A Guide to Colorado National Monument
A Guide to Colorado National Monument was originally published in 2024
Colorado National Monument is home to an array of breathtaking landscapes, giving views of some of Colorado’s greatest natural grandeur. At the heart of Colorado National Monument is the famed Rim Rock Drive, a winding 23-mile paved road that welcomes in adventurers from Fruita in the west to Grand Junction in the east.
I was sent out to Grand Junction in January 2024 for work and decided to use my time on the weekends to discover the best things to do in and around Grand Junction, including the Grand Mesa and the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, the vineyards of the Palisades, and multiple trips into Colorado National Monument.
Traversing high canyon rims, where every twist and turn reveals new vistas of awe-inspiring beauty in Colorado National Monument. From towering cliffs to rugged canyons, Rim Rock Drive is a gateway to a world of jaw-dropping scenery, abundant wildlife, and epic hiking trails.
With over a dozen hiking trailheads scattered along the Rim Rock Drive route, adventurers can easily immerse themselves in the untamed wilderness of Colorado National Monument. Whether you seek a leisurely stroll or a heart-pounding trek, each trail offers a unique perspective on this iconic landscape.
Rim Rock Drive is your gateway to Colorado National Monument, stringing together an array of scenic overlooks and hiking trails. In this guide to Colorado National Monument, find everything you need to plan your adventure.
Looking for other adventures in Colorado? Check out the Paint Mines near Colorado Springs
Colorado National Monument Quick Info
- There is an entry fee for Colorado National Monument of $25 per vehicle. If you have a national parks annual pass, Colorado National Monument is included on it.
- Dogs are not allowed on the hiking trails in Colorado National Monument.
- There is only one campground in Colorado National Monument at the Saddlehorn Campground, near the visitor center.
- Check the forecast before visiting Colorado National Monument. Flash floods do happen and can pose a huge risk.
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Looking for a great hike in Colorado? Check out Crater Lake Hike near Granby
Scenic Stops in Colorado National Monument
An adventure through Colorado National Monument isn’t just about driving and hiking—it’s about soaking in every breathtaking moment along the way.
Picture this: winding roads, stunning vistas, and the promise of whimsical encounters with nature at every turn.
Now, let’s talk about the main event: the scenic viewpoints. These aren’t your average roadside attractions—they’re portals to another realm. From quirky rock formations to majestic canyons, each viewpoint has a story to tell and views rivaling the Grand Canyon to steal your breath away.
So, buckle up, buckaroos, I’ve mapped out every single scenic stop along Rim Rock Drive, from east to west. Get ready to absorb sights, snap some postcard-perfect photos, and make memories that’ll last a lifetime. Welcome to Colorado National Monument.
For Those on the Fast Track
If you’re racing against the clock but still craving those awe-inspiring vistas Colorado National Monument has to offer, I’ve got your back with some top-notch recommendations.
Quick stops to hit along Rim Rock Drive include Balanced Rock Overlook, Fruita Canyon Overlook, Independence Monument View, Grand View Overlook, Coke Ovens Overlook, Fall Rock Overlook, Ute Canyon Overlook View, and Cold Shivers Point—these are the cream of the crop, the gems you won’t want to miss.
Balanced Rock View
Make sure to hit the brakes and take a closer look at this colossal 600-ton Wingate sandstone rock, perched on the edge of Rim Rock Drive. It’s a sight that defies gravity, balancing on its narrow pedestal with an air of precariousness. Who knows, maybe one day it’ll succumb to erosion and take a tumble, but for now, it stands as one of Colorado National Monument’s most captivating geological wonders.
Keep your eyes peeled because this spot is also a prime location for spotting majestic desert bighorn sheep, adding an extra layer of excitement to your visit.
So, pull over, soak in the awe-inspiring view, and who knows, you might just catch a glimpse of these iconic creatures in their natural habitat. It’s a stop you won’t want to miss!
Historic Trails View
Perched above the breathtaking Grand Valley and the winding Colorado River, the Historic Trails Overlook is a captivating stop that offers more than just stunning views. Dive into the past and uncover the intriguing story of the Fruita Dugway, a historic trail dating back to 1907.
Pause and explore as an interpretative board unveils the tales of early ranchers who utilized this very trail to shepherd their cattle up the monument. It’s a glimpse into a bygone era, where rugged trails and untamed landscapes shaped the history of this remarkable region.
