Fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast

Coastal, Days out, Destinations

Posted by Clare Willcocks on 5th April 2022

Ammonite fossil

The incredible Jurassic Coast stretches from Old Harry Rocks in Dorset’s Isle of Purbeck, tracing a winding path all the way down to Orcombe Point in Devon. Encompassing a variety of equally impressive landscapes, it is a treasure trove of natural history and is England's only World Heritage Site in recognition of its significant scientific value. However, it's especially famous for its Jurassic Coast fossils. 

Budding palaeontologists, and also just folk who enjoyed watching Michael Crichton's novel-turned-film, Jurassic Park, flock to this coast every year to try and find themselves an ancient souvenir from either the Triassic, Jurassic or Cretaceous periods.

If you're wondering where and how to find fossils on the Jurassic Coast, read on. And if you want to find a place to rest your head between fossil hunts, click the button below.

Jurassic Coast cottages


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You don’t have to dig deep to discover a world of intriguing natural history. The rock formations themselves read like a book and allow a rare glimpse into the making of the Earth as it is today. Built up in layers, the rocks have tilted due to the movement of the Earth’s surface, exposing the oldest strata in the west to the youngest in the east.

When an animal dies, its skeleton falls to the seabed and is covered by sediment. That sediment thickens and turns to stone and eventually the skeleton dissolves, leaving an empty mould. Minerals crystallise inside the mould and a cast is made of the former skeleton. In time, the rock surrounding the cast rises to the surface (sometimes due to earthquakes) and as the rock is worn away, the fossil becomes exposed. 

The remains of many animals and plants trapped within the layers are found as fossils along the cliffs and beaches of the Jurassic Coast – and you don’t have to be a scientist to make your own compelling discovery. Plan your fossil hunting holiday on the Jurassic Coast today.

The possibilities are endless, you could unearth a yet-to-be-discovered species of dinosaur along the Dorset or Devon coast. As the cliffs erode over time, new areas of cliff and beach are revealed. The most common sort of fossils is ammonites (as pictured above) and belemnites. They are an extinct species of mollusc related to today's mussels, snails, slugs, cuttlefish, octopus and clams. 

The rock beds in which they are most commonly discovered span the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. You could find many different types of fossils all along the Dorset coast, so are you ready for some Jurassic Coast fossil hunting? Read on to find out where to find fossils on the Jurassic Coast.

With such a long coast supporting Dorset fossil hunting and given the huge expanse of time allowed for fossils to form uninterrupted, it’s no wonder that there have been many types of fossils found on the Jurassic Coast fossil beaches. These include, but are not limited to: 

  • Arthropods 
  • Brachiopods 
  • Crustaceans 
  • Three types of echinoderms (crinoids, sea urchins and starfish) 
  • Fish 
  • Three types of molluscs (bivalves, cephalopods and gastropods) 
  • Eight types of reptiles (including dinosaurs and pterosaurs) 
  • Pseudofossils 
  • Mammals 
  • Wood and plants
Old Harry Rocks chalk stacks in Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Old Harry Rocks

The best Dorset beaches for fossil hunting

Cliffs at Charmouth Beach in Dorset

Charmouth

One of the best places to find fossils on the Jurassic Coast is Charmouth, where there’s a visitor centre and guided fossil hunting walks. Thousands of visitors come hunting for fossils here every year and yet the beach continues to yield a treasure trove of fossils to find. Charmouth is one of those fossil beaches in Dorset that is also is perfect for families: with easy access and broad expanses of sand and rock pools, there’s plenty to keep little hands and minds busy! Why not combine a trip here with a scenic hike? We have found a great one in our guide to the best coastal walks in Dorset.

Charmouth cottages


Cliffs at Seatown Beach in Dorset's Jurassic Coast

Seatown

The scouring tides that come and go at Seatown mean that a whole collection of ammonites can simply be picked up just from walking along the foreshore. Fossils, microfossils and minerals can all be found on the Jurassic Coast and at Seatown all year round, and there is a superb pub perfect for stopping for refreshments.

Seatown cottages


Burton Bradstock Beach - Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Burton Bradstock

Cliff falls occur at Burton Bradstock once every two to three years, and when they do, there are tons of fossils to bring home from the cliffs' rich ammonite beds. Both the scree slopes and the rocks on the foreshore offer a variety of fossils, which include not only ammonites but also shark fins, brachiopods and more.

