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The Black Ridge trail is the highest trail in the Colorado National Monument and stretches from the visitors’ center to the upper Liberty Cap trail head. The trail head is directly across the road from the visitors’ center and shares the same starting point as the Alcove Nature Trail. The total distance of the trail is 5.5 miles one way. If you’re limited on time or don’t want to hike the entire distance you can go about halfway and hike the Black Ridge trail to the C.C.C Trail and back.
The beginning starts off climbing up a fairly steep but well maintained gravel road. The steep stroll up gives you time to get warmed up for the rest of the hike. Once you reach the top of the first section the trail follows along above the Alcove Nature Trail. After the about the first half mile the trail begins to climb up the next level of the mountain. This part of the trail represents the classic John Otto trail building style of numerous switchbacks. Once you get through the switchbacks and make it to the top of the hill, you immediately come to the NPS boundary fence. There is an opening in the fence and from this point up until about a half mile or so from the C.C.C. trail you are traveling in the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.
The trail climbs up yet another ridge and levels out somewhat for the next mile or so. As you travel across the mesa you can catch glimpses of Monument Canyon and Monument Mesa on your left and McInnis Canyons and Devils Canyon area on your right. An interesting feature you will come to at about the half way point is a narrow ridge that is about eight feet wide and separates two canyons. From this point the trail begins to gradually climb once again.
At around the three mile mark you will come to the NPS boundary fence once again. There is a gate you can go through or a nice ladder you can climb over. As you travel up the hill you can see more and more old signs of history such as old cans, planks and various poles.
At the 3.5 mile mark the C.C.C. trail connects to Black Ridge trail. Turn left and follow the trail for another three quarter mile as it drops down off of the mesa and ends at the Monument Canyon Trail head on RimRock Drive. If you are feeling real ambitious and want to finish the day with a classic hike, you can continue down into Monument Canyon and follow that trail another six miles to the bottom. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling that ambitious so I took a short break and turned around and headed back the way I came.
The climb back up from RimRock Drive was quite long and steep. Once you reach the Black Ridge trail the going is pretty much all downhill from there. Although I was backtracking, the hike back was still interesting because you get to see things from a different angle and I always see new things I missed going out.
Overall the trail is pretty nice. I didn’t see any wildlife and the immediate views was a little lacking, the landscape is fairly bland in this area. The distant views were amazing, there were plenty of places you could look down and see the Grand Valley and across to the Bookcliffs.