preserve. But if you carry a backpack with a blanket and a picnic lunch, there are plenty of spots throughout the property where you could set up a camp to eat lunch.
Are there restrooms?
The only restroom we saw was a single port a potty at the entrance to the preserve. It wasn’t especially clean, as is common with port a potties, but better than nothing if one of the little ones really needs it.
You can also take a look at our article, Portable Potties Help Kids Pee & Poop Outside. It’s packed with suggestions for portable potties so you and the kids will always have a safe and clean option when you just have to go and can’t wait for a traditional restroom.
When is the best time to visit?
While this NJ fossil site is open year-round, the best time to visit is at the beginning of the spring or after recent rainstorms. The erosion caused by rain or melting snow can reveal fossils originally hidden in the mud of the stream. Of course, never visit during a storm, and keep in mind the water level will be higher after days of rain.
Drought conditions may make it easier to search for fossils because water levels will be lower. However, keep in mind less might be as visible as well.
Are there any rules for collecting dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve in NJ?
The Monmouth County park system welcomes visitors to hunt for fossils in Big Brook. Rules governing fossil hunting and collecting are listed below and here.
- Fossil collecting may be conducted during posted park hours. There is no permit or fee required for individuals or for groups of 10 or fewer.
- Visitors are required to use established parking lots and follow all park rules.
- Excavation or digging into the stream bank is prohibited.
- No mechanical digging, drilling or sifting equipment may be employed.
- Small hand tools (such as trowels and shovels) no greater in length than 14” may be used to scoop material from the stream bed. Disturbance of the stream bed shall be no greater than 6” in depth.
- Disturbance or damage to vegetation and wildlife is prohibited.
- Diverting or damming the stream’s natural flow is prohibited.
- Removal of small paleontological items is permitted. Items removed from the park shall be no more than what would fit in a 12 ounce can or a sandwich size zip lock bag. This limit is per person, per day. Visitors are encouraged to share the results of their fossil activity with Park System Naturalists at the Manasquan Reservoir Environmental Center: 732-751-9453.
- Archaeological items of historic significance, and modern items of value, must be turned over to Park System staff within 48 hours. Contact may be made through the Big Brook Park Ranger office or the Park Superintendent’s office at 732-842-4000, ext. 4382.
- Children under 14 years old must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Parents and guardians must remain in visual contact with their children at all times.
- Group sizes are limited to 10 people or fewer. Larger groups must register for a Naturalist-led program.
- Streams contain moving water that can be unpredictable due to cold temperatures, varying depths and swift currents. Conditions can change rapidly especially from rainfall in the area. Extreme caution must be exercised.
- Streams contain sharp objects. Appropriate footwear is required.
What do we need to dig for dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve in NJ?
VERY IMPORTANT! You need to bring your own tools for digging. We brought some garden-style trowels, a few of the larger plastic beach-type shovels, and most importantly a mesh sifter.
We also saw a family using a spaghetti strainer, which in a pinch, would do the trick. We gave them an A+ for creativity.
I would also recommend a bag of some kind to carry your treasures as you find them. We found these small display cases kids can use to keep their collections safe and show them off. Perfect for show and tell.
Here are a few dinosaur fossil digging tools we found on Amazon. We’re listing them below with Amazon links to help make your shopping faster and easier. (We do participate in Amazon’s affiliate program. We earn a small commission when you make a purchase using our links.)
- SE Patented Stackable 13-1/4″ Sifting Pan
- YARNOW 5Pcs Garden Sieve Sifting Pan – This set contains 5 sifting pans. Enough for everyone to have their own.
Shovels and fossil collecting kits
- Outdoor 22pc Complete Gold Panning Kit
- iunio Folding Shovel Portable
- REDCAMP Military Folding Camping Shovel
Grown ups might also like these books to help you and the kids identify the fossils you’ve collected.
- A Beachcomber’s Guide to Fossils
- The World Encyclopedia of Fossils & Fossil-Collecting
- Fossils: A Fully Illustrated, Authoritative and Easy-to-Use Guide
- Dinosaurs: A Folding Pocket Guide to Familiar Species
What else should we bring with us?
In addition to tools for digging for fossils and snacks, you’ll want to be prepared for bug and sun. Bring bug spray for sure and sunscreen if it’s sunny! We went on a mild August day and the weather couldn’t have been better! I imagine it would’ve been a lot less pleasant on a 100-degree day, so keep the weather in mind when planning your trip!
What should we wear for our fossil hunt?
We recommend wearing play clothes, as you will get messy!
If at all possible, wear rain boots, so you can walk along the river bank sifting through for fossils while keeping your feet safe and dry.
Depending on how far you’ll be traveling, a change of clothes and shoes in the car is probably a good idea in case anyone gets dirtier or wetter than expected.
How much time does it take to dig for dinosaur fossils?
Big Brook Preserve spans a huge area! It is free to enter, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you like.
We spent about an hour and a half exploring this NJ dinosaur dig site and definitely barely scratched the surface. You could potentially spend the whole day walking around and digging for dinosaur fossils if you so desire.
Is the dinosaur dig site fully accessible?
There is a lot of rugged terrain and the walking paths are very thin in some areas, only inches wide. Unfortunately, handicapped access would be a big challenge throughout most of the preserve as would navigating the terrain with a stroller.
Are there any safety issues to be aware of?
The water in most of the areas we explored was only inches deep. There were a few spots where it dropped suddenly to knee deep on my kids. So as always, keep little ones within reach. This is probably a factor that changes based on recent rain, etc, so keep that in mind as well when you visit.
Most importantly, keep an open mind and HAVE FUN! We sure did!
More about Big Brook Preserve
In addition to digging for dinosaur fossils at Big Brook Preserve this New Jersey preserve and park offers opportunities to check out plenty of wildlife throughout the park. We spotted some small fish, snakes, lizards, butterflies, and many species of birds.
From the Monmouth County Parks system website, “Named for Big Brook, which drains into the Swimming River Reservoir, this park contains young wetland and maturing American beech, white oak, tulip poplar and hickory trees as well as fields of grasses, goldenrod and other perennials that provide habitat for butterflies, birds and other wildlife.” Learn more about the Big Brook Preserve from the Monmouth County Parks system website.
Looking for more dinosaurs in New Jersey?
We can help! Visit our guide to where to find dinosaurs in New Jersey for a listing and details about all the places you can find dinosaurs across New Jersey.