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Spotlight: Colorado National Monument

Spotlight: Colorado National Monument

Visitors experience an incredible landscape in which the powerful forces of nature—high winds, deep seas and spring thaws once collided repeatedly to form breathtaking scenic vistas.

Colorado National Monument Adventure seekers enjoy world class climbing and rapelling amongst beautiful scenery. (NPS)

"I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me." – John Otto, first superintendent of Colorado National Monument, 1911

What You’ll Find

Take in the exposed geology, and its high desert climate, plus the flora and fauna that flourish here; they combine to make the monument a unique experience. Long, winding trails lead hikers between beautiful sandstone cliffs hundreds of millions of years old. Home to bighorn sheep, snowshoe hares, rock squirrels, mountain lions and nine species of lizards, where every critter battles to survive.

Getting There

Located in western Colorado, the monument is near Fruita and Grand Junction. Use these directions to help you plan a memorable trip.

Stay Here

Make a reservation at Saddlehorn Campground, located near the visitor center, which has 80 sites and is open year round.

Backcountry camping is allowed with a free backcountry permit. Obtain a permit at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center or at the entrance stations. Water is not available in the monument backcountry so remember to take plenty with you.

Try This

Take a hike! The monument has 43 miles of front-country trails that are enjoyed nearly year round. Bird watchers and photographers discover the splendor that they traveled so far to find. Hikes range in distance from a quarter mile to more than 14 miles.

Watch as the desert wildflowers bloom (usually in early June) and explode in a crazy-quilt of color.

Join a park interpretive ranger program which runs from mid-May through early September and includes topics ranging from wildlife and geology to desert flowers and history.

Go rock climbing, have a picnic, bike, or photograph spectacular scenery throughout the monument.

Motorists and cyclists thrill at the experience of Rim Rock Drive. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed this historic, and at times, gravity-defying road as a way to provide access to the superlative red rock canyon and monolithic formations.

Make Sure You

Kids and teens—participate in the monument’s junior ranger program. Pickup a free activity booklet and explore the park. You’ll be rewarded with a junior ranger badge in a brief ceremony upon completion of your activities.

Families—check out a loaner back pack chock-full of gear to help you discover the monument.

Don’t Forget

All living things endure intense heat in the high desert. Where, moisture is scarce, the monument’s popular inhabitants—birds, reptiles and mammals—quench their thirsts by eating plants, insects and other animals. Likewise, you need to remember to carry plenty of water as you enjoy recreational activities here. During the summer months, one gallon (4 liters) per person is recommended.

With elevations ranging from 4000 feet to over 7000 feet, Colorado National Monument has a range of weather from the 100s in the summer months in the valley to sub-zero readings in winter. Come prepared for the extremes each season offers.

Try This

Road bicycling is an increasingly popular activity on Rim Rock Drive, but it is not for the faint of heart. The east and west hills are steep, narrow and contain multiple switchbacks and three unlighted tunnels. The narrow road is shared with automobiles, trucks, and buses, so cyclists need to practice safe riding including riding single file, using bike lights and staying alert to traffic.

Get Started

Visit the Colorado National Monument website and stop by the Visitor Center (hours are subject to change, so please call 970-858-3617 ext 360 for updates) to plan and enjoy your trip.

Did You Know?

The dirt is alive! A living crust called "Biological Soil Crust" (also known as cryptogamic, microbiotic, cryptobiotic, and microphytic crust) covers much of Colorado National Monument. Composed of algae, lichens and bacteria, this crust provides a secure foundation for desert plants. By staying on roads and trails you can help us protect this key monument resource!