Sunset from the Canyon Rim Trail at Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument: Things to Do, Maps, Scenic Drives, Weather & More

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Located on the northeastern side of the vast Colorado Plateau, Colorado National Monument offers dramatic rock formations, red rock canyons and sweeping views without the crowds of some popular national park sites. With its proximity to I-70 and easy access from the towns of Fruita and Grand Junction, we can hardly imagine why anyone passing through would skip this gem!

Encompassing 20,500 acres, Colorado National Monument offers a spectacular 23-mile scenic drive and over 45 miles of hiking trails to explore the monument’s stunning landscapes. Travel high above the valley floor on scenic Rim Rock Drive and stop at roadside overlooks to see some of the best views in the park. If you have more time, be sure to leave the pavement and hit some trails to experience the monument’s beauty up close.

You’ll need at least a half day to explore the highlights of the park via the scenic drive and check out a couple of short, roadside trails. However, if you enjoy hiking, we recommend taking a full day or two to explore some of the monument’s fabulous trails. We hope our guide will help you prepare for your visit so you can make the most of your time at Colorado National Monument!

Colorado National Monument itinerary

Ahead of your trip, be sure to download a copy of our Colorado National Monument itinerary. We cover the best hikes, expected weather in the park, what to bring, what to see in the area, the best activities and sample 1, 2 and 3 day itineraries.



When John Otto arrived in Grand Junction in 1906 and found the area that is now the Colorado National Monument, he instantly fell in love with the wild and desolate landscape and made the canyons his home. He envisioned the land as a national park where visitors could view the canyon from a bird’s eye view and campaigned tirelessly to make his dream come true. He spent most of his days building miles of trails on the plateau and into the canyons to make the scenic beauty of the area more accessible to the public.

On May 24, 1911, President Taft signed the proclamation that established Colorado National Monument. John Otto became the monument’s first superintendent, earning a salary of only $1 per month. He continued as caretaker of the monument for 16 years, spending most of his time living alone in a tent in the canyons with his horse and burros while building trails. Today you can hike the remnants of the trails Otto built by hand and see rock formations that are still known by the patriotic names he gave them, such Independence Monument and Liberty Cap.

Grand View at Colorado National Monument



  • It is one of thirteen NPS sites in Colorado. Colorado has four national parks and nine national monuments.
  • The Colorado Plateau, of which Colorado National Monument is a part, contains one of the densest collections of national park and national forest service units in the United States!
  • The Civilian Conservation Corps helped build Rim Rock Drive until 1942 when the CCC was disbanded. The National Park Service finished building the scenic drive in 1950.
  • One of the three tunnels along Rim Rock Drive is 530 feet long!
  • The soil is alive at Colorado National Monument! The dark, bumpy soil lining some of the trails at the monument is called biological soil crust—a web of moss, algae, lichen, fungi and cyanobacteria. These organisms work together to bind soil and sand and hold water—creating a place where seeds can grow. The living soil is extremely slow growing and fragile, so be sure to stay on established trails.




Colorado national monument map

Colorado National Monument map, courtesy of the National Park Service

Scenic Drive

Visitors will find that most activities at Colorado National Monument are centered around the 23-mile scenic Rim Rock Drive which runs the length of the park. There are two main entrances to the park—one on each end of Rim Rock Drive. The west (Fruita) entrance, located off Highway 340, is just four miles from the visitor center (and campground), and is a good place to start if you are seeking information before exploring the rest of the park. The east (Grand Junction) entrance, located off Monument Road, is a good place to start if you’ve already done your research and just want to get right into hiking—like we often do! The popular Devil’s Kitchen area is just beyond the east entrance.

The scenic drive can be done in either direction. However, when starting at the east (Grand Junction) entrance and driving towards Fruita, most of the viewpoint pull-offs will be on your right, making it easier to stop. Additionally, the views seem to get more impressive as you drive east to west through the monument.

Independence Monument View at Colorado National Monument

If you won’t be driving the entire Rim Rock Drive and only have time for a quick, out-and-back trip, starting at the west entrance allows you to concentrate most of your time in the park at some of the grandest viewpoints.

Canyon Rim Trail at Colorado National Monument

Saddlehorn Visitor Center

As mentioned earlier, the Saddlehorn Visitor Center is located closest to the Fruita entrance and a great place to start your adventure. Inside you’ll find hiking information, exhibits about the history of the area, a park movie (18-minutes long) and a bookstore. The visitor center and restrooms are open every day except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. A water bottle filling station is also located outside, in front of the visitor center.

