8 Incredible Things to Do in Colorado National Monument

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See these 8 Amazing Spots at Colorado National Monument

On our last road trip to Colorado, we ventured through an array of dense forests and along the peaks of numerous snow covered mountains. Unlike other states, such as Utah or Arizona, it’s not very common to come across sprawling desert landscapes made up of thick red rock.

To our surprise, there’s actually a huge park nestled on the western border of Colorado that is made up entirely of red rock. And yes, you guessed it. It’s neighboring Utah, just a couple hours drive from Arches National Park.

As huge desert lovers, we were beyond ecstatic to explore one of Colorado’s most famous red rock locations. Similar to the other popular red rock park in the state, Garden of the Gods. A wonderful change of scenery from the lush and green landscapes we’ve become accustomed to.

If you’re cruising through Colorado and craving some unique desert scenery, head west to the edge of the state to visit Colorado National Monument.

A Brief History of Colorado National Monument & John Otto

The beauty of Colorado National Monument continually brings in all kinds of visitors. Shockingly, an environment this incredible had to go through a bit of struggle just to become part of the National Park Service. It’s all thanks to a man who dedicated his life towards making this wonderful place known and open to the public to enjoy.

Long before the park became a national monument, it was discovered by a man named John Otto. A local settler of Grand Junction back in 1906. Otto immediately fell in love with the incredible red rock canyons just outside of Grand Junction and wanted nothing more but to share it’s beauty with other people.

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He wrote, “I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I’m going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

From Dream to Reality – Otto’s Admirable Conviction

Surprisingly, it was rather challenging for Otto to achieve his dream of turning this place into a national park. He spent countless hours building trails, fundraising campaigns, gathering signatures for petitions, and even naming and mapping out all the many iconic landmarks within the area.

His enthusiasm and love for the red rocks was enough to inspire those around him to join in his efforts. Over time, many others fought alongside Otto to establish the area as land protected by the government. Finally after much determination, President Taft signed the proclamation on May 24, 1911 that established Colorado National Monument.

After Otto’s success, he continued to love and care deeply for the park. So much so, that he even got married at the base of Independence Monument.

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Photo provided by NPS

Unfortunately a few weeks later, his wife soon left once she learned he wanted to live within the park near his beloved monuments.

John’s love for the park was unlike any other. Without his valiant efforts, we may not have the chance to see the park as it is today. Thanks to his persistence, the park is now protected and easily accessible for millions of people to visit and enjoy.

Details/Info – Know Before You Go

The journey far west to reach Colorado National Monument is worth the drive and more. The national monument is located just 15-20 minutes from the popular city of Grand Junction, near the border of Colorado and Utah.

The park is fairly large with tons of hiking trails, both short and long, and a wide variety of viewpoints scattered throughout the area.

It’s near impossible to see everything the park has to offer in just one day. So we’ve narrowed it down to 8 of our favorite trails & viewpoints we saw during our time here at Colorado National Monument. 3 short hikes and 5 viewpoints to be exact.

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Colorado National Monument has 2 entrances – the West (Fruita) Entrance and the East (Grand Junction) Entrance. Most of the locations on our list are near the West Entrance, with just 2 near the East Entrance.

Although, we highly recommend traveling through the entire park from one entrance to the other along Rim Rock Drive to see all the park has to offer. Trust me, it’s a spectacular drive.

Another bonus (if you can) was visiting the park during the winter months. Near empty environments with virtually no crowds. Basically felt like having the entire park to ourselves. Just one of the 5 pros & cons to visiting national parks in winter!

8 TOP SPOTS IN COLORADO NATIONAL MONUMENT

This list is in no order of importance. We’ll break it down by covering the short hiking trails first and the viewpoints after.

IMPORTANT REMINDER – Many of these trails and viewpoints are located from high vantage points with no guard rails. Some sections do have guard rails but not all. Please use caution when exploring the area and do not wander too close to the edge. Those Instagram photos are not worth your life. People do unintentionally die for the gram. Sorry, but it needs to be voiced!

**SHORT HIKING TRAILS**

1. Devil’s Kitchen Trail – near East Entrance

  • Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation: 225 feet
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
  • Time to Complete: 30 min – 1 hr

This short trail is one of the more unique hikes of the park. An easy hike for those who want to climb deeper into the red rocks themselves instead of viewing from afar.

