Colorado, Colorado Destinations, Southwestern US, US National Parks

Colorado National Monument

I was sorting through some old posts on here recently and stumbled across this one from a few years ago about my 2010 trip to Colorado National Monument. I imagine many of you can relate to the cringey feeling you get when you read something you wrote so many years ago. And, of course, the 2-year-old iphone I had when I revisited Colorado National Monument in 2018 took much better photos than my 2010 camera did. So I figured… why not give this post an update?

My first visit to Colorado National Monument was completely unplanned. My mom, sister, and I stopped in Grand Junction so my sister – who was a senior in high school at the time – could tour the university there. In between the college tour and our attempts to navigate the weirdest street names I’ve ever seen, we found ourselves with a couple hours to spare and a sign pointing toward Colorado National Monument. So off we went.

Grand Junction street sign

In October 2018, Pat and I returned to Grand Junction so he could visit the monument for the first time. We’d initially planned to camp in the monument but we got rained out and had to reschedule to a later date. By this point, the campground was closed for the season so we ended up staying in a hotel.

Colorado National Monument sits on a red rock plateau overlooking Grand Junction, the small town of Fruita, and the Colorado River. It’s not far from the border with Utah and indeed it looks the part. Because of that, I think it often gets overlooked in favor of visiting Utah’s Mighty Five. And I would agree that the Mighty Five are more impressive. But I still think the monument is worth a visit if you’re in the area.

The 23 mile (37 km) Rim Rock Drive traverses the monument. It’s a paved road but it’s steep and winding, with three tunnels through which larger vehicles may not be able to pass. Despite the challenges of driving it, though, Rim Rock Drive is considered one of the most scenic roads in the US, and it’s pretty easy to see why.

Rim Rock Drive
Rim Rock Drive from Fruita Canyon View

All along the drive are overlooks and numerous trailheads; if you have a full day in the monument, that should be more than enough time to stop at the visitor center, all the overlooks, and squeeze in a couple short hikes. I recommend beginning at the west (Fruita) entrance so you can stop at the visitor center first. Note that although it’s called the west entrance, it’s actually located at the north end of the monument. Here is a monument map.

If you have the luxury of planning around the weather, I also recommend going on a cloudy day. You’ll notice the difference in my photos; while the colors were slightly more vibrant in the sun, the clouds eliminated all the shadows. The temperature was also more bearable when the sun wasn’t beating down on us.

Views from the Canyon Rim Trail
Independence Monument View
Grand View
Monument Canyon View Overlook
Coke Ovens
Views from the Coke Ovens Overlook and Monument Canyon View Trailhead
Upper Ute Canyon View
Red Canyon Overlook
A handstand, of course
And finally, a viewpoint I can’t identify

And I guess that’s about it. If you’re ever in western Colorado or eastern Utah and you have a few hours to spare, I would recommend a visit to the red rock plateau that is Colorado National Monument.

The Important Stuff:

  • Getting there: The east entrance is located 6 miles (9.5 km) west of Grand Junction on Monument Road. The west entrance is located 3 miles (5 km) southwest of the town of Fruita on CO Highway 340
  • Fees & passes: $10/car for a 7-day pass; America the Beautiful Passes are accepted
  • Where to stay: Saddlehorn Campground – 50 sites, $20 per night, reservations accepted for B loop, A loop is first-come-first-serve; we didn’t stay here so I can’t offer any specifics.
  • Hiking: there are many trails that range from 0.25 – 14 miles (0.4 – 22.5 km) in length
  • Other: Things to be prepared for; (1) the road is steep and winding, (2) the top of the plateau is very exposed to the elements, and (3) tiny biting gnats are present in the summer

31 thoughts on “Colorado National Monument”

  1. Great photos of a great place! My husband and I first visited CNM in 2015 when we were taking a road trip through the state. I didn’t know what a monument was in those days, or that it was part of the National Park System. A monument, to me, was a statue or a plaque or something that said, “Elvis Slept Here.” I now live here after retiring from my career in HR. CNM is like 10 minutes from my house. I love it! It’s an easy jumping off place to the national parks in both Utah and Colorado. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos. They make me want to return there. We only visited this amazing place once. While we were able to camp, we were very nearly blown away with our tent. That night still counts as one of the windiest we ever spent in a tent.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Your pictures of the red rock landscape and all the interesting rock formations look spectacular. Glad you had the opportunity to return and to take better pictures. It’s funny to look back on some of my older stuff and see how much my writing and photography has changed.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s a good idea to return to old blog posts and spiffy them up a bit, including this one! Never been to Colorado National Monument, but gorgeous views all around! Your advice about going when it’s cloudy might seem counterintuitive, but when it comes to the shade and lighting, it all makes sense! I think your sister and I are the same age, and I also was touring colleges in my part of the US (California), which turned into a road trip!

    Liked by 1 person

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