Colorado National Monument How to Spend 1-Day

If you only have one day for the Colorado National Monument, what should you do?

The Colorado National Monument is a beautiful place to visit, and it is easy to see in one day.

We used to live in Grand Junction, Colorado, and have spent a lot of time here in all seasons. In fact, Pablo and I even adventure eloped at the Colorado National Monument! We have written this itinerary so you can avoid crowds, get the most out of your time, and see as many of the viewpoints and sights as possible! One of the most remarkable destinations in Colorado you probably have never heard of, we are sharing what not to miss!


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Colorado National Monument History

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Views from historic Rim Rock Drive

If you love the outdoors and the environment, you have most likely heard of John Muir. John Muir was one of the founding fathers of the environmental land ethics movement. They say John Otto was the same, advocating to preserve and protect the Colorado National Monument area. Otto is talked about and referenced in trail names throughout the park and is an important figure in how the Colorado National Monument came about.

The Colorado National Monument was established in 1911 due to Otto’s advocacy under President Taft’s administration and the Antiquities Act.

Colorado National Monument: Best Things to See in 1-Day

When you have one day to visit, the best things to see and do are:

  • Drive the historic Rim Rock Scenic Drive
  • Check out the main viewpoints along the historic Rim Rock Scenic Drive
  • Photograph the incredible desert-scape, monoliths, and sandstone walls
  • Go on a short hike
  • Explore the Colorado National Monument Visitor Center

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Colorado National Monument Itinerary

It is easy to visit the Colorado National Monument in one day!

Let’s kick off how to spend your visit.

Historic Rim Rock Scenic Drive

You can either enter the Monument (what locals call it) from the east or west entrance. The east entrance is the Grand Junction side, and the west entrance is the Fruita side. You honestly can do either access, but we think the grandest section of the drive is the east side.

So, be prepared to be WOWED!

Start your day as early as possible to avoid the crowds and beat the heat. In general, this park is not oversaturated with visitors and there is room to explore.

Enter the Colorado National Monument from the Grand Junction east entrance. You’ll begin the drive winding through a somewhat steep but paved, epic drive through the tall red rock sandstone country.

Along the drive, you’ll see the incredible and almost indescribable magnificence of the Monument, a few drives through tunnels, along with more-than-likely blue skies. Grand Junction is known for having lots of sunny days!

The Rim Rock Drive is 23-miles long, it has 19 viewpoints, and you can access 14 different hiking trails (more on hikes below).

Safety tip: Keep your eyes open for road bikes! It is a really popular place for bicycles. Like… really popular…

How Much Time to Drive the Colorado National Monument?

It will take at least one hour to drive, depending on how long you take to enjoy the views, and stops with options for 19 viewing areas and short day-hikes.

Colorado National Monument Viewpoints

Keep your eyes peeled for some of the famous overlooks such as Cold Shivers Point, Red Canyon Overlook, Artists Point, Coke Ovens, Monument Canyon View, Grand View, and the Independence Monument View.

Independence Monument is the famous monolith you see in magazines.

Colorado National Monument Photography

Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the beauty of this national natural treasure.

Colorado National Monument Hiking

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Hiking along the Monument Loop Trail

There are 14 trails within the area. Some are easy and short, and some are long and excellent for backpacking.  

There are quite a few options to squeeze in hiking along the scenic drive. Or you can plan for a longer hike.

We’ll be sharing some of our favorite hikes below, some you’ll want to plan for before or after doing the scenic drive.

Colorado National Monument Best Hikes

Trails to Hike Along the Scenic Drive

Below are excellent trails to incorporate into your day along the scenic drive.

  • Serpents Trail – 1.75 miles one way – 1-2 hours to hike
  • Devil’s Kitchen Trail – 0.75 miles one way – 1-2 hours to hike
  • Coke Oven’s Trail – 0.5-mile one way – ½ hour to hike
  • Otto’s Trail – 0.5-mile one way – ½ hour to hike
  • Canyon Rim Trail – 0.5-mile one way – ½ hour to hike

Trails to Hike Before or After the Scenic Drive

The list of trails below cannot be accessed from Rim Rock Scenic Drive. The access points are from the lower road, Broadway (340).

These hikes are listed under the backcountry trails, but you don’t need a backcountry permit to hike them as day-hikes.

  • Corkscrew Trail – 3.3 miles one way – 2 1/2 -3 hours to hike, the trail is well marked
  • Liberty Cap Trail – 7.0 miles one way – 4 to 5 hours to hike
  • Monument Canyon Trail – 5.0-6.0-mile loop (depending on which branch you take) – 4 hours to hike

Keep your eyes peeled for Big Horn Sheep while hiking the three trails above!

Tips for Hiking in the Desert

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Hiking in the Colorado National Monument

From May to October, it can be hot and dry in Grand Junction.

When hiking in the desert, always be sure to:

  • Have a map, know where you are
  • Bring at least 1 gallon of water per person per day
  • Wear a hat, and protect your skin with clothes or sunscreen
  • Bring all your water and snacks – you’ll be in more remote places!

You might even want to consider bug repellent. There can be gnats from mid-May through July! We like Sun Salve to help keeps the gnats away from our eyes, ears, nose, and other places they like to bite!

The desert is near and dear to our hearts. Please check out our other page on how to recreate responsibly in the desert and protect biological soil crust.

