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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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.
When you have one day to visit, the best things to see and do are:
It is easy to visit the Colorado National Monument in one day!
Let’s kick off how to spend your visit.
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…
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.
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.
Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the beauty of this national natural treasure.
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.
Below are excellent trails to incorporate into your day along 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.
Keep your eyes peeled for Big Horn Sheep while hiking the three trails above!
From May to October, it can be hot and dry in Grand Junction.
When hiking in the desert, always be sure to:
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.
The Saddlehorn Visitor Center is located near the west entrance or Fruita side. Here you can find brochures, hiking information, and restrooms.
There is an entrance fee to enter the park.
As of 2021, the costs are:
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:
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.
Saddlehorn Campground is within the Monument.
You can make reservations ahead of time at recreation.gov.
Grand Junction, Colorado, is relatively close to Moab, Utah. Visiting this western Colorado treasure pairs great with other Southwest road trip destinations such as:
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!
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.
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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Are you road-tripping through Colorado and Utah?
You might also enjoy our other articles to plan your next trip:
When are you planning on visiting the Colorado National Monument?
Drop us a comment if you have questions!
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