Colorado National Monument hides in a shadow of popular national parks of the Southwest. Despite its outstanding red rock scenery and convenient location, practically within the city limits of Fruita, Colorado, the park receives only around 400000 visitors per year, versus millions flooding the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Zion, and others. And that of course means more room for you! Being so close to town allows for leisure exploration and comfort. But once you enter the park, you will immediately forget that you are just a stone’s throw away from traffic lights. You will be greeted with magnificent views of the colorful sheer-walled canyons, fascinating rock sculptures, and the distant Colorado River valley. If you want to take it all in, camping at Colorado National Monument is a must. Here is how to visit this one of a kind attraction.
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COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT – VISITOR’S GUIDE
Before my visit to Colorado National Monument, I was already familiar with the big stars of the Southwest like Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion National Park, and the one and only the Wave. For that reason, I did not expect to be impressed, but the park took me by surprise.
The scenery, even though similar to some of the other parks, had its own distinctive vibe. And another striking characteristic? On a beautiful summer day, there was nobody there!
Named after the Colorado River, Colorado Plateau covers an area of 130,000 mi2 within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, and southeast of Nevada. About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries.
Known as Red Rock Country the area bursts with colorful domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges, and slot canyons. With all these stunning features, there is no surprise that the plateau has the greatest concentration of U.S. National Park units in the country.
Colorado National Monument occupies 31-square miles of Western Colorado, close to the border with Utah. It can easily be reached from highway I-70 and can be incorporated with visiting Utah – the best state for nature lovers.
1750 Rim Rock Drive
Fruita, CO 81521
History of Colorado National Monument – One Man’s Dream
John Otto arrived in Grand Junction, Colorado in 1906 to help construct a municipal waterline between Pinon Mesa and Fruita, Colorado. He fell in love with the area and developed a dream of turning it into a national park. Eventually, he devoted his life to achieve his dream.
He lived alone in the canyons and used a pick and shovel to carve out the trails. With the help of photographers and local officials, he spread his enthusiasm all the way to Washington. Ultimately, the Colorado National Monument was established on May 24, 1911.
Best time to visit
You will find summer perhaps too hot for comfort, so if you planning a lot of hiking, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.
How much time you need in Colorado National Monument
I suggest spending one day if you want to get a taste of the monument. Otherwise, you will not run out of things to do even in a week.
Things to do in Colorado National Monument
Located four miles from the Fruita Entrance and near Saddlehorn Campground, Saddlehorn Visitor Center is a good place to start your visit. You will learn there how to visit the park within your time frame. You can also get maps and watch movies about the park.
Take Rim Rock Drive – if you dare!
Colorado National Monument’s Rim Rock Drive ranks among the most spectacular drives in the United States. Redrock canyons, blue skies, and green juniper present outstanding scenery. Warning! The road is challenging, narrow, and steep in some sections with sheer drop-offs.
Stay alert. since motorists and bicyclists share the road too. Almost 23 miles of this can get your heart pumping! There are many overlooks along the way, each of them worth stopping. My favorite was the Grand View Overlooks. The rock formations there are spectacular. This area also provides panoramic vistas of the valley below.
Hiking Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument preserves one of the most unique and grandest landscapes of the American West. Even though it can easily be explored without breaking a sweat, I encourage you to get off the road. You can access most of the short hiking trails from Rim Rock Drive.
You will find great hiking along trails ranging in length from a quarter-mile to more than fourteen miles.
The most popular trails include:
- Monument Canyon Trail – 5 miles round trip from Hwy 340 trailhead to Independence Monument, moderate
- Serpents Trail – 3.5 miles, moderate
- Devils Kitchen Trail – 1.5 miles, easy with rocky terrain
- Canyon Rim Trail – 1-mile roundtrip, easy
- Alcove Nature Trail – 1 mile accessible compacted, crushed granite surface
Numerous backcountry trails await more adventurous visitors. Backcountry camping is permitted. You will need a free backcountry permit available at the visitor center. Water is not available in the backcountry.
You will find bicycling in Colorado National Monument popular and challenging. Most cyclers ride the Rim Rock Drive, but also explore connecting roads outside the monument for a grand loop of 33 miles. For the grand loop, the aggregate climb for a complete trip is 2300 vertical feet!
Off-road mountain biking is not permitted in the monument, but several adjoining areas allow for it.
Additionally, rock climbing gets attention among visitors. The sandstone cliffs and spires of Colorado National Monument attract hundreds of climbers a year. The installation of new permanent hardware is prohibited.
Photographers will love the monument. Everywhere you turn, an amazing scenery catches your attention.
Even though not the greatest for wildlife viewing, the monument gives you a chance to spot animals. The most commonly sighted by visitors are the mule deer, and occasionally coyotes, mountain lions, lizards, and desert bighorn sheep, and grey foxes.
Camping in Colorado National Monument
Saddlehorn Campground located near the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, four miles from the west entrance (near Fruita, CO), is the only established campground within the monument. The campground, nestled within large red rock formations, provides shade under pinyon and juniper trees.
It offers 80 sites year-round. It has restrooms with flush toilets and sinks, drinking water, charcoal grills, and picnic tables. Sites are suitable for tents and recreational vehicles, with some pull-through sites.
For backcountry camping, you will have to obtain a permit at the visitor center.
Camping Near Colorado National Monument
Alternatively, for the best campgrounds near Colorado National Monument look near Fruita and Grand Junction.
Hotels Near Colorado National Monument
Those seeking modern conveniences will find a variety of choices nearby.
Future of Colorado National Monument
Despite its stunning beauty, the monument suffers from a lack of popularity – good for visitors but not good for the economy. This triggered a debate on whether or not the area should be promoted to a national park. Many hope that with the new status, the park will attract more visitors.
Others, on the other hand, argue that statistics from our newest national parks do not support this theory.
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