Grand Valley Overlook & Distant View
This little pull-off offers sweeping vistas of Grand Valley stretching into the distance as far as you can see. It’s a sneak peek into the grandeur of the canyon and the awe-inspiring journey that lies ahead on Rim Rock Drive.
Fruita Canyon View
Fruita Canyon View is one of the most captivating vistas within Colorado National Monument, with a panoramic view of Rim Rock Road snaking its way through Fruita Canyon below. From here, you can trace the engineering feat’s path as it winds and curls its way up to where you stand at the majestic Fruita Canyon Viewpoint.
Saddlehorn Picnic Area and Campground
Saddlehorn Picnic Area is the perfect stop for a picnic lunch while soaking in the breathtaking vistas of the Colorado National Monument.
Saddlehorn Campground is Colorado National Monument’s sole established campground, offering 80 sites for those looking to spend a bit more time in the park.
Colorado National Monument Visitor Center
Colorado National Monument’s Visitor Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), features interactive displays, an auditorium, audio guides, a bookstore, a gift shop, and toilets.
It’s from here at the Colorado National Monument Visitor Center where you can embark on the Canyon Rim Trail. Just across Rim Rock Drive from the visitor center is the trailhead to the Alcove Nature Trail.
Independence Monument View
Christened by the pioneering spirit of John Otto, as Colorado National Monument’s crown jewel of grandeur, Independence Monument is a must-see along Rim Rock Drive. Otto, the park’s inaugural advocate and ranger, immortalized this soaring monolith, bestowing upon it a name that echoes the spirit of freedom.
Each year on the 4th of July, climbers ascend the Independence Monument to place an American flag, just as Otto did years ago.
Overlooking Monument Canyon, Independence Monument, and the sprawling Grand Valley, this vista at Grand View promises an unparalleled panorama of Colorado National Monument’s grandeur.
Accessible via a brief stroll along a dirt path from the parking area, Grand View stands sentinel atop cliffs, commanding a breathtaking 300-foot vantage point over Monument Canyon.
Aptly named, it offers an expansive canvas for photography enthusiasts, especially during the magical moments of sunrise, sunset, and the golden hour.
Grand View is a great spot for viewing peregrine falcons and other birds as they nest and hunt in the area.
Monument Canyon View Overlook
Monument Canyon View Overlook is a great vantage point, where one can marvel at the intricate twists and turns of the Monument Canyon Trail as it weaves its way across the canyon floor, enticing exploration.
While the view here offers a fresh perspective of the canyon’s rugged beauty, you may find similarities to previous stops along Rim Rock Drive.
Coke Ovens Overlook
The Coke Ovens View Overlook features unique rock formations that emulate beehives, sculpted over time by the forces of erosion. These geological wonders, known as the “ovens,” derive their name from their uncanny resemblance to ovens used in coal production.
For those seeking a brief adventure, the Coke Ovens Trail will give a closer encounter with these peculiar formations.
Artist’s Point View
Artist’s Point View gained its name from its kaleidoscope of colorful rock, that gained their hues over a millennia here in Colorado National Monument.
One key feature here at Artist’s Point View is the striking contrasts of red and black that define the Morrison Formation, painting a vivid tableau against the backdrop of the majestic canyon.
Highlands View is the highest point in Colorado National Monument offering monumental views over Monument Canyon, Book Cliffs, and Roan Cliffs.
Upper Ute Canyon View
Ute Canyon is named in honor of the Ute tribe, owing to the fact that the area Colorado National Monument sits within the American Ute Tribe’s homelands. The Upper Ute Canyon View offers steep views.
Fallen Rock Overlook
Fallen Rock Overlook is one of the more unusual sights that Colorado National Monument features. The overlook gains its name from the fact that a chunk of cliff broke off and is just sitting there sloughed off.
Ute Canyon Overlook View
Hailed by many as one of the most spectacular vistas in Colorado National Monument, the Ute Canyon Overlook View is a must-see along Rim Rock Drive.
Two rock arches are etched into the rugged façade of the Wingate sandstone cliff of Ute Canyon.
Red Canyon Overlook
Red Canyon is a geological unique wonder formed by two distinct canyons harmoniously intertwined in a grand U-shaped canyon. Red Canyon is referred to as a hanging canyon, created from the dramatic uplift of the Colorado Plateau.
