Colorado National MonumentType: Scenic/History/Wildlife/Picnic/Hiking
Miles: Approx. 30miles (From Grand Junction to the West Entrance)
Access: Passenger Car Friendly
Fee: Yes, $15 per vehicle. Good for 7 days.
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The Colorado National Monument is situated between the towns of Grand Junction and Fruita Colorado. The Monument as it is referred to by the local residents is about 20,500 acres in size which is far from the biggest park in the nation but given its smaller size the area offers many opportunities for hiking, wildlife viewing, picnicking and seclusion.
This post describes the route beginning from the Grand Junction side and following the historic Rim Rock Drive around the canyon rims and exiting at the Fruita side of the park.
To access the “East” entrance from 1st & Grand in Grand Junction Colorado you need to turn west onto Broadway and follow it for about .87 miles until you come to Monument Road. At this point you need to turn left onto Monument road and travel about 3.5 miles until you come to the entrance gate to the Monument. There is a $15 entrance fee for private vehicles which is valid for 7 days or you can purchase a yearly pass for $40.
From the beginning the road begins climbing right away. The first stop you can make is the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area. There is a large area to grill and have a nice picnic with restrooms and tables. The Devils Kitchen Picnic area shelter is on the National Register of Historic Structures. The structure was built by hand by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1941 and was placed on the register to recognize the men that built it.
The Devils Kitchen area is also the starting point for five of the many hiking trails located within the Monument. These trails are Echo Canyon, The Old Gordon Trail, Devils Kitchen, No Thoroughfare Canyon and Serpents Trail.
Continue from here up the twisty road as you pass “Praying Hands” which you will recognize when you see it, through the first of three tunnels, past the upper trailhead to Serpents Trail and finally to Cold Shivers Point.
Cold Shivers Point can make your stomach a bit queasy if you’re afraid of heights. The over look allows you to see down into Columbus Canyon and Red Canyon. With a little exploring you can find many old carvings in the stone dating back to the early 1900’s. But please remember to NOT add your own carving, not only is it vandalism it is also illegal and can carry some serious consequences.
Your next stop is The Red Canyon overlook. This overlook gives you the opportunity to look straight out of Red Canyon at Grand Junction. This canyon is known for its canyon within a canyon which results in what looks like a gun sight pointing towards the valley.
Ute Canyon overlook is the next stop. This stop has a nice really short trail called the Ute Canyon interpretative trail which talks about different plants and wildlife of the area. This overlook gives you the best view of the entire Ute Canyon.
The next overlook is the Fallen Rock View. This view talks about and points out the large slab of rock that just slid straight down and discusses the significance of it. This overlook also provides a nice view of the Ute Canyon trail as is zigzags down into the canyon.
Upper Ute Canyon View is next which allows views of the upper portion and the head of Ute Canyon.
From the Upper Ute Canyon view the road climbs and dips as it passes through pinions and junipers and around sandstone outcroppings and washes. This is probably the longest stretch of the road that does not have any official pull offs.
After a short time you will pass the Glade Park turn off on your left and just after that will be the Upper Liberty Cap trail head on your right and across the road is the upper Black Ridge trail head.
Distant View overlook will be the next pull off which offers some great views of the valley and Monument Mesa across the canyon.
Following Distant View is Artist Point which gives you the opportunity to look down into the upper reaches of Monument Canyon and also offers great views of the Coke Ovens.
The Upper Monument Canyon trail head is the next stop. This stop offers great views of the other side of the Coke Ovens and also is the trail head to Monument Canyon and the Coke Ovens trail. If you have time it is a nice 1 mile round trip hike to the Coke Ovens overlook which shouldn’t be missed. It only took me about 20min to get there and back but I was clipping along pretty fast. The CCC Trail Head which connects to the Black Ridge trail is located directly across the road.
The Coke Ovens overlook comes up next which supplies some different views of the Coke Ovens and Monument Canyon.
Next are the Grand View and ½ Tunnel pull offs. The Half Tunnel pull off discusses the building of a section of Rim Rock Drive that back in 1933 took the lives of nine local men when the cliff above the construction collapsed.
Independence Monument overlook is the next stop. This stop offers the iconic view of Independence Monument that is so much the staple of the Fruita and Grand Junction community. This stop also talks about how John Otto began the tradition of climbing the monolith and how he carved footholds into the rock to assist climbing. You can still see the footholds from this viewpoint.
Ottos Trail is just down the road and includes an easy .5 mile walk to great views of Independence Monument and Monument Canyon below.
The visitors’ center is the next stop. They are open 9am-5pm during the summer and access to free with the park pass. The center offers a nice souvenir shop and a newly remodeled museum complete with a short movie about the Monument. The Canyon Rim Trail begins or ends right at the back door of the center.
Across from the visitors center is the Alcove Nature Trail which unfortunately during my visit was closed for remodel. It was a great little learning trail the last time I was on it. This is also the lower trail head for the Black Ridge trail as well.
After the visitors center is the Saddle Horn campground. There are about 80 campsites with the majority of them being on a 1st come 1st served basis. There is a section that allows reservations. Campsites are $20 a night. There are some really nice picnic only areas around the campground also. The Canyon Rim trail also begins or ends here too. You can also sit under the Book Cliffs Shelter which offers fabulous views of Wedding Canyon, Monument Canyon, the Book Cliffs and the Grand Valley.
Leaving the Saddle Horn campground will find your next stop at the Fruita Canyon overlook. This is a neat place to look into Fruita Canyon and see the road you will be going down and also see Balanced Rock from a higher view.
Distant View is the next small pull off that offers some nice views of the valley as well as a great view of the Grand Mesa.
Historic Trail is just down the road and at the beginning of the pronounced descent into Fruita Canyon. The Historic Trail overlook talks about the Fruita Dugway across the canyon which was used by ranchers to herd their cattle up the Monument and onto Glade Park.
After passing through the last two tunnels you come to Balance Rock. This is of course a huge boulder balanced upon a small pedestal. It also talks about the local geology of the area. The Fruita Canyon area also offers great opportunities to spot bighorn sheep which often time graze just a few feet from the road.
The last stop is the Redlands View. This stop talks about the Redlands Fault that runs along the face of the Monument. From here it’s a short descent down the rest of the way and out the “West” entrance.
At the stop sign you can either turn left and visit the Dinosaur Journey Museum or explore the surrounding area around Fruita or turn right and follow Broadway through Redlands Mesa and back into Grand Junction.
The Colorado National Monument is a fantastic place to spend either a day or days and camp, hike and explore all it has to offer.