Colorado National Monument
During our summer 2021 visit to places less visited in Colorado, we spent four nights at Colorado National Monument. Colorado National Monument is a red rock park located not too far from Fruita and Grand Junction. Giant sculptures of red rocks towering over canyons and roadways here remind me more of Utah than Colorado. Summer temperatures were hot in the early July that we visited, reaching a high of early 100Fs. Night time temperatures were a comfortable 60Fs. Please remember to bring lots of water for hikes here as temperatures can soar over 100F in the warm months. I highly recommend doing the 22-mile auto tour and stopping at all the stops as well; they provide unique viewpoints to the rock structures. Keep kids and pets close, big drops galore.
We camped for four nights at Saddlebag Campground so we appreciated the comfortable night time temperatures. We hiked early in the morning, often awaking at 5 or 6 in the morning, hiking until around noon, rested in any shade we could find at our campsite from noon to 5pm, then ventured out again when the temperatures cooled. The campsites were not very spacious, and ours, #34B, was cozy for our 6-person tent but sufficiently spacious and private for our tastes. Loop C looked like it has more roomy campsites but it was not available for reservations for our trip. Perhaps available for first come first serve use? Some campsites in Loops A and B were small and completely lacked privacy. If you are planning a long stay here, you might want to spend some time researching to make sure your campsite suits your tastes for privacy and group size.
|Fee:||$25 (7-day automobile), FREE with Inter-Agency Annual Pass or 4th grade pass|
|Website:||Colorado National Monument|
Lower Monument Trail
We had wanted to walk from Upper Monument Canyon to Lower Monument Trail but the trail was closed near the top for repairs on our visit. So we made our way to Lower Monument Trail and walked up to the Kissing Couple Monument before looping back to Wedding Canyon Trail. Our walk was mostly under towering red rocks that form massive walls or monuments. One such monument was the Kissing Couple. It was really interesting to walk amongst the giant rock monuments that we had to been seeing from the overlook on Canyon Rim Trail.
Making our way to view the rock monuments from below, from Lower Monument Trailhead, Colorado National Monument, CO
In the morning, around 7am, we walked in via the Lower Monument Trail which was Not under shade, and made our way out by way of Wedding Canyon Trail, which was somewhat shaded on our way out by 10am on that early July day. This worked out well because the later it got the warmer it got. On that day, when we arrived back at our car at 11am, the car's thermometer read 99F while it sat under the shade of a tree.
Making our way to the 'Kissing Couple' monument, Lower Monument Trail, Colorado National Monument, CO
Wedding Canyon Trail is noted as unimproved, and I would agree with that description. There were more areas where there were sandy slopes or rocky scrambles than there were on Lower Monument Trail. Having said that, we all managed to make our way out safely with no falls and it was nice to see another face of the canyon.
Views along the Lower Monument Trail, Colorado National Monument, CO
|Features:||Walk amongst giant red rock monuments that you see from overlook above|
|Directions:||Lower Monument TH (per NPS): From the west entrance, turn right and drive 2.1 miles on Hwy 340. Turn right at the trailhead sign and follow the dirt driveway to a gravel parking area.|
|Our Hike:||Lower Monument Trailhead to Kissing Couple, looping back to Trailhead via Wedding Canyon, 7 miles rt, 1100 ft gain on sandy/rocky terrain on Lower Monument Canyon Trail, and unimproved (more sandy/rocky slopes) Wedding Canyon Trail, mostly unshaded|
|Don't Forget:||Lots of water (No water on trail), hats, sunscreen, snacks, start early, end hike before noon. Our car thermometer reached 99F at 11am on the day of our visit while it sat under shade|
Canyon Rim Trail
Not too far a walk from our campsite, just off the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, we picked up a trail that overlooked a large canyon littered within it with all sorts of rock monuments. Some looked like Coke Ovens, others resembling a Kissing Couple and others similar to the monasteries on top rock outcrops we saw in Greek Meteora. The hike was short, probably about a mile each way from our campsite. It made for a nice short destination that our boys would hesitantly agree to post-dinner to view the sunset. We did this probably three evenings in a row, once for most of the nights we spent there, ending our stroll sitting on some rocks not too far from the Visitor Center while watching the sun set over the monuments below. We had the trail mostly to ourselves in the evening hours as the temperatures started to dip from the 100+F it had been during the day.
