Colorado National Monument was our first stop during our summer 2016 road trip, and we quickly realized that this area of Colorado is best visited at literally any other time of year than when we went in June. But the scenery? Totally worth the 6 a.m. wake up call.
If you’re driving in from Denver, I recommend camping at Saddlehorn the night before. It’s about a four-hour drive, and if you’re going in the summer, an early start is a must.
Admission is $10, making it one of the cheaper National Park Service sites. There are a lot of hikes to choose from, but the best beginner-friendly option is taking several short hikes at different points around the monument beginning from the west entrance. Each of these hikes are half a mile one-way (or less!), with only one involving any sort of descent/uphill hiking.
We visited in June, and we were on the trail by 6:30 a.m. as the highs for the day were well over 90. We started at the Window Rock Nature trail at the west entrance, which gives you incredible views of the monument and the Grand Valley.
From there, we headed southeast and hit up the Visitors Center for some memorabilia and the Canyon Rim Trail. From here, you can see more of the monument and most importantly make a stop at the bathrooms.
Next stop was Otto’s Trail, which takes you out on one of the rock formation you can see from Canyon Rim. This trail also has incredible views at the end, but the overlook is a doozy if you’re afraid of heights. FYI, it’s totally worth pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Our last stop was Coke’s Oven, which looks like a straight line on the map but is actually pretty switchback-ey at first. Don’t panic, you’re not accidentally ending up on the super long trail that goes down to the bottom of the monument (I totally didn’t panic about that. TOTALLY). It’s also still manageable for beginners – the climb back up on your way out is short and very doable.
Coke’s Oven was also the best trail for viewing the monument’s most plentiful wildlife, the collared lizard. I couldn’t get any good photos of them, but they were everywhere! In a cool way, not in a make-your-skin-crawl kind of way. And this is coming from someone with a pretty big reptile phobia.
It was almost 9 a.m. at this point, the bugs were officially out in force (bless Billy for still stopping to take selfies), and it was starting to get HOT. These four trails took us about an hour and a half, so we drove the rest of the way to the eastern entrance (another great place for a bathroom break). The views on the drive out are equally stunning, but the hikes lower down didn’t seem to give you the same scenic bang for your buck that these earlier ones offered.
If you come from the Grand Junction side, I also recommend the Ute Canyon Overlook. If you end your drive through the Monument in Fruita, stop at Hot Tomato Pizza or Best Slope Coffee for a pick-me-up.
What should I wear?
If I want to buy hiking boots, how do I pick them out?
What kind of snacks are good for hiking?
How much water do I need to bring?