Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado, is only 31-square miles — a tiny fraction of the huge Colorado Plateau, which covers more than 500 square miles. Yet this small section packs a mighty punch. It has some of the best redrock expanses, deep canyons and sandstone towers the Southwest has to offer. Best of all, the paved road through the park, and far fewer visitors than neighboring parks Canyonlands and Arches, allows you to pretty much have the place to yourself.
The Rim Rock Drive, a 23-mile route, was created in 1932 and represents one of the most significant Depression-era public projects. The drive alone is worth the visit as the road perches precariously on benches high above deep valleys, dives into mountainsides through tunnels, and winds and twists through redrock wonder. This is a special place; contemplate glorious views, discover solitude in the deep canyons, and if you are very lucky, you’ll spot some of the native inhabitants of the park; desert bighorn and golden eagles. Desert bighorn sheep are considered a separate subspecies from their rocky mountain bighorn cousins. After many generations in a land of little rain, desert bighorns have adapted a special talent for lasting several days without water.
There are many hiking trails in the park as well as 13 backcountry trails that lead deep into the monument. The Monument Canyon Trail is perhaps the most spectacular hike in the park. The trail drops 600-feet from the plateau into Monument Canyon where many of the park’s major rock sculptures are located, including Independence Monument, Kissing Couple, and the Coke Ovens. It’s a round trip of 6 miles but so worth it!
Another popular activity in the park is bicycling. The Rim Rock Drive is 23 miles long, but connects with roads outside the monument to create a grand loop of 33 miles. Be aware that you will climb more than 2,300 vertical feet on the grand loop, primarily due to extremely steep grades just inside both entrances to the park.
Unique July 4th Celebration at the Monument
Climbers flock to Colorado National Monument primarily to climb Independence Monument (check the park rules for climbing regulations). The first to ascend Independence Monument was trail builder and the first caretaker of the monument, John Otto. He completed the climb on July 4, 1911, and hoisted the U.S. flag to celebrate Independence Day. That tradition continues, nearly 100 years later, as 30 or so climbers in the area make the ascent on the morning of July 4 each year.
While there are no lodging or dining facilities in the monument, the nearby towns of Fruita and Grand Junction, Colorado, offer every choice imaginable for both, as well as great shopping. These are also great places to stay to launch other expeditions into the surrounding areas — places like the Grand Mesa, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Blue Mesa Reservoir, Curecanti National Forest, Dinosaur National Monument and much more.
Colorado National Monument
Fruita, CO 81521-0001
Phone: 970-858-3617 ext 360