Colorado National Monument Visitor Center

The Saddlehorn Visitor Center is located near the west entrance or Fruita side. Here you can find brochures, hiking information, and restrooms.

How Much Does It Cost to Get into the Colorado National Monument?

There is an entrance fee to enter the park.

As of 2021, the costs are:

  • $25 per vehicle (valid for 7 consecutive days);
  • $20 per motorcycle; or,
  • America the Beautiful Annual Pass Accepted (which is $80 annually)

Colorado National Monument Map

Arriving at the Colorado National Monument

The largest city near the Monument is Grand Junction, Colorado.

Below are estimated distances from a few of the surrounding major and popular cities to plan an epic road trip:

  • Distance from Denver to Colorado National Monument – about 250 miles
  • Distance from Salt Lake City – about 275 miles
  • Distance from Vail – about 160 miles
  • Distance from Moab – about 100 miles

Be sure to plan your road trip to arrive during daylight so you can see the incredible beauty of the surrounding area and navigate the winding roads wherever you are coming from.

Colorado National Monument Camping

Saddlehorn Campground is within the Monument.

You can make reservations ahead of time at recreation.gov.

Saddlehorn Campground Details

  • No electric hookups
  • No showers
  • Restrooms: flushing toilets and water – during summer
  • 40 ft length limit for recreational vehicles
  • Campfires not permitted
  • Pets allowed at the campsite and on paved surfaces

Other National Parks Near the Monument

Grand Junction, Colorado, is relatively close to Moab, Utah. Visiting this western Colorado treasure pairs great with other Southwest road trip destinations such as:

  • Arches and Canyonlands National Parks – about 100 miles and roughly 1.5 hours away
  • Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell) – 215 miles and roughly 3-1/2 hours away
  • Capitol Reef National Park – 175 miles and roughly 2-1/2 hours away

Other Questions You Might Have Planning Your Trip

Best Time of Year to Visit the Colorado National Monument

The Monument is open year-round, and Grand Junction has relatively mild winters, so you can really visit year-round.

The best times of year to hike in the desert, in our opinion, are the spring and fall months. Visiting during April-June and then October are beautiful times of the year.

In late May, early June, you will even be able to catch the cactus blooming!

Does the Colorado National Monument Get Snow?

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Independence Monument winter hike

Yes, it does snow here. With an elevation ranging between 4,700 feet to 7,028 feet, the area does receive snow.

Consider the higher elevation when planning your trip as well. Plan and educate yourself on how to avoid potential altitude sickness.

Are Dogs allowed at Colorado National Monument?

Like most of the National Parks, pets are not allowed on any of the trails, including the backcountry trails.

Dogs are allowed in the campground and on the paved road areas.

But don’t worry, if you are road tripping with your best friend, there are lots of options to hike with your dog on BLM land.

Western Colorado has some of the most epic high desert public lands in the United States!

We hope you enjoy this itinerary for how to visit the Colorado National Monument in one day, and it helps you plan a wonderful trip!

Ashlee & Pablo


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We would love to hear from you!

When are you planning on visiting the Colorado National Monument?

Drop us a comment if you have questions!

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Ashlee Fechino

I’m an outdoor recreation writer with dreams to inspire happiness. My goal is to help people live their best life by sharing how simple and fun it is to travel locally. I hold a BS degree in Biology and MS in Environmental Policy & Sustainability. I’m married to an expat Argentine, Pablo! We camp in our Aliner often, love road trips, and hiking.

12 Comments

  1. William B Randall on June 4, 2021 at 12:58 am

    This is exciting read.

    Did you’guys ever go to Pike’s Peak or Cave of the Winds ? I went a long time ago…it was really fun !!



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 5, 2021 at 6:35 am

      Hi Uncle Burt, thanks for reading our article! We have not been to Pike’s Peak or Cave of the Winds. We’ll have to visit sometime. Cool, you got to go when you lived in Colorado.



  2. Chelsea on June 16, 2021 at 9:37 am

    So interesting to learn about John Otto and all that the Colorado National Monument area has to offer. Definitely saving this for my next road trip!



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 16, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Hi Chelsea! Thanks for reading. The Colorado National Monument is perfect for any Colorado road trip!



  3. Kate on June 16, 2021 at 9:37 am

    I had never heard of Colorado National Monument, but wow, it is so beautiful! I love that you can drive around and see pretty viewpoints, and/or go on hikes! It seems like there’s really something for everyone. I’m visiting Colorado this summer, and I really want to see if I can add this to my list!



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 16, 2021 at 11:21 am

      Hi Kate! Have a great trip to Colorado. Hope you can make it to the Monument!



  4. Amanda on June 16, 2021 at 10:29 am

    OooohI haven’t been yet but it looks like a perfect day!



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 16, 2021 at 11:20 am

      Hope you can visit sometime! The Colorado National Monument is beautiful.



  5. Farrah on June 16, 2021 at 9:27 pm

    I haven’t been here yet but I love exploring Colorado, so definitely gonna have to check it out next time! :] Looks like an awesome day out there!



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 20, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Farrah – I think you would have fun exploring Grand Junction and the Colorado National Monument. Lots of hiking.



  6. Amy on June 16, 2021 at 11:16 pm

    I always find monoliths so fascinating! Colorado National Monument looks like an awesome place to visit 🙂



    • Ashlee Fechino on June 20, 2021 at 1:12 pm

      Hi Amy – thanks for commenting! We love geology too!