Just because you're not a professional paleontologist doesn't mean you can't help professional paleontologists on a real dinosaur dig. In recent years, a number of programs have started allowing allow non-paleontologists to assist in professional fossil excavations, usually for a fee. If you hadn't come up with a summer vacation idea yet, one of these might be for you.
The work is very hard, and dirty, and usually very hot too. But you get to help unearth scientifically valuable fossils, helping out scientists, museums and/or universities in the process. And with all that physical labor under the hot summer sun, you might be in better shape afterward, too.*
What follows is a list of public digs in the US and Canada, by province/state. I have also tried to only include programs where the fossils you uncover remain in the public trust, i.e. are given to museums, universities, etc.
Dinosaur Provincial Park offers 1, 2, and 3 day dinosaur digs for participants ages 14 and up. Includes lodging (for multi-day digs). Cost depends on package, from $165-700.
The Museum of Western Colorado offers one-day digs at the Mygatt-Moore quarry, where for $135 per person, you assist in removing dinosaur bones and teeth from the "Jurassic Gladiator Pit". Includes lunch.
If you want dinosaurs in Florida, you're probably out of luck. But you can still hunt for Cenozoic mammal fossils with the Florida Museum of Natural History. 2014 digs were over in April, but you could probably get an early start on signing up for the 2015 dig season.
The Canadian Fossil Discovery Center offers everything from 1/2 day to 5 day excavations, ranging in price from $50 - $525. As this area was under the Western Interior Seaway during the Late Cretaceous, you're not excavating dinosaurs, but rather mosasaurs and other marine fossils.
The Great Plains Dinosaur Museum has two options: for kids aged 5-13, the Junior Paleo Field Experience gives them 3 hours in the field at a dinosaur dig site ($100 covers the child and their accompanying adult). For anyone aged 11 or older, the Adult Field Program lets you spend days in the field, with the 2014 expeditions returning to some unusual fossil material turned up last year. $200/day, or $170/day if you stay 3 days or more.
The Judith River Dinosaur Institute is likely full for 2014 (they were 95% full by April 1), but you can still sign up for a July or August 2015 spot. $1,695 for a week excavating in Montana, which includes food and gear but you bring your own tents and share the cost of transportation. This year's dig teams will be digging up stegosaurs and a (possibly new species of) mid-sized sauropod.
PaleoTrek works in Montana in cooperation with two Missouri science organizations. This year's teams will be finishing excavation of a Triceratops skull, prospecting, and working another known bonebed. $50 per day (2 day minimum) gets you transportation and food, but you're on your own for lodging.
The similarly-named PaleoWorld Research Foundation has ongoing digs all of June and July, 7 days a week, 8:30-4. $160/day ($80/day for those under 15). Lodging/meals available, but extra.
Mesalands Community College offers summer field courses worth 4 college credits! $650 buys you a week of in the field, prospecting, documenting, and excavating 200 million year old Late Triassic fossils. Lab work is done in the hot afternoons, and the course wraps up with a barbecue at the end of the week.
The Marmath Research Society operates in the Hell Creek formation of North Dakota (and a little bit into Montana). In 2014 they are digging for 5 weeks . . . minimum participation is 1 week at $1000 per person. Your second week is $900, each additional week is another $850, with discounts for high school teachers and students. Fee includes meals, lodging, transportation, and tools.
The North Dakota Geological Survey has five public digs scheduled this year, ranging from mammal fossils to marine reptiles to dinosaurs to crocodiles. Excursions range in cost from free (mammals, public responsible for own transportation, lodging and food on daily excursions) to $1000 for the week-long dinosaur dig.
The Arlington Archosaur Site is a rich fossil bed containing an entire coastal plain ecosystem: numerous dinosaurs, nesting crocodiles, turtles, and fish. Expeditions are open to any and all volunteers, but the schedule appears somewhat informal. Join their Facebook group to contact them about upcoming digs.
Casper College is collecting a sauropod in June and a hadrosaur in September, both for their geological museum collection. $800 per person for six days, includes all lodging and transportation and most food.
GeoWorld Travel is offering a 10-day intensive dig for the very American price of £1995, from 18 to 27 August 2014. Includes all food, equipment and training, but you bring your own tent.
The Wyoming Dinosaur Center's "Dig-for-a-Day" program, from late spring to early fall, lets you spend a full day (8:30 - 5) traveling to and working in the field (usually on sauropod bones). $150 per adult and $80 per child.
*Field paleontology is not approved by the FDA for use in weight loss, and has not been demonstrated to be an effective weight loss program.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.