Saddlehorn Visitor Center at Colorado National Monument

Rim Rock Drive and Overlooks

Rim Rock Drive isn’t just a way to travel through the park, it is one of the most spectacular drives in the U.S. and an experience in itself! The serpentine road features views of red rock canyons, towering monoliths, and sheer-walled cliffs. It would take about an hour to drive the length of Rim Rock Drive without stops, but who would do that?! Even if you only have a few hours, you can easily enjoy the scenic drive and have time to stop at several roadside overlooks—where you can take in some of the best views at Colorado National Monument! Rim Rock Drive has 19 signed viewpoints. Since we weren’t short on time, we stopped at almost every single one! Most overlooks require little to no walking. A few have short trails leading to the viewpoints. It’s hard to pick favorites but be sure not to miss these--Independence Monument View, Grand View, Coke Ovens Overlook, Ute Canyon View, Red Canyon Overlook and Cold Shivers Point.

    Rim Rock Drive at Colorado National Monument


    There are two designated picnic areas inside Colorado National Monument—the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area (near the East Entrance) and the Saddlehorn Picnic Area (near the visitor center). Both have picnic tables, shade shelters, charcoal grills, restrooms, and water (available seasonally).

    Bicycling on Rim Rock Drive

    In addition to being a well-known scenic road, it is also a popular route for cyclists looking for a challenging ride. Adventurous cyclists make a loop that includes Rim Rock Drive and connecting roads between the two park entrances. This full loop is 33 miles long with 2,300 feet of elevation gain. Those looking for a ride without the steep hills can park at the visitor center and cycle across the top of the monument and back. Only road biking is permitted inside the monument. Off-road mountain biking is allowed at nearby recreation areas like McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Before visiting, be sure to check out bicycling regulations and safety tips on the NPS website.

    Rock Climbing

    Colorado National Monument’s sandstone cliffs and rock formations attract hundreds of experienced climbers a year. Otto’s Route to Independence Monument is the most popular route. There are several guides approved to operate within the national monument. See the NPS website for more information on rock climbing inside Colorado National Monument.


      Colorado National Monument has opportunities for hikers of all abilities. Choose from over 45 miles of trails ranging in distance from ¼ mile to over 14 miles. Most trails are accessible from Rim Rock Drive and ALL have stunning scenery! Some of our favorite hikes in Colorado National Monument include:

      • Window Rock Trail (easy, 0.5 miles (round-trip), 65 feet elevation gain): This hike heads through a juniper woodland with amazing views!
      • Canyon Rim Trail (easy, 1.6 miles (round-trip), 170 feet elevation gain): Our favorite hike in the park, this trail leads to the stunning Book Cliffs View.
      • Alcove Nature Trail (easy, 1.0 mile (round-trip), minimal elevation gain): This hike is great for families with info about animals and rocks inside the park.
      • Devils Kitchen Trail (moderate, 1.5 miles (round-trip), 320 feet elevation gain): This trail heads to a unique feature known as Devils Kitchen and is an outstanding selection.
      • Echo Canyon Trail (moderate, 3.0 miles (round-trip), 499 feet elevation gain): This hike heads to Echo Canyon and is less crowded than many of the other hikes.

      We cover these hikes and more in much more detail in our blog on Best Hikes in Colorado National Monument!

      Window Rock at Colorado National Monument


      Book Cliffs View near Window Rock at Colorado National Monument


      Otto's Trail at Colorado National Monument


        Devils Kitchen at Colorado National Monument


        Sunset from the Canyon Rim Trail Colorado National Monument


        Otto's Trail at Colorado National Monument


        If you have extra time while visiting Colorado National Monument, check out these nearby attractions. Our recommendations include:

        • McInnis Canyons National Conservations Area. Located west of Grand Junction, the 123,000-acre McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is home to more stunning red rock canyons, plus the second largest concentration of natural arches in the US! Visitors can enjoy a variety of recreational opportunities including hiking, mountain biking, boating, and camping. This is also a great place to explore if you happen to be traveling with a pet. Dogs are allowed on trails but must be leashed or under voice control.
        • James M. Robb - Colorado River State Park. James M. Robb – Colorado River State Park is one park split into five distinct sections. Visitors can enjoy activities like boating, fishing, swimming, hiking, and camping at different locations along the Colorado River.

        Planning a grand southwest road trip? There are lots of great national parks, monuments and recreation areas that can be paired with a trip to Colorado National Monument. Moab is about 100 miles to the west and is great base from which to explore Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, plus Dead Horse Point State Park. Or follow Route 50 to the southeast to explore Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park (85 miles from CNM) and Curecanti National Recreation Area (110 miles from CNM).

        Sunrise from Colorado National Monument


        Colorado National Monument is in west-central Colorado, about 30 miles from the Utah border. The largest city near Colorado National Monument is Grand Junction. There are no public transportation services for getting to or around the monument, so you’ll need to have your own transportation.

        There are two entrances for Colorado National Monument. Follow signs through Grand Junction to reach the East Entrance or drive through Fruita to reach the West Entrance. The Saddlehorn Visitor Center and Saddlehorn Campground are located about four miles from the West Entrance.

        East entrance to Colorado National Monument



        An entrance fee is required to enter Colorado National Monument, and it’s on the more expensive side at $25 per vehicle/$20 per motorcycle/$15 per bicyclist or hiker. However, if you are a national park enthusiast like we are and plan to visit many in a given year, we recommend purchasing an Interagency Pass (America the Beautiful Pass).

        Sunrise from Saddlehorn Campground at Colorado National Monument


        Colorado National Monument Lodging: There are no hotels or lodging options within Colorado National Monument. For nearby accommodations, check out both Grand Junction and Fruita. Between those two cities, there are a variety of options to suit all types of travelers. However, there’s a wider variety in Grand Junction. There are no restaurants or gas stations within the national monument, so be sure to fuel up and grab food while in town.



        If you prefer to stay inside the park and enjoy camping, Saddlehorn Campground has sites available year-round! It is the only established campground within the monument, and we can’t imagine staying anywhere else. The views from some of the sites are unbelievable!  Read about camping in the park in our blog, Camping in Colorado National Monument.

          Campsite at Saddlehorn Campground with access to the rimColorado National Monument
          Camping at Saddlehorn Campground
          Tent camping with a view at Saddlehorn Campground




          Colorado National Monument is open year-round, as are the Saddlehorn Visitor Center and Saddlehorn Campground. Temperatures are highly variable in the monument with elevations ranging from 4,000 to nearly 7,000 feet—supporting both semi-desert and upland climates.

          If you enjoy hiking and exploring, the best seasons to visit Colorado National Monument are spring and fall when temperatures are mild. April and May tend to be the busiest months at the monument. Spring is also the best time to witness the cactus blooms!

          The summer season brings extreme heat with temperatures averaging around 90°F. However, high temperatures can soar to over 100°F during the daytime. If you plan on any extended hikes, the NPS recommends carrying one gallon of water per person per day. Fortunately, minimal hiking is needed to experience some of the best views in the park which can be accessed from the scenic drive. We visited in the summer and found easy parking at overlooks. We enjoyed hiking in the evening and early morning when temperatures were lower and had the trails to ourselves!

          Winters at the monument are generally mild with lows averaging around 20°F and highs around 40°F. Expect to encounter some snow since the monument receives an average snowfall of 31 inches every year.



          When visiting the monument in the winter, visitors should be prepared for the possibility of snowy, icy, and muddy conditions on roads and trails. Check the NPS site or call the monument for updated road and trail conditions. During periods of heavy snowfall, some sections of Rim Rock Drive may experience closures. All trails remain open in the winter, but road closures could limit access to some trailheads at higher elevations. Be sure to bring trekking poles and possibly micro-spikes to navigate snow-covered trails and icy rocks.



          Public WiFi is available at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center. Cell phone coverage varies throughout the monument. Expect dead zones in canyons and on some longer trails.



          Pets can be brought into Colorado National Monument but activities with pets are limited. They are not allowed on any trails or in the backcountry. Leashed pets are allowed in developed areas only—on paved roads, picnic areas and in the campground. They must not be left unattended in vehicles since car temperatures rise quickly in the sun, even on cool days. If you are visiting the area with a pet, consider using a boarding kennel or dog day care facility in Grand Junction or Fruita.



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          Just Go Travel Studios at Colorado National Monument
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          About Just Go Travel Studios

          We are Amy & Pete Brahan. Very simply, we are passionate about our National Parks and Public Lands and explore them with our three kids whenever we can.

          As much as we enjoy traveling, we also love sharing our knowledge and helping others create everlasting memories through our custom-made travel posters, downloadable travel itineraries and detailed blog articles.

          10% of all after-tax profits are donated to the National Park Foundation.

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