Colorado National Monument Visitor’s Guide: Activities, Best Time to Go, and Other Tips
The Colorado National Monument is one of the most popular and scenic tourist destinations in Colorado. Endless canyons, breathtaking rock formations, and an abundance of animal and plant life arguably rival the better-known Grand Canyon. Trust us: you won’t want to miss this landmark.
To help you plan a trip to the Colorado National Monument, we’ve put together this visitor’s guide. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the National Monument before you pack up your vehicle and head on out.
The Colorado National Monument’s History
A self-professed trail builder, John Otto discovered the Colorado National Monument in 1906. He felt like the canyons in the National Monument were the heart of the world and swore to protect and promote the area. And just five years later, all his hard work paid off when the area was designated the Colorado National Monument.
Otto then remained the Monument’s first custodian for 18 years before leaving the post in 1929.
The canyons throughout the National Monument came about millions of years ago. After the oceans that covered the Colorado Plateau receded and the rocks that were left behind eroded, the area turned into the canyon we now know today.
Fun fact: The Colorado National Monument got its name from the Colorado River and not the state it calls home.
Getting to the Colorado National Monument
The Colorado National Monument in Colorado sits near the city of Grand Junction. Luckily, getting to the national park is relatively straightforward as there are numerous entryways just a short drive from the city.
Five miles west of Grand Junction is the eastern entrance, which you can access from Monument Road. Although this is the closest entryway from the city, the best way to explore the National Monument Canyon is by entering through the west entrance.
To get to the west entrance, take Highway I-70 to Fruita, then turn south on Highway 340, and, eventually, exit onto Rimrock Drive; you’ll find the west entrance a short while later.
Things to Do in the Colorado National Monument
The Monument is a haven for outdoorsy people, as countless trails, viewpoints, and wildlife are just waiting to be discovered and explored. Below, we’ve listed some of the most exciting things you can do during your visit.
Drive Down Rim Rock Drive
Rim Rock Drive is a 23-mile stretch of road running through the National Park. The road winds from the city of Fruita through to Grand Junction, and many consider it to be one of the most scenic driving routes in the United States.
Be warned: In some places, Rim Rock Drive is incredibly narrow, challenging, and steep.
For your safety, stick to the 25 mph speed limit while driving down the Rim Rock Drive. We suggest taking it easy and enjoying the views!
Visit Some of the Viewpoints
Let’s be honest; if you’re visiting the canyon, you’re more than likely there for the views. Here are some of the best viewpoints throughout the entire canyon.
- Book Cliff View is best combined with the Window Rock Trail, which is a relaxed, 10-minute walk.
- Coke Ovens Overlook offers views of some interesting cone-shaped rocks.
- Cold Shivers Point is near the park’s east entrance and overlooks Columbus Canyon. If you’re brave enough, you can even sit on a cliff 300 feet above the ground.
- Grand View is one of the Monument’s most scenic lookouts, offering its visitors panoramic views of the Independence Monument.
- Fruita Canyon View is spectacular in both the morning and mid-afternoon, with views of Fruita and the red rock canyons.
- Independence Monument View is most impressive in the afternoon when the light illuminates the huge monolith.
- Monument Canyon View makes the best stop if you have limited time in the National Park. We’d urge you to visit during the early morning or late afternoon for the best sightings of the spires.
National Parks are full of wildlife, and the Colorado Monument is no exception. Rim Rock Drive is a particularly popular sighting area for mule deer, bighorn sheep, lizards, and coyotes.
Go for a Hike
You can find some of the viewpoints we mentioned earlier along the National Monument’s many hiking trails. Here are a few of the most popular trails you should consider hiking:
- Alcove Nature Trail is roughly 0.5 miles long each way and is an easy hike for families with small kids in tow. The starting point is directly across from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, so it’s very hard to miss.
- Canyon Rim Trail offers spectacular views of the sheer-walled canyons as the trail runs along the edge of a cliff. Many people who are on a time crunch hike this trail as it takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete starting behind the visitor center and finishing at Book Cliffs View.
- CCC Trail is a slightly more moderate hike and is 0.75 miles one-way, taking hikers around an hour to complete. However, to reach the trail, it’s best to start from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, turn left onto Rim Rock Drive, and drive for 3.8 miles. The trailhead is on the right and is signposted with a bulletin board.
- Coke Ovens Trail gradually descends to give you amazing views of the rounded Coke Ovens pillars, which showcase erosion and weathering on their Wingate Sandstone faces. The trailhead is opposite the CCC trailhead on the lefthand side of Rim Rock Drive.
- Devil’s Kitchen Trail is 0.75 miles one way and has limited spots in its parking area. We recommended parking at the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area instead.
- Monument Canyon Trail is one of the more challenging hikes in the National Monument. The hike, on average, takes just over 5 hours to complete and is over 11 miles long.
- No Thoroughfare Canyon takes roughly 2.5 hours to hike and is another one of the more challenging routes in the park.
- Otto’s trail has gently sloping trails that take you through woodlands to witness the many rock formations throughout the canyons.
- Serpents Trail won the name “the crookedest road in the world” as it has 16 switchbacks throughout its length. This trail is steep and is 1.75 miles one way; you can find the trail near the eastern entrance.
- Ute Canyon is another long trail that’ll take you up most of five hours to complete. People consider the trail to be moderately challenging, but it is a great trail if you wish to encounter numerous bird species.
- Window Rock Trail is a short and easy trail that you can complete in 30 minutes both ways. While hiking the trail you’ll have fantastic views of Monument and Wedding Canyon, as well as all of their beautiful rock formations.
Partake in Other Outdoor Activities
Activities such as rock climbing, cycling, and horseback riding have also become popular throughout the National Monument.
The sandstone cliffs attract hundreds of climbers each year, and although the park prohibits permanent climbing hardware, climbers can revert back to traditional climbing methods.
On the other hand, cyclists who are up for a challenge can attempt the Rim Rock Drive cycle. It’s the same journey you would drive, just much more physical. If you’d like to attempt the Rim Rock Drive cycle, remember to obey all traffic laws and stock up on water before heading off.
How Much Is the Entry Fee to the Colorado National Monument?
To keep the park running at its best, the Colorado National Monument charges an entrance fee to all guests visiting the park. Park management uses this money to maintain and preserve the park for future generations.
- Private vehicles – $25
- Motorcycles – $20
- Hikers or cyclists – $15
When Is the Best Time to Visit the Colorado National Monument?
Many people agree that spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the National Monument.
As the climate in the area is semi-arid, the summers get extremely hot, with highs of up to 90º Fahrenheit. And, come winter, you can expect to contend with temperatures that occasionally dip below freezing.
No matter what time of the year you visit, however, pack plenty of water and dress appropriately.
The park itself is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and the visitor center is typically open from 9 am to 5 pm.
How Much Time Do You Need at the Colorado National Monument?
Any amount of time in the National Monument would be time well spent. But, if you only have a short amount of time to explore the canyon, it’s totally possible to have an amazing and unforgettable experience in as little as 2 or 3 hours.
With that being said, however, if you have the time, then you could easily fill one or two days with many incredible hikes throughout the canyon.
Colorado National Monument: Our Final Thoughts
Whether you’re heading to the Colorado National Monument for a few hours or several days, there are endless amounts of trails, viewpoints, and natural arches to encounter.
As we wrap up our article on the National Monument, we are interested to know if you’ve ever explored the canyons?
If you’ve answered yes, do you have a favorite hiking trail or lookout point? Let us know in the comment section down below!