Sometimes our favorite national park units aren’t the end destinations but the parks we find on the way. Colorado National Monument (Park #95 of 423) was one of the “bonus” stops we picked up on our road trip from Minnesota to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
What we originally planned as a stop to stretch our legs on a quick hike turned into one of the best stops of the road trip.
Colorado National Monument has a long history in the National Park Service and is well known as having one of the most scenic drives in the NPS.
Our Colorado National Monument Trip Report
Here’s our full trip report:
Where is Colorado National Monument?
Fruita, CO 81521
Colorado National Monument is located near the cities of Grand Junction and Fruita, Colorado adjacent to the Colorado River. The park is not far from I-70 and is a popular road trip destination en route to other parks in the Rocky Mountain Region.
The park has two entrances and a single road connecting the two. The visitor center is located near the west (Grand Junction) entrance.
How To Get There
Driving Westbound on Highway I-70 towards Grand Junction, Exit 31 (Horizon Drive).
Follow signs through the city of Grand Junction to the east entrance – it’s well marked throughout town and hard to miss.
If traveling eastbound on Highway I-70 take Exit 19 (Fruita). Turn south on Highway 340 to the west entrance, which is approximately three miles from Fruita.
The most popular route through Colorado National Monument is to arrive at the West Entrance (via Fruita), stop at the Saddlehorn Visitor’s Center before traveling the length of the scenic drive and then depart back to I-70 via the East (Grand Junction) Entrance.
Why was Colorado National Monument created?
Colorado National Monument is one of the oldest national monuments in the NPS. Established on May 24, 1911, the park protects an area of desert and sheer walled-canyons along the Colorado Plateau. Monument Canyon, the park’s main geologic highlight runs the entire length of the park and can be viewed along Rim Rock Drive, a 23-mile scenic drive considered to be among the best in the American West.
One of the first Euro American settlers to the area, John Otto, brought attention to the scenic area and worked hard to bring a bill to Congress and President William Howard Taft. Taft ultimately used the Antiquities Act to establish the park.
Indigenous Roots at Colorado National Monument
As part of our commitment to a more Diverse NPS, Park Chasers wants to acknowledge that the lands we now enjoy were once the home of many different indigenous communities.
According to “Talking About Sacredness” an Ethnographic Overview of Colorado National Monument authored by Sally McBeth and produced by the National Park Service (nps.gov):
The archeological record in the Monument, sparse as it is, stands as the primary documentation of a Ute presence there. My own research and discussions with historians and anthropologists overwhelmingly conclude that teh Uncompahgre and White River bands (Yamparika, Parianuche, Tabeguache) were the primary historical inhabitants of the Grand Valley. That is not to say that other tribes and the Ute bands did not, on occasion, move through or settle in this area.
To learn more about native communities in the area and how these lands were in some cases stolen from their inhabitants – visit Native Lands.
To learn more about our commitment to greater diversity, inclusion, and access to public lands visit DiverseNPS.
What to See at Colorado National Monument
During our afternoon visit to Colorado National Monument we had a chance to see some of the park’s biggest highlights.
Here’s what you’ll want to add to your list during your visit:
The Visitor's Center
A few minutes into the park’s west entrance you’ll encounter the Saddlehorn Visitor’s Center. This is the only Visitor’s Center in the park and where you’ll stop for maps, ranger-led programs, and passport stamps.
While you’re at the Visitor Center, be sure to hike out the rear entrance to the Canyon Rim Trail. This short easy hike offers some of the best views of the northern part of Monument Canyon.
Rim Rock Drive
Commonly listed as one of the best scenic drives in the entire NPS, the 23 miles of Rim Rock Drive travels the length of Monument Canyon throughout the park. Built mostly by hand in the 1930’s via Civilian Conservation Corps park development, the park road is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Before you depart on the road, stop in the Visitor’s Center to pick up one of the brochures describing all the overlooks and geological milestones on the park road. For a few dollar donation to the local historical society, it’s well worth having as you travel along.
Not far from the Visitor’s Center you’ll find stunning views of Independence Monument. One of the largest and most famous rock formations in the park, Independence Monument stands 450 feet high and is now one of the premier climbing destinations in the area. Depending on your viewpoint and the weather conditions, you may see climbers working their way along one of the 6 established climbing routes up the pillar.
Independence Monument got it’s name from John Otto’s initial ascent of the monument when he displayed the US flag atop the spire. It’s an annual tradition for area climbers to raise the flag on July 4th.
Devils Kitchen Area
While many of the 40+ miles of marked hiking trails within Colorado National Monument are designated backcountry, it’s still possible to stretch your legs and enjoy some day hikes. Some of the short hiking trails can be found near the East Entrance in the Devils Kitchen area.
We recommend the out and back Devils Kitchen trail and the Serpents Trail (known by early settlers as the “crookedest road in the world.”)
Become a Junior Ranger at Colorado National Monument
Traveling with younger visitors? Collect Junior Ranger badges on your #parkchasing visits?
Kids and adults alike can earn a Junior Ranger badge at Colorado National Monument. The book can be picked up at the ranger desk near the Visitor’s Center front entrance or can be downloaded and completed ahead of your visit on the NPS.gov website.
When to Visit Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is open 24 hours per day – 365 days a year. The Saddlehorn Visitor Center is open from 9:00 AM – 4:30 PM daily with extended hours spring to fall.
Like much of the Colorado Plateau, there’s no real “bad” time of year to visit and the park features can change dramatically season to season. Spring and fall feature the best temperatures for hiking, but some of the best chances for wet weather.
During the winter, expect some snow and ice but quieter trails and less heat.
During the summer, daytime temps can rise well above 100 degrees F. If traveling late-June to early-September, pack plenty of water and hike as early or late in the day as possible to avoid the heat.
Other Nearby National Parks
Interested in adding Colorado National Monument to a larger national parks vacation?
Check out our itinerary options for these other parks in the region: