Exploring Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument, located on the Colorado Plateau, boasts sheer-walled canyons with granite, gneiss, and schist rock formations. Along with the stunning rock formations, the park is also home to pinyon and juniper forests.

Colorado National Monument with road into valley. Photo by NetaDegany/Getty Images.

Rim Rock Drive – The construction of the Rim Rock Drive through Colorado National Monument Park began in 1933, and was funded by various federal agencies and local sources. The National Park Service and the Civilian Conservation Corps contributed money to build the road, which eventually spanned nearly 20 miles. However, the road’s construction faced numerous challenges and has been hampered by legal issues ever since. Here’s a look at the history of the road and what you can expect when driving it.

You can travel the 23-mile-long Rim Rock Drive in one day. While driving, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking vistas. The drive winds up from the Grand Valley of the Colorado River into the high country, providing ample opportunities for hiking and taking photos. Along the way, there are numerous scenic overlooks for you to enjoy the stunning landscape. You can also stop at one of the viewpoints to take a picture of the surrounding area.

Balanced Rock. Photo from GETTY IMAGES.

Balanced Rock – If you’ve ever been to Colorado, you’ve probably seen countless tourist photos of Balanced Rock. Popular poses include holding it up or pushing it. It has been featured in the media numerous times throughout the century, including a 1990s commercial for Reese’s Puffs Cereal. Although you may be tempted to try your hand at one of these balancing rock poses, you’ll likely be more concerned about the rocks collapse rather than your balance.

For a more up-close view of the Balanced Rock, take the trail that begins alongside the rock. The trail winds around the rock, offering views of the La Sal Mountains and The Windows. The trail continues around Balanced Rock, and there’s a picnic area and toilet across the road. There are many great viewpoints in this park, so make sure to schedule some time to visit. Visiting Balanced Rock is a popular Colorado national monument destination.

One of the many canyons at Colorado National Monument in western Colorado. Photo by Hundley Photography from Getty Images.

Black Ridge Trail – You can visit Colorado National Monument Park by taking the Black Ridge Trail. It stretches six miles from the visitor center to the upper trailhead, offering panoramic views of the area and the surrounding cities. The trail is suitable for hikers of all abilities, but if you’re a beginner, the 5.5-mile loop isn’t for you. Because the trail climbs quickly, you may want to hike in one direction only.

The terrain of Black Ridge Trail differs significantly from that of other trails in the area. You won’t be surrounded by the same types of red rock canyons. In fact, the hills surrounding the trail were formed approximately 100 million years ago. That means that the trails on these hills are completely different than those in mesa-top highlands. As such, they require different skills. You’ll also encounter several species of lizards, including the elusive collared lizard.

Ute Canyon Sign, n Colorado National Monument. Photo by River North Photography from GETTY IMAGES

Ute Canyon – A hiking tour in Ute Canyon, Colorado National Monument Park, is a great way to see the spectacular red walls and landscape. The Ute Canyon Trail winds through the gorge, descending steeply from the plateau. A small stream flows through the canyon, and the trail follows the stream bed. You may also spot arches. The trail is maintained, and most of the elevation gain is in short switchbacks.

Throughout the park, you can see a variety of wildlife. The most common mammals you will spot are mule deer and bighorn sheep, as well as foxes, bobcats, and desert cottontails. Birdwatchers will find several species of nesting birds in the area. There are many frogs and toads to see as well. There are hiking trails and parking lots where you can bring pets.
Ute Canyon hike

Hiking in the Ute Canyon in Colorado National Monument Park is a great way to see the area’s geological and wildlife diversity. The trail follows a stream bed and riparian corridor, and you’ll pass by some impressive red walls. The trail drops about 500 feet within half a mile. It’s easy to see why it’s called the “Ute Canyon,” as it descends steeply from the upper canyon floor to a rocky ledge.

The 7-mile Ute Canyon Trail starts at the east park boundary and finishes in Rim Rock Drive, 1,640 feet above the canyon floor. Hikers should be prepared to work on route finding skills, as this hike is not for the inexperienced. It shares the first couple of miles with the Liberty Cap Trail. There are numerous viewpoints and trails to choose from, but the Ute Canyon Trail is the most scenic and rewarding.

Monument Canyon at Colorado National Monument. Photo by LarryKnupp from Getty images.

Red Canyon hike – The easiest way to experience Red Canyon is from the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area, 1.2 miles to the north. The trail begins at the fence line and then climbs a steep hillside. There are some sections of scree and loose rock. The trail is not very well marked and route finding can be challenging. If you are hiking with kids, you may wish to start a little lower to enjoy the scenic views along the way.

The Red Canyon hike in Colorado National Monument Park is a rocky, winding path carved into the sandstone. Several trails crisscross the valley, and some wind up rock faces. Hikers can reach incredible viewpoints and discover hidden geological treasures along the way. You can also bike or hike on the surrounding roads, which have 2,300 feet of elevation gain. There is a fee for vehicle entry, so consider the amount of time you want to spend on the trail.

Nearby Attractions

Cities & Towns

Fruita Colorado: 6 miles west.

Grand Junction, Colorado6 miles east.

Rangely, Colorado: 83 miles north.

Moab, Utah99 miles southwest.

Cortez, Colorado: 214 miles south.

Parks & Monuments

Dinosaur National Monument: 124 miles north.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument: 88 miles southeast.

Mesa Verde National Park: 220 miles south.

Hovenweep National Monument: 242 miles south

Arches National Park93 miles southwest.

Canyonlands National Park (Island in the Sky): 111 miles west.

Recreation & Wilderness Areas

Curecanti National Recreation Area: 97 miles southeast.

Grand Mesa National Forest: 30 miles south.

Grand Mesa National Forest: 30 miles south.

Uncompahgre National Forest: 40 miles east.

Historic & Points of Interest

Devils Canyon Learning Center — Animated Dinosaur Museum
(Fruita, Colorado): 6 miles west.

Dinosaur Valley Museum (Grand Junction): 6 miles east.

Museum of Western Colorado (Grand Junction): 6 miles east.

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