Devil’s Kitchen Trail leads you to a rare grotto of tall red rock boulders nestled within the canyons.

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Follow the trail through some of the park’s beautiful rock features until you reach the base of a long red rock slope.

This part of the trail is hard to follow as you’ll now be walking on actual red rock rather than a dirt trail.

Simply head up the rock slab and follow the cairns, or rock stacks, that guide your path. Once you approach the massive rock towers at the top, you’ve made it to Devil’s Kitchen.

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We can best describe this place as exploring a different planet. Amazingly this cluster of boulders stand tall and stacked, towering over you. Somewhat enclosing you in a small cozy rock nest. At least that’s the best way I can describe it.

A snug(ish) rock nook which I would definitely use as shelter should I need a cute humble abode in nature.

You can stumble around more in the area outside the kitchen to see wonderful views of the canyon in the distance.

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2. Window Rock Trail – near West Entrance

  • Distance: .5 mile roundtrip
  • Elevation: 60 feet
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Complete: 15 – 20 minutes

Window Rock Trail is located within the Saddlehorn Campground near the Book Cliffs View. This super quick and easy trail takes you to the top of Window Rock.

Essentially, Window Rock is a natural hole or arch embedded into the top of the cliff side.

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While Window Rock is definitely the main attraction of this trail, you’ll see some incredible views of the monuments all along the way. Make sure to enjoy the view as you trek down, but be mindful as there are no guard railings along the majority of this trail.

You’ll know you’re at the end once you hit the (only) guard railings at the edge of the cliff. From here, you can peer over to see Window Rock just a few feet beneath you.

While it’s not the best angle to see Window Rock in its entirety, it’s still pretty incredible to see it from such a close vantage point!

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You can see Window Rock wholly from other viewpoints like Book Cliffs View which I’ll go over later.

3. Otto’s Trail – near West Entrance

  • Distance: 0.7 mile roundtrip
  • Elevation: 110 feet
  • Route Type: Out and Back
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time to Complete: 15 – 30 minutes

For one of the most immersive trails overlooking the canyons of Colorado National Monument, take a hike down Otto’s Trail.

Honestly, this was my favorite trail we did in the park. Compared to the other trails that hug the rim of the canyon, Otto’s Trail actually takes you out and into the depths of Monument Canyon. Similar to a large rock peninsula that’s surrounded by steep drops rather than water.

Fair warning – This trail may trigger some anxiety for those with a fear of heights!

Otto’s trailhead is near the Independence Monument viewpoint, a few minutes past the visitor center.

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From the start of the trail, expect a slight decline down until you eventually reach the guard rail at the end of the peninsula. A very much needed guard rail.

Now the view from up here was unlike any other we’d seen. You get the most up-close and personal view of Independence Monument to your right, along with Sentinel Spire, Pipe Organ, and Praying Hands.

You stand so far out into Monument Canyon that you’re essentially getting a 360° perspective.

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On the edge of this cliff we were filled with excitement being so close to these colossal natural wonders. You can even clearly visualize the specific rock climbing route John Otto used to climb on Independence Monument.

**VIEWPOINTS**

4. Cold Shivers Point – near East Entrance

Cold Shivers Point is located further away from Monument Canyon and overlooks Columbus Canyon. You’re perched 300 feet above the ground off a steep cliff.

Looking left, you see a gorgeous view deep into Columbus Canyon. Look right and you’ll see Grand Junction and the desert valley off in the distance.

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As we said before, you should know not to go past the guard rails. The sheer drop just a few feet from you is enough to send chills down anyone’s spine. Sadly we did see footprints in the snow going out and around the guard railing. *sigh*

5. Historic Trails View – near West Entrance

Another viewpoint away from Monument Canyon, Historic Views Trail provides a lovely picture of the valley and Grand Junction. Also, as the name entails, this is a first glance at a historic trail down below.

Right off the cliffside to your left is the Fruita Dugway which was used by ranchers to move cattle up from the valley. They would herd tons of cows up the trail and through the national monument to higher pastures near Glad Park and Pinon Mesa.

Originally built in 1907, you can still hike this 3.8 mile trail today. While some may be up to the challenge of climbing up the old cattle route, I felt completely satisfied with the view from where I was standing. Nathan calls it laziness, I call it being content.

