Monument Canyon, Colorado National Monument

Road Trip through Colorado National Monument

The Colorado National Monument has always been one of my favorite Western Slope destinations. Though I pass by often, I don’t get to visit as much as I like. So, when we decided to head to Grand Junction for a getaway it was on top of my list.

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Driving up from the west entrance of the Colorado National Monument at Fruita
The west entrance road up to the top of the mesa from above.

One of the things I like about the Monument is that you can see most of the panoramic views this park is famous for without even breaking a sweat. You can see many even by car along the spectacular rim drive. It features many pull-outs, parking areas and trailheads where you can hop out and overlook the canyons even if you don’t have time for hiking.

Coke Ovens at Colorado National Monument
The Coke Ovens at Colorado National Monument
Yucca at Colorado Monument
Yucca Flower

At the same time, the Monument features several easy hiking trails, most of which I have hiked at various times. For this trip, though, we had time for only two. We hiked out on Otto’s Trail, a flat, easy hike that’s about a half-mile. But it provides a different view of Independence Monument, the iconic rock formation that is the centerpiece of the park.

Independence Panorama
A view of Independence Rock from Otto’s Trail.

We also hiked the Canyon Rim Trail that starts behind the west entrance Visitor Center, where we saw not only a panoramic overview of Monument Canyon, but also these beautiful prickly pear blossoms. Be sure to take the time to check out the exhibits in the Visitor Center and learn more about Colorado National Monument’s history and what you can expect to see during your visit..

Prickly Pear Cactus Flower
Prickly Pear 2

Other easy hikes are the Coke Ovens Trail and the Window Rock Trail. Another of my favorites is the Devil’s Kitchen Trail, though it is a little more difficult with moderate intensity.

The Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument

You do need to know that these trails are at least 5000 feet above sea level, so if you’re from somewhere lower, you’ll want to make sure you allow yourself time to acclimate. And, because we’re in the desert, ALWAYS take plenty of water (it’s not available once you’re on any trail), wear a hat and use sunscreen. You can learn more about visiting Colorado National Monument and plan your trip at the National Park Service website here.

Baby Bighorn sheep
A baby Bighorn poses for the camera.

Something that I don’t get to see too often but always love is wildlife. On this trip to the Monument, just after we passed the west entrance station to head up the canyon road (this entrance has a fairly steep winding road up to the top with a couple of tunnels), we came upon a mama Bighorn sheep and her baby. They were so close that I couldn’t even get a full-length shot of Mama Bighorn. They are not uncommon in the park, but they are good at hiding from the public.

Mama Bighorn at Colorado National Monument

One tradition at the park that I would love to attend one of these years is the annual raising of the American Flag on the top of Independence Monument. This was a tradition started in 1911 by John Otto, who was instrumental in creating the monument, and it continues today.

While this is a park that you can see and hike in one day, there are longer hikes available, as well as camping, there is plenty to see in the Grand Junction area. Adjacent to the Monument is the McInnis Canyons National Conversation Area. Among other things, it is known for the second-largest concentration of natural arches in the United States. You’ll want a 4-wheel drive to explore this area. It is on the list for my next trip to Colorado’s Western Slope.

If you’re traveling through western Colorado on I-70, you definitely want to make time for the Colorado National Monument, and include it in your road trip plans.

Independence Rock
Independence Rock with Grand Junction in the background.

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