Colorado National Monument is a 32 sq mile area of the Colorado Plateau cut by sheer-walled redrock canyons. The area was explored by Grand Junction resident John Otto who lobbied hard to make it a national park. He also singlehandedly built many of its trails and became the park's first ranger. The center piece of the park is Monument Canyon, which contains several impressive sandstone monoliths. The monument is oriented in a southeast to northwest direction, with Rimrock Drive running its entire length. The park has east and west entrances, both of which are accessed from CO State Hwy 340. This tour starts at the west entrance and ends at the east entrance, with several stops in between.
From the west entrance Rimrock Drive twists and turns around Fruita Canyon and through two short tunnels before reaching the Visitor Center and Saddlehorn Campground. There are several short hikes that can be taken right from the visitor center or campground: Window Rock Trail - easy 1/2 mile loop, Canyon Rim Trail - easy 1 mile out and back, Alcove Nature Trail - easy 1 mile out and back, and Otto's Trail - easy 1 mile out and back. I like Window Rock and Otto's trails.
Monument Canyon is the largest and most scenic canyon in the monument. Much of the canyon can be viewed from overlooks along Rimrock Drive, including Grand View, Monument Canyon View, Coke Ovens Overlook, and Artists Point. In my opinion, the best way to experience Colorado National Monument is by hiking Monument Canyon Trail. The trail is 6 miles one way with a change in elevation of about 1400 feet. It's rated as moderate, and has trailheads at each end, one off of Rimrock Drive and the other accessed from CO State Hwy 340. The trail passes the Coke Ovens, Kissing Couple, and Independence Monument. Independence Monument is the largest monolith in the park and a favorite of technical rock climbers.
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