Vernal, Utah

Gateway to Dinosaur National Monument


Vernal is situated in eastern Utah on U.S. Hwy. 40 near the Wyoming and Colorado borders. It is the gateway to both Dinosaur National Monument, 20 miles east, and and Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, 35 miles north. The geology of the region makes it of interest to dinosaurs lovers and geologists.

Vernal is bordered on the north by the Uinta Mountains, the largest east-west trending mountain range in the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered on the south by the Book Cliff Mountains and the Blue Mountain on the east. Vernal itself lies in the Ashley Valley.


Population / Elevation
  • 7,900 / 5,050 feet above sea level

Weather / Climate

Lying at a high elevation in the northeastern Great Basin Desert, Vernal has a semi-arid climate with low humidity.

Vernal, Utah - Monthly Climate Normals
   Year Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
 High °F
 Low °F
Avg °F 45 16.5 23 35 46.5 55 64 70 67.5 59 47 34 25.5
 Rain 8.40 0.60 0.53 0.72 0.85 0.79 0.50 0.58 0.76 0.96 0.92 0.61 0.60


Uintah County has a population of 24,500. Vernal, the largest city, is also the county seat. Unlike most Utah cities and towns, Vernal was not settled by Mormon pioneers. Brigham Young sent a scouting party to Uinta Basin in 1861 and received word back the area was good for nothing but Indian hunting grounds.

That same year, President Abraham Lincoln set the area aside as the Uintah Indian Reservation, appointing Captain Pardon Dodds Indian agent. When Dodds retired, he moved Ashley Valley along with agency workers, Morris Evans and John Blankenship to raise livestock. Arriving on February, 14 1873, they settled on Ashley Creek and Dodds built the first cabin in the valley, about 4 miles northwest of present-day Vernal.

The area where Vernal is now located was called the Bench, and was described as a large barren cactus flat when the David Johnston family moved there on June 6, 1878. The area was reportedly filled with cactus, lizards, horned toads, scorpions, mice and snakes until 1879.

After Colorado's Meeker Massacre in September of that same year, a fort was built on the Bench where many new settlers moved their cabins for protection. The town that grew out of the fort became known as Ashley Center, but when residents applied for a post office, the U.S. Postal Department assigned the name Vernal because Ashley was already taken.

The Mormon Church helped establish Vernal as a city in 1884, but the town wasn't incorporated until 1897. Because of the distance to a major railhead, settlers were self-sufficient, with cattle and sheep raising, milling, honey production, and farming grains and alfalfa being the primary industries. Livestock and agriculture, together with the tourist industry, remain important to this day.

In 1948 Vernal had its first oil boom. Flaming Gorge Dam, built in 1964 and Steinaker and Red Fleet dams, built in 1962 and 1980 respectively, provided irrigation water, recreation and even greater tourism industry.

Things To Do

Utah Field House Of Natural History State Park
235 East Main Street, Vernal, Utah 84078, Tel. 435-789-3799

This state park includes a unique dinosaur garden and an excellent museum. The dinosaur garden, features 17 life-size, prehistoric animal replicas in their natural setting, lining the garden paths. The museum adjacent to the garden, offers geologic and natural history displays of the Uinta Mountain-Uinta Basin region.

Red Cloud Loop Tour

Day-long auto tour through the nearby mountains begins by taking US Highway 191 toward Flaming Gorge, north from downtown Vernal and return via the Maeser Highway. (120 miles)


There is something for every taste and price range. For more information and a complete list. Click Here. (Rates - Hotel - Motels, availability, reviews and reservation online)

Camping & RV Parks

There are numerous camping and RV accommodations in and around Vernal. For more information, contact:

  • Dinosaurland Travel Board
    25 East Main Street - Vernal, Utah 84078
    435-789-6932; 435-477-5558.

Resources & Nearby Attractions Resources
Cities & Towns
  • Duchesne, Utah: 58 miles west.
  • Provo, Utah: 122 miles northwest.
  • Roosevelt, UT: 40 miles west.
  • Craig, Colorado: 93 miles east.


Parks & Monuments


Recreation & Wilderness Areas

  • Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area: 35 miles north.
  • High Uintas Wilderness Area: 75 miles west.
  • Ashley National Forest: 10 miles north.
  • Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge: 35 miles north.


Historic & Points of Interest

  • Utah Field House Of Natural History State Park (within the city)
  • Uintah & Ouray Indian Reservation: Various locations nearby.
  • Western Heritage Museum (Vernal): 435-789-7399.
  • Jones Hole National Fish Hatchery: (40 miles northeast) 435-789-4481.
  • Triassic Period Dinosaur Trackway: (Red Fleet State Park) 435-789-4432.



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