We had such a wonderful time during our stay in Colorado. We visited Denver, Colorado Springs, Aspen, and Rocky Mountain National Park, along with a few other stops along the way. One of our last hurrahs before leaving the state was to go to the Colorado National Monument, another spectacular spot that we highly recommend.
Whether you take a scenic drive along Rim Rock Drive, hike one of the many trails, or traveling into backcountry for a little solitude and reflection, Colorado National Monument is a great place to visit and is on the way out to Utah so it was the perfect last stop in this state!
About Colorado National Monument
Established in 1911 as the 17th national park, and the second monument in the state, Colorado National Monument is a 32-square mile park located in what is known as the high desert. It is an awe-inspiring landscape, with its high plateaus, wide canyons and rocky monoliths. To add to the drama, there are rocks that have been dated to 1.7 billion (with a B) years ago!
The park itself really began to take shape in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began work on additional roads, tunnels, and the first visitor center. Shortly thereafter the Works Project Administration (WPA) took over with infrastructure construction, including a water delivery system, additional roads, and fences for the local bison herds. After WWII, work on the park resumed and Rim Rock Drive was finally completed, hiking trails blazed and additional buildings were constructed.
Today you can traverse much of the 20,500 acres via 46 hiking trails, Rim Rock Drive, and various other roadways.
How to Get to Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is located in the western part of the state, not far from the Utah border. The closest big city is Grand Junction, Colorado.
Airplane: Six major U.S. airlines service the Grand Junction Regional Airport, which is about 20 miles from the entrance to the park.
Train: Amtrak has daily service from Denver.
Car: Heading west on Highway I-70, the east entrance is outside Grand Junction, while the visitor center and campground are another 19 miles inside the park. If you are coming from the east, you’ll take Highway 340 outside Fruita, Colorado, and travel to the west entrance. The visitor center and campground are another 4 miles inside the park.
Exploring Colorado National Monument
There are a variety of activities available to visitors to the Colorado National Monument, from hiking and climbing to educational programs. Like all national parks, there is a fee for entry. You can purchase an annual park pass for $40 at the entrance, which covers two pass holders and any passengers in their vehicle. The pass is good for one year from issuance.
Saddlehorn Visitor Center
Your best bet is to start at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, which is open 364 days a year. Here you can get a lay of the land, find out road conditions, obtain maps, plan a hike, and take advantage of educational programs.
Rim Rock Drive
To see the sheer grandeur of the park, Red Rock Drive is a must-do activity. It winds from the east entrance to the west entrance and will allow you to see the many canyons, plateaus, and geologic wonders that Colorado National Monument has to offer.
This is what Peter and I opted to do. The drive is amazing! You’ll really get a feel for the grandness of it and there are plenty of places to pull over to capture some photos.
It’s a 23-mile journey, traversed at a maximum of 25 mph, but honestly, you do not want to go any faster or you’ll miss some of the grandest scenery in this part of the country. The roads can be narrow and steep, certainly not for those who have vertigo or get carsick. That being said, there are 19 pullouts and overlooks, so you can take a whole day to make the trip, driving short distances between each and getting out for a photo op, a bite to eat, and a breath of fresh air.
You’ll also go through three tunnels (headlights recommended). These tunnels are carved out the rocky hillsides.
Note: Rim Rock Drive is a popular road for cyclists, so motor vehicles do have to share the road and be very cautious.
Colorado National Monument Hiking
There is no lack of possibilities when it comes to the hiking trails. There are 46 of them winding through various canyons and woodlands, or along cliffs. The short trails range from a half-mile to 3 miles round trip, some of which are level and easy, others which are steep and more difficult. The longest of these is the Serpent’s Trail, which as 16 switchbacks!
There are also backcountry hiking trails that run 11-miles round trip and up. These are for the more adventurous and all are rated moderate to steep, some ascending as much as 2 miles. These trails are often more primitive, so make sure you bring your map and compass!
Note: Pets are not allowed on hiking trails or in backcountry.
Rock Climbing in Colorado National Monument
As you can imagine with a topography of cliffs and plateaus, Colorado National Monument is a climber’s heaven. We did not endeavor to do any rock climbing, as it was winter, but we can see how the sandstone cliffs and spires would attract climbers.
We did notice that there are some stringent climbing regulations in place, as to where you can climb and the equipment you can and cannot use. So make sure to check the website before going.
Colorado National Monument Camping
Unfortunately for us, winter is not the ideal time for camping in Colorado National Monument, but if you are able to go in the summer, think about sticking around for a few days. You have two choices for camping within the park.
Saddlehorn Campground: You’ll find this within proximity of the Visitor Center. It is the only established campground in the whole park, with individual and group campsites available. Tent camping and RV sites are available, each with a picnic table and grill. Restrooms are open in the summer only. Reservations are advisable (recreation.gov), and you can make them up to 6 months in advance.
Backcountry: You can get a free use permit to travel, hike and camp in the backcountry. Permits are good for 14 nights, although you can only stay 7 consecutive nights at one time. There are no services or water available in the backcountry, so you do have to pack a considerable amount in with you.
Weather at Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument is in the high desert, and you’ll find little rain and extreme temperatures. On average there are only 11 inches of rain per year, and snow during the winter months.
Summers can get mighty warm with temps up to 90 degrees, while the winter gets below freezing and nighttime can see 20 degrees.
Hotels Near Colorado National Monument
You can spend days exploring Colorado National Monument, and to do so you need to have accommodations. If you’re not into camping, then you have the choice of staying in or around Grand Junction or Fruita, the towns that are nearest the entrances to the park.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Grand Junction has a large number of chain hotels, including La Quinta, Red Roof, Comfort Inn, Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, and more. Prices range from $50 and up depending on the season. There are also several nice B&Bs available, as well as Airbnb accommodations and RV parks.
You’ll also find many of the same national chains in Fruita, like La Quinta Inn, Comfort Inn and Super 8, as well as some smaller locally owned motels.
We really enjoyed our time here, and as you can see from the photos, it really is a magnificent place. We hope you have the time to make it there yourself sometime soon!