Cold Shivers Point Overlook
Overlooking Columbus Canyon, Cold Shivers Point Overlook sits at the precipice of a 300-foot cliff, offering dramatic views.
Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area & Trailhead
The Devil’s Kitchen is a natural amphitheater sculpted by millennia of erosion and geological processes, resulting in a labyrinth of towering sandstone and precarious rock formations.
For those who don’t have time to take on the scattering of hikes that begin from the picnic area, you can get a lovely vantage of the surrounding area from here.
The Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area is the start of the following hikes: Devil’s Kitchen Trail, No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail, and Old Gordon Trail.
Across Rim Rock Road is additional parking as the lot for Devil’s Kitchen is quite small, and serves as a trailhead for the Serpant’s Trail.
Hikes in Colorado National Monument
0.5 miles roundtrip | 15 minutes
Colorado National Monument and its surroundings are home to the second-highest concentration of rock arches in the world after Arches National Park just across the border in Utah.
This short hike begins from Saddlehorn Campground and will give you grand views of the aptly named Window Rock.
Canyon Rim Trail
1 mile roundtrip | 30 minutes
Beginning from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, the Canyon Rim Trail is a short and sweet walk offering exceptional views of Wedding Canyon.
Alcove Nature Trail
1 mile roundtrip | 30 minutes
Walk across Rim Rock Drive from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, to find the Alcove Nature Trail. The path is pretty easy and brings you to a box canyon alcove.
1 mile roundtrip | 30 minutes
If you’re looking for a hike that packs in a variety of landscapes in Colorado National Monument in a short distance, opt for the Otto’s Trail Hike. Along this one-mile trek, lay eyes on Independence Monument, Praying Hands, Pipe Organ, and Sentinel Spire.
Coke Ovens Trail
1 mile roundtrip | 30 minutes
The Coke Ovens Trail, overlooking the famed funky beehive rock formations is a fan favorite in Colorado National Monument.
1.5 mile roundtrip | 45 minutes
The CCC trail was built by and named after the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC Trail is a nice challenge, being mostly uphill for 0.75 miles. For those wanting to take on something a bit longer, the CCC Trail also connects to the Black Ridge Trail.
Devils Kitchen Trail
1.5 mile roundtrip | 45 minutes
A favorite hike in Colorado National Monument is the Devil’s Kitchen. The trailhead begins from the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic area on the east end of Rim Rock Drive. The hike culminates at a pod of cool red rock spires.
Old Gordon Trail
8 miles roundtrip | 4 hours
Gradual and steady, Old Gordon Trail climbs along an old lumber and cattle road. The Old Gordon Trail begins from the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area.
3.5 miles roundtrip | 2 hours
The Serpents Trail is a popular hike in Colorado National Monument but originally was a footpath built by none other than John Otto that was later developed into a road.
The Trailhead for Serpents Trail begins just across Rim Rock Drive from the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic area.
Backcountry Hiking Trails on Rim Rock Drive
Black Ridge Trail
11 miles roundtrip | 4 hours 30 minutes
Starting at an elevation of 5,790 feet above sea level, Black Ridge Trail is Colorado National Monument’s highest hiking trail. At its highest point, the Black Ridge Trail reaches 6,730 feet at its highest point.
The vantage point at the top is jawdropping, offering views all the way into Utah in the west and Colorado’s San Juan Mountains in the south.
Monument Canyon Trail
12 miles roundtrip | 5 hours
Monument Canyon Trail is a steep hike in Colorado National Monument, descending from Rim Rock Drive down to the floor of Monument Canyon.
The trail passes some of Colorado National Monument’s most iconic features including the Independence Monument, the Kissing Couple, and the Coke Ovens.
Liberty Cap Trail
14 miles roundtrip | 6 hours
The Liberty Cap Trail is fairly challenging owing to a steep two-mile uphill from the floor of the Grand Valley floor at 4,800 feet to the top of Liberty Cap at 6,550 feet.
Ute Canyon Trail
14 miles roundtrip | 5 hours
Another steep trail in Colorado National Monument, the Ute Canyon Trail descends into Ute Canyon along a rough trail.
No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail
17 miles roundtrip | 9 hours
If you’re looking for a full-day challenge, the No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail is a perfect fit. The No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail is a true backcountry hike in Colorado National Monument and unmaintained after you reach the second waterfall.
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