You could spend a day or two in Colorado National Monument, but for most visitors, all you really need is one afternoon. The park’s scenic drive conveniently connects most of its rewarding sights, and only a few short hikes are necessary to see the rest. The driving tour is curvy, and you’ll gain some elevation along the way, but otherwise, it’s an easy drive that can add some interest to your visit to the Grand Junction area.
Colorado National Monument is located on the west side of Grand Junction, Colorado. From Interstate 70, take exit 19 (at Fruita) onto Colorado Route 340, and head south. Watch for the turnoff on the left to Rimrock Drive.
The scenic drive ends near Grand Junction. Rimrock Drive becomes Monument Drive as it exits the park. Eventually, you end up back at Route 340 again, which can either take you back to where you started or into Grand Junction, where Business 70 can return you to I-70.
Any time of year is a good time to visit Colorado National Monument, but winter is especially nice. On this trip, I was visiting in late January, a few days after the most recent snowfall. That meant that some of the canyon walls were still snow-frosted, providing some nice contrast to the usual desert colors. However, it also meant that the shady parts of Rimrock Drive were still covered with ice. It wasn’t a big problem, it just required some caution on some curves. Park staff were putting cinders on the slick spots to increase traction. But keep in mind, immediately after a big snowfall, it could take a while for the road to re-open.
If you’re entering the park from the north at Fruita, you’ll quickly climb uphill to get to the canyon rim — which is where the road spends most of its time. Not long after the climb, you’ll arrive at the Fruita Canyon Viewpoint, which gives you a look at the curvy road you just traveled.
Window Rock Nature Trail: Colorado National Monument
Colorado National Monument’s visitor center is located on the north end of the park, so you’ll be able to stop in and get some advice if you need it. The Saddlehorn campground is nearby, and if you drive out to the far end of the campground’s loop road, you’ll find the Window Rock Nature Trail. This short hiking trail isn’t well-defined, but it’s pretty obvious where you should go — to the edge of the cliff, to check out the view. (Look in the right spot, and you should be able to see the “window rock” — a hole in the cliff big enough to see through.)
There are numerous stops along the scenic road, and many of them reveal a similar view, so you don’t have to stop at all of them. Here are a few highlights:
At the Grand View overlook, you will indeed have a grand view of Independence Monument — a stately pillar of rock rising from the canyon floor. Almost a century ago, early park trailblazer John Otto, would climb to the top of Independence Monument every year on the Fourth of July and plant an American flag.
Near Highland View
I made another stop near the Highland Viewpoint to take in this view. Here, you not only have a great view of the canyon directly below, but also of the western front of the Rocky Mountains, on the opposite side of Grand Junction.
As I neared the southern exit of Colorado National Monument, one more trail caught my eye. The Serpents Trail is actually the old road out of the park. It’s wide for a hiking trail, but narrow, steep, and curvy for automobiles — which is why a better road was built. The new road passes through a tunnel, directly below the upper trailhead.
From the upper end, the trail drops 800 feet in slightly less than two miles — which means if you don’t have someone to pick you up at the bottom, you’ll also have to hike back up, regaining that 800 feet, for a round-trip of nearly four miles. That seems like a grueling task, so I decided to just hike a little bit of it.
I hiked down a short distance, until I came upon a small hill by the side of the trail. When I climbed up to the top of that hill, I had a great view of the park road’s tight curves. And keep in mind, this is the new, improved road!
On the way down the trail, I passed a woman hiking up. When I was hiking back up, I passed her again. I stopped her and asked her if she was hoping to meet someone, or needed a ride. She told me that she hikes up and down the Serpent’s Trail every day! And she was probably 20 years older than me. That’s impressive.
After the upper trailhead for Serpent’s Trail, the road quickly drops down into the foothills. At Devil’s Kitchen, you’ll find the lower trailhead for Serpent’s Trail, and some picnic tables. After that, you exit the park and drive on to Grand Junction.
Here’s a look at the drive through Colorado National Monument:
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The Bottom Line
The best scenery in Colorado National Monument is located along the park road, which means you can see the highlights during a short visit to the park. Allow a few hours to leisurely enjoy Rimrock Drive, and hike any trails or stop at any viewpoints that seem interesting.