There is a very big drop into the canyon on one side of this trail, so please hold on to pets and kids.
Sunset views of Monument Canyon from Canyon Rim Trail, CO
|Features:||Enjoy from-the-top views of giant rock monuments situated in Monument Canyon, especially beautiful during sunset|
|Directions:||Trailhead starts behind Saddlehorn Visitor Center.|
|Our Hike:||About 2 miles round trip from our campsite in Saddlehorn Campground to the Visitor Center, Trail also starts behind the Visitor Center|
Once called the "crookedest road in the world", Serpents Trail caught my eye because it was the original road through the park before Rim Rock Drive was built. This original road was built in the early 1900s and has 16 switchbacks. Because fuel pumps were not invented yet then, cars had to go up the road backwards since it needed gravity to continuously supply fuel to the car's engine.
Resting along the Serpent's Trail, Colorado NM, CO
We started our hike early in the morning for this 4 mile rt hike in order to avoid the hot July afternoon temperatures. We had plenty of company. Our hike began at the bottom of Serpents Trail, across the street from Devil's Kitchen Trail. We wanted to complete the elevation gain part of our hike earlier in the hike before it got too hot. The trail was wide, lined by some interesting rock formations and gave us an appreciation of the road we travel in our cars today.
|Features:||Enjoy an uphill workout to the top of the original road through the park, once dubbed the crookedest road in the world.|
|Directions:||Lower Trailhead is across the street from Devil's Kitchen Trail. Upper Trailhead has room for a couple cars on a curve on Rim Rock Drive.|
|Our Hike:||About 4 miles rt, 800 ft gain, many switchbacks made the elevation gain feel more than its 800 ft, unshaded. We parked at the Lower Trailhead and took the trail uphill first, so that as the temperature rose during the day we would be going downhill.|
|Don't Forget:||If going during warm months, pay attention to temperature changes over the course of the day. Start early, bring lots of water, wear sunscreen.|
Devil's Kitchen Trail
Devil's Kitchen Trail was directly across the street from the bottom trailhead of Serpent's Trail. After the Serpent's Trail hike, we decided to head over to Devil's Kitchen, since it was still fairly early in the day, and we already had a good parking spot. In the summer, we learned that parking lots often filled up by 8am. I suppose everyone thinks alike and tries to get the hike done before the hottest part of the day, both for comfort and safety.
Walking towards Devil's Kitchen,, Colorado NM, CO
Devil's Kitchen Trail meandered in a small canyon which quickly climbed up to some tall red rock monuments. The hike was mostly Unshaded. There were a few trails connected to Devil's Kitchen Trail but we did not explore further since the day was getting hotter, and we had a protester in our mid
|Features:||Enjoy a walk beneath giant red rock structures.|
|Directions:||Devil's Kitchen Trail is on Rim Rock Drive across the street from Lower Serpent's Trailhead|
|Our Hike:||About 1.5 miles rt, about 300 ft gain, most of elevation gain occurs near the end when closer to the giant red rock formations|
Coke Oven Trail
Near the Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead is a short trail to Coke Ovens Trail. The main attraction here is it's namesake. From some angles, the rocks form a beehive shape that is a reminder of coke ovens.
'Coke Ovens' in the distance, Colorado NM, CO
|Features:||A quick stroll from the car off the "Coke Ovens Overlook" auto tour stop.|
|Our Hike:||about 1 mile rt, about 200 ft gain, slightly sloping down to the viewpoint, sandy trail|