Burton Bradstock cottages


Fossil Forest in Dorset's Jurassic Coast

The Fossil Forest, Lulworth

Just east of Lulworth Cove, one of the most beautiful beaches in Dorset, is the curious Fossil Forest, offering another glimpse into the Earth’s past. The doughnut-like rock shapes are the preserved remains of a cypress forest, which grew there in a swamp almost 140 million years ago.

During this period, conifers and tree ferns grew here. Later swamped by a lagoon, the trees died and became encased in limestone by sticky mats of algae. These have created fossils known as 'algal burrs' - some of the most unusual fossils you'll find on the entire Jurassic Coast. To help preserve the forest, visitors are not permitted to collect fossils from the Fossil Forest, but these ancient remains are still fascinating to see up close.

Lulworth cottages


Fossil beach in Lyme Regis, Jurassic Coast, Dorset

Lyme Regis - the Jurassic Coast's fossil town

Lyme Regis in Dorset is perhaps the Jurassic Coast town most famous for its fossils. It plays a role in the history of palaeontology and earth sciences, as the first complete ichthyosaur was discovered here in 1811, starting a craze for unearthing prehistoric remains.

Be sure to visit the surrounding beaches for a spot of fossil hunting, where there is a variety waiting to be found. The winter season is the best time to go when there are both gales and high tides. Many fossils are extremely large, meaning they have been left on the beach for others to enjoy - you may spot some of these during your adventure.

Elsewhere in the town, you can also learn about all things fossil related. Lyme Regis boasts its own museum, largely dedicated to fossils, and there are also walking tours of the town revealing its natural history. If you've been unsuccessful in your quest to find a beautiful fossil, you can even buy one to take home from the many fossil shops in the town centre. Look at the lamp-posts and you'll see even they are fossil themed! Plan a fun day trip to go embark on some Lyme Regis fossil hunting. It's one of the best fun things to do in Dorset.

Lyme Regis cottages


Great British Coast


The best Devon beaches for fossil hunting

Hooken cliffs with Hooken Beach underneath

Hooken Beach

This well-known location, also known as Hooken Cliff, is perhaps the best place in Devon to hunt fossils. Regular visitors to the beach know they are likely to find something, even if you never can tell what that something might be. Ammonites, brachiopods, echinoids and fish are amongst the most common finds. Searching boulders on the foreshore is your best bet, and for accessing this beach, park in Branscombe and walk east. You could also combine this spot with a scenic seaside stroll - check out our guide to the best coastal walks in Devon for more information.

Cottages near Hooken


Wooden fishing boats at Beer Head

Beer Head

The chalk at this Devon fossil beach is particularly hard but you may well find bigger rocks at the foreshore. The beach is most fertile with fossils after a cliff fall, so try visiting after a storm or rough seas. If the beach isn’t proving too fruitful on your visit, then try the softer fossil-bearing beds high up on the clifftop. This may even work in your favour as the beach itself can be trickier to access than others in the area. Types of fossils found here include echinoids, ammonites, brachiopods and bivalves.

Cottages near Beer Head


Seaton Beach

Seaton

If you’re looking for variety in your fossil hunting on the Jurassic Coast, head to Seaton. Not to be confused with Seatown to the east, this Devon harbour town holds such diversity in geology that every time you visit, you might find something new. The chalk, lias, upper greensand and Triassic layers of rock make for very prosperous fossil hunting grounds and here bivalves, brachiopods, ammonites and echinoids can all be found. This location along the Devon coast is suitable for children and is easily accessible.

Seaton cottages


Fossil museums on the Jurassic Coast

Ammonite lamp posts in Lyme Regis, Jurassic Coast, Dorset

If you’re interested in finding out more about the geology and natural history of this extraordinary area, there are many museums and heritage centres dotted along the coast. The Lyme Regis Museum, Lulworth Cove Heritage Centre and Sidmouth Museum all exhibit fascinating fossils and bones collected locally, and the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre boasts the most complete dinosaur skeleton ever found in the UK. 

The Lyme Regis Museum runs guided fossil walks to help you learn more about the natural treasures to be discovered on the beach. You can also book Jurassic Coast fossil tours, so keep an eye out at each of the above venues. On these tours, you can learn how to find Jurassic Coast fossils and where to find them too.


Start on your own fossil hunting adventure

Stay nearby so you can embark on a voyage of discovery to the Jurassic Coast and dive headfirst into a world of fascinating natural history. Browse our beautiful Jurassic Coast cottages to find the perfect place to stay while on your fossil hunting holiday, with the scenic coastline of Dorset and Devon on your doorstep.

Jurassic Coast cottages

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information at the time of writing, please ensure you check carefully before making any decisions based on the contents within this article.