Waco Mammoth National Monument (Texas)

https://www.nps.gov/waco/index.htm

Did you know that prehistoric mammoths once roamed Texas? On a trip to Waco, don’t miss a chance to see the dig site preserved at the Waco Mammoth National Monument.


History

Thousands of years ago during the Ice Age, Columbian mammoths lived in what’s now Texas. In 1978, fossil hunters stumbled upon a large mammoth bone near the Bosque River. Experts at the nearby Baylor University natural history museum (now called the Mayborn Museum Complex) began excavating the site and uncovered 22 complete mammoth fossil remains, making this the nation’s first and only recorded evidence of a nursery herd of Ice Age Columbian mammoths. The largest group of mammoths appear to have died in a single natural event, and other fossils such as a camel and alligator have also been uncovered who died in subsequent events. 

The fossils uncovered before 1990 are now on display at the Mayborn museum, but the ones discovered since then remain at the site in a temperature controlled space. The dig site is still active and open to the public.


Visit

When visiting Baylor University with my son, I stumbled across this national monument and was so excited to add a little of (pre)historic sight-seeing to our college visit. The Waco Mammoth National Monument is located just 15 minutes from downtown Waco (and from the Magnolia silos for any Fixer Upper fans!). Use the park’s brochure to plan your trip.

The monument is one of the newer national parks and is easy to see in a self-guided tour. There are guided tours available every 30 minutes at the visitor center if you are a fossil enthusiast. Don’t miss picking up the Junior Ranger Activity Book at the center!

The main draw of the monument is the dig site. Start at the visitor center, pay your entry fee, and then take the short walk on the paved pathway to the climate-controlled dig site building. Along the way, you’ll see the honey locust plants that were here during the Ice Age along with native Texas plants and animals like the roadrunner. 

Once you enter the dig site, you can read more about the accidental discovery of the fossils and wait your turn to enter the building.

Once inside, your kids will ooh and ahh over the fossils preserved in the rock below the elevated pathway. 

Don’t miss comparing your kids’ height to the mammoths! They were huge!

The fossils are labeled and you can linger as long as you’d like at the site. The fossils sitting on top of the dirt are most likely replicas (originals are now in the museum) but the ones still encased in dirt are real.

See if your kids can spot the saber tooth and the camel. How did a camel make it all the way to Texas?

Kids who love studying dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures will love seeing the dig tools and learning more about the scientific research occurring at the site. Be sure to look at the information at the exit about what the scientists are doing that day. Maybe you’ll get lucky and actually see a dig in progress!

Make your way back to the visitor center where there are games and hands-on activities for little ones. When we were there, these activities were all outside but that may have changed. Or head out on the loop trail for more nature!

Waco Mammoth National Monument is a great addition to any trip to Waco, Texas. Kids and adults will be amazed at the mammoths who once roamed this land and left us clues that we’re just now uncovering. 


Helpful hints:

  • Cost: $5/adults; $4/7th graders – college; $3/children (preK-6th grade); free/younger than preK
  • Recommended: all ages
  • Tour time: 30 minutes (self-guided); guided tour takes 45 minutes – 1 hour 
  • Gift shop located onsite
  • Transportation: The site is only accessible via car with plenty of parking available. 
  • Dining options: Downtown Waco has many great options for food. You can eat in town or bring it to the site for a picnic. We ate at the indoor food market called Union Hall, which is sure to please everyone. I’ve also heard good things about Milo and George’s. If you want to shop and eat, check out Fabled Bookshop and Cafe, my favorite place in Waco!
  • Nearby hotels: We stayed in Dallas and made this a day trip. Check out the Waco tourism guide for ideas on the plentiful hotels in Waco. 
  • Nearby attractions include: Mayborn Museum Complex, Baylor University (check out the bear habitat!), Dr. Pepper Museum, Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum, Magnolia shops and restaurants, and Fabled Bookshop and Cafe (my favorite!) 

Books to Read:

I am a huge fan of Waco’s local indie bookstore, Fabled Bookshop and Cafe. Look on its site to order books about the area! I love this children’s book, Goodnight Waco, by the Junior League of Waco. And I was excited to see a new book about the Waco Mammoth site coming out in 2023 – A History of the Waco Mammoth Site. Be sure to follow Fabled on Instagram – it has great posts! 

For general books about fossils, check out my suggestions below.

All images below are Amazon affiliate links.

Adult/Young Adult:

Middle Grade:

Picture Books:

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