HIDDEN ON THE EDGE OF COLORADO IS ONE OF THE MOST STUNNING DESERT LANDSCAPES IN THE COUNTRY. THIS IN-DEPTH ADVENTURE GUIDE COVERS EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT.
When we decided to spend the month of November exploring the Grand Junction area we knew we had to spend at least one weekend up at the Colorado National Monument - or as Grand Junction-ians call it, "the Monument." And we are so glad we did, because within about the first 5 minutes of driving the famous Rim Rock Drive our draws were just hanging open in surprise and awe at the natural scenery.
The Monument, simply put, is absolutely gorgeous. With its sandstone spires, deep, rugged canyons and amazing views of the surrounding valley (not to mention the Bookcliffs and Mesa), it is totally worth exploring. Plus, the campground is one of the best we have ever stayed at and the visitor center had some of the best exhibits we have ever seen at a national park.
If you are anywhere close to the area we highly suggest taking some time to explore the Monument yourself. Below is our in-depth adventure travel guide on the Colorado National Monument that covers everything you need to know; including, the best time to visit, camping information and the best adventures to be had.
HISTORY OF COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
The area was first explored by John Otto, who settled in Grand Junction in the early 20th century. Prior to Otto's arrival, many area residents believed the canyons to be inaccessible to humans. Otto soon began building trails on the plateau and into the canyons. As word spread about his work, the Chamber of Commerce of Grand Junction sent a delegation to investigate. The delegation would soon be praising both Otto's work and the scenic beauty of the wilderness area. Within no time, the local newspaper began lobbying to make the area a National Park.
A bill was introduced and carried by the local Representatives to the U.S. Congress and Senate, but a Congressional slowdown in the final months threatened the process. To ensure protection of the canyons President Taft (who had visited the area) stepped in and used the highest powers available to him (via the Antiquities Act and presidential proclamation) to declare the canyons as a national monument.
The area was established as Colorado National Monument in 1911. Otto was hired as the first park ranger (where he would draw a salary of $1 per month). For the next 16 years, he continued building and maintaining trails while living in a tent in the park.
Many of the early visitor facilities at the Colorado National Monument were designed by the National Park Service and constructed by the Public Works Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Several of these areas have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of this and in consequence of their adherence to the National Park Service Rustic design standards of the time.
NATIVE AMERICAN HISTORY IN THE MONUMENT
The latest archeological survey of the monument located over 100 Native American sites. The numerous artifacts found at the sites suggest that there has been continual human activity in the region for at least 10,000 years. Evidence found at the sites mostly suggests that shortly after the last ice age, Paleo Indians made their way into the canyons of the Monument. And Clovis and Folsom spear points the people left behind alludes to their nomadic hunting way of life - which mostly consisted of hunting bighorn sheep and small mammals, and collecting a variety of plants for food.
But around 400 A.D. their culture disappeared and a more sedentary way of life began to dominate. The Fremont Indians - groups of farmers that lived throughout the region until around 1250 A.D., left behind corn cobs, hearth deposits, and check dams across small streams in the Monument telling us of their stationary lifestyle.
Although it is not known exactly when they came, the Ute Indians are also known to be longtime residents of the region. Similar to the Archaic Indians, the Utes followed a hunting and gathering subsistence pattern by moving throughout the Grand Valley for food. The Utes were removed from northwest Colorado in 1881 and escorted by the military to the Uintah Ouray reservation in present-day Utah.
THE ULTIMATE ADVENTURE GUIDE TO THE COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT
\\ Colorado National Monument | Fast Facts
NUMBER OF VISITORS (A YEAR)
Just over 375,000 people
COST TO ENTER
$25 per vehicle, $20 per motorcycle, and $15 per hiker/biker; all good for 7 days
Hiking, trail running and climbing
\\ When to Visit the Colorado National Monument
The monument is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The only times you cannot really get around the monument is when the famous Rim Rock Drive (pretty much the only road in the monument) closes due to dangerous road conditions (snow, ice, rockfalls). The visitor center also closes on major holidays.
Below is an outline of what to expect during each season:
| Summer: the weather in the Monument can be quite hot. It is somewhat common for temperatures to reach 100° F / 37° C. Similarly, during the summer season, afternoon thunderstorms are common.
| Fall: once September hits the temperatures start to cool off. This is a great time to visit the Colorado National Monument because the trails are still open, there are fewer people, and the weather is nicer. Plus, beautiful afternoon storms are still somewhat common.
| Winter: the colder temperatures start to set in around November and last up until February. During this time of the year the temperatures can be quite chilly (in the mid-40s / 7° C during the day). It is even colder in the morning and once the sun sets in the evening. Similarly, snow and frost are also possible. If you can stand the cold, you will likely find the Monument all to yourself for this is one of the least visited times of the year.
| Spring: by March the temperatures start to climb and everything begins to bloom. During the day, you can expect the highs to be between 70° and 85° F / 21° and 28°C. This is a great time of year to look for desert wildflowers, wildlife and head out on the numerous hiking trails in the Monument.
\\ How to Get to the Colorado National Monument
The national monument is located right on the edge of Grand Junction, Colorado. There are two entrances into the park: the west side entrance near the town of Fruita, and the east entrance near the town of Redlands. The west entrance is the one closest to the only visitor center in the Monument as well as the Saddlehorn Campground (see more below).
The monument is located just over four hours from both Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah. To reach the monument from Interstate 70, you need to get off in the town of Fruita on Hwy 340 and drive 2.5 miles until you get to Rimrock Drive. You will see a sign and the entrance booth for the Monument right off of Hwy 340. From the entrance station (where you will pay the entrance fee) it is just under 4.5 miles to the visitor center.
\\ The Top Adventures in the Colorado National Monument
There is a nice mix of short and long trails to explore within the Monument. A few good hiking trails to check out are:
DEVILS KITCHEN TRAIL
0.75 miles one-way
This trail follows a gradual ascent to a natural opening formed by huge upright boulders. At the first fork, go right. At the second fork, go left. Follow the trail across the wash. As you proceed up the canyon, you will see the large rock grotto that is the Devils Kitchen.
This historic trail was built by John Otto, the visionary behind the Monument. While today it is more of a trail, in the beginning it was actually a road meant for cars (it was actually nicknamed "the crookedest road in the world," due to it having16 switchbacks). The road traveled from