6. Balanced Rock – near West Entrance

For some contrast to all these viewpoints, pull off Rim Rock Road for a sight of, you guessed it, a Balanced Rock. Different from your frequent viewings of epic cliff side scenery, Balanced Rock is a valid attraction. This geological oddity is a unique occurrence that we’ve seen a few times in natural red rock landscapes.

Typically, these balanced rocks occur from frost wedging and weathering of the surrounding rock base. Over time resulting in a large boulder that rests on a small pedestal below, giving the appearance that it was set down and balanced here at random.

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This 700 ton boulder sits high above you on the edge of a sandstone cliff. You can park off the side of the highway and peer up at the balanced rock while learning a little bit about it from a couple signs provided.

Who knows how many more years until this rock eventually tumbles? Seriously! What a trip.

7. Book Cliffs View – near West Entrance

Talking just viewpoints, Book Cliffs View is our favorite on this list. You can find Book Cliffs View next door to Window Rock Trail mentioned earlier, also in the Saddlehorn Campground.

Many just park off the side of the road and walk down to the small shaded structure right next to the parking area.

Although, for a much better view, follow the small trail down and left which takes you closer to all the monuments. It’s about a 2 minute walk to the edge of the cliff.

Book Cliffs View feels like the best seat in the house. Literally. Sitting out here gave us a prime view of Independence Rock and basically all of Monument Canyon.

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A similar but much grander view compared to what you’ll see off of Window Rock Trail.

The area is mainly flat red rock with some brush, making it very easy to walk around and sit where you please. This would have been an ideal spot for a picnic if it wasn’t below 10°F out! My butt quickly froze just from sitting on the ground for a few minutes.

Still, I managed to stay completely warm throughout our winter trip despite these freezing temps. Check out our 12 top articles of cold weather clothing if you’re expecting to be in a similar situation.

Not so surprising, this is also a popular spot for wedding ceremonies for numerous nature loving couples. I could easily see us getting married here too if we didn’t live so far!

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8. Independence Monument View – near West Entrance

Last but definitely not least is Independence Monument View, the furthest from West Entrance on this list. Just past Otto’s Trail, you’ll find a small lot off to the left where you can park.

To some, this may be considered the best viewpoint of the Colorado National Monument since it’s in the heart of Monument Valley. And obviously because it showcases the most iconic rock formation.

The overlook provides an awesome view of the 5,739-foot Independence Monument right in front of you. From here you can even see all the way out to Grand Junction.

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While this is most liked for being in “the heart” of Colorado National Monument, I honestly still prefer the view at the end of Otto’s Trail. Which you can clearly see to the left of Independence Monument View.

Still, I highly recommend seeing both for an up-close look at Independence Monument.

A Red Rock Haven Not to Miss at Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument was surprisingly more beautiful than I had anticipated. It’s shocking how much incredible nature there is just a few minutes away from one of Colorado’s largest cities.

If you came to Grand Junction to see the park, or saw the park because you were staying in Grand Junction, it’s certainly a place you’ll never forget.

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Colorado is well known for its beautiful forested national parks like Rocky Mountain National Park and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. While we absolutely love these parks, we enjoy the contrast in scenery by exploring a red rock national park.

Towering monuments, sprawling red canyons, and views that stretch all the way to the horizon, we completely fell in love with the epic landscape of Colorado National Monument.

If you’re taking a winter road trip through Colorado like we were, be sure to check out these 5 Must See Colorado Parks during winter. We were able to see all these in just 8 days which made definitely made for one epic vacation!

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We hope you enjoy our favorite hikes and viewpoints in Colorado National Monument! There’s still much more to see in this amazing place and would love to hear your input.

Do you have any favorite spots that aren’t mentioned on this list? Share with us in the comments below!

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About the Author

Shelby Kirk is the co-founder, editor, and author of We Who Roam. With a strong love for nature and adventure travel, she hopes to inspire others to get outside and explore our natural playground that we call home.

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2 Comments

  1. This is such an awesome post! How many days did it take you guys to do those hikes? I will have to add these to my list when I make it out there!

    1. Thanks Sam! Since they’re all short hikes and viewpoints, we managed to see all these places in just 1 day. Longer hikes in the park would have spanned over more days, but this list is perfect if you’re trying to see a lot of the park in only one day! Hope you have a chance to see them all!

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