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10 Best Things to Do in Colorado National Monument

Check out the 10 Best Things to Do in Colorado National Monument. What are the most breathtaking viewpoints on the famous Rim Rock Drive? What are the best hiking trails in the? And what’re more activities to do in these fabulous red rock formations on the area of desert land high on the Colorado Plateau? Check our tips in this detailed Colorado National Monument Visitor Guide.

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colorado national monument: oranges rock formations.

What is the Colorado National Monument?

Colorado National Monument features intensive reddish and orange colors of fabulous rock sculptures, sheer-walled canyons, and the distant Colorado River valley. It offers outstanding red rock scenery, exciting Rim Rock Drive, great hiking trails, and rock climbing as well.

Moreover, you can spot much wildlife, such as desert bighorn sheep, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, ravens, jays, and coyotes. It’s worth adding this place to the Colorado road trip itinerary, while planning a travel to Colorado.

This place enchanted my partner Chris and me. A little off-the-beaten track is underrated and often overlooked when traveling around Colorado. It’s a pity because the rock formations are stunning, and the hiking trails of various difficulty levels are extremely interesting. We hope our photos from this place and tips encourage you to visit it.

Colorado National Monument as a part of the Colorado Plateau

It is a part of the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States. According to Wikipedia, the Colorado Plateau province covers an area of 130,000 mi2 (336,700 km2) within western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, southern and eastern Utah, northern Arizona, and a little southeast of Nevada.

About 90% of the area is drained by the Colorado River and its main tributaries.

Colorado National Monument is the eastern gateway into the Colorado Plateau. Known as Red Rock Country, Colorado Plateau is full of colorful domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges, and slot canyons.

The Colorado Plateau has the country’s greatest concentration of U.S. National Park units. It has nine national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Utah Mighty 5 national parks, and Mesa Verde. Moreover, it has 18 national monuments, among which is the Colorado National Monument.

orange rock formation in colorado national monument
colorado national monument
hiking trail and hoodoo in colorado national monument


This area of the Colorado Plateau, which now is the Colorado National Monument, was first explored by John Otto, who settled in Grand Junction in the early 20th century.

John Otto began building trails on the plateau and into the canyons. Earlier, the place was considered inaccessible to people. Authorities have appreciated his work and the scenic beauty of the wilderness area. The area was established as Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911. John Otto was hired as the first park ranger.

The Park includes 20,500 acres (32.0 sq mi; 83 km2), so it’s a perfect destination for a day trip. It’s not as popular as famous national parks so you can enjoy it without crowds.

This is a hidden gem of Colorado. Only 400,000 tourists visit the park annually, and the Rocky Mountains National Park had 3.31 million visitors in 2020.

John Otto statue at the entrance to Visitor Center
amphiteater next to Visitor Center.

Where is the Colorado National Monument?

Colorado National Monument is located in the Southwest, near Grand Junction and Fruita. About 30 miles from the Utah border.

Moreover, it is easily reached from highway I-70 W. The park has two main entrances, one to the east in Grand Junction and the other to the west in Fruita. The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive connects the two.
From Fruita, it’s only 8 miles via CO-340 E to Rimrock Drive. From Grand Junction, take Monument Road to get to the east entrance, it’s 6 miles.

But if you don’t have much time for your visit, choose the entrance from Fruita. From the Fruita side, you will find the most interesting and largest cluster of unusual rock formations, close to the Saddlehorn Visitor Center.

How much time do you need for a visit?

If you have a shortage of time, three hours will be enough to visit the Colorado National Monument. The park has two main entrances, one to the east in Grand Junction and the other west in Fruita. The 23-mile Rim Rock Drive connects them. It’s a serpentine route with lots of stunning viewpoints. So, if you have limited time, do only Rim Rock Drive.

But there are also many fabulous hiking trails, so one day or two would be perfect for a visit. Chris and I spent two full days in the park and still want to revisit it.

On the third day in the area, we went to the amazing hidden gem of the Colorado Plateau – Rattlesnake Canyon Arches, which is close to the national monument. It’s worth to combine those places, as Rattlesnake Canyon is spectacular.

Below, we describe the best hikes in Colorado National Monument and the best overlooks from Rim Rock Drive that are worth visiting.

serpentine road in colorado national monument
rock formations
colorado national monument

How much does it cost to get into the Colorado National Monument?

Entrance Fees are:

  • Private, non-commercial vehicle: $25
  • Motorcycle: $20
  • Individual (hiker, bicyclist): $15

But, if you have America the Beautiful Annual Pass, you don’t have to pay the entrance fee. Annual America the Beautiful Pass is your ticket to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites across the country, including all U.S. national parks. The pass is valid for 1 year from the month of purchase. Covers entrance for a driver and all passengers in a personal vehicle at per-vehicle fee areas or up to 4 adults at sites that charge per person (kids 15 & under get in free).

Colorado National Monument is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Standard visitor center hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. During the Spring and Fall, visitor center hours are 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In Summer, Colorado National Monument visitor center hours are 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Activities with pets are limited. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry.

overlook in colorado national monument
colorado plateau

What is the best time to visit Colorado National Monument?

Any time of the year is good for visiting Colorado National Monument. The best seasons for a visit are Spring and Fall. Colorado National Monument rises from 4,000 feet to nearly 7,000 feet. The climate is semi-desert and upland. Temperatures are highly variable.

Summer is sweltering, with an average high temperature of 90º Fahrenheit, so pack a lot of water if you plan to hike. Take a large water reservoir and check our day hiking packing list and hiking tips. The average winter low temperature is 20º Fahrenheit. Winters are mild, with temperatures occasionally dipping into sub-zero readings.

oranges rock formations in the monument.

Colorado National Monument Map

If you plan a short visit to Colorado National Monument, all you need is a map available on the park’s website. You can also download PDF versions. You can receive a paper-free version of this map when entering the park.

But if you plan backcountry hiking trails and backcountry camping in the Colorado National Monument, which is an amazing adventure, consider the Trails Illustrated Topographic map of the Colorado National Monument.

This map features detailed topography with shaded relief, elevations, and an accurate road network. Trail use is easy to identify. Moreover, it’s waterproof, tear-resistant paper.

If you like hiking trails and plan more routes in Colorado and New Mexico, we recommend the guidebook Top Trails of Colorado and New Mexico.

It features 211 trails, including Mesa Verde, Chaco, Colorado National Monument, Great Sand Dunes, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, and more.

10 Best Things to Do in Colorado National Monument

The list of attractions and exciting things to do in Colorado National Monument is much longer. We have ten ideas for you on how to spend your time best there, which we chose based on our own experiences as we enjoyed this place a lot.

1. Take Rim Rock Drive

Rim Rock Drive is a scenic 23-mile road in Colorado National Monument. It winds like a serpentine from Fruita, Colorado, in the west to near Grand Junction, Colorado, in the east. What’s interesting is that these two points are only eight miles apart in a straight line. The entire road has been designated a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. Moreover, it is considered one of the most scenic routes in the U.S.

If you have limited time, it is best to start your Rim Rock Drive at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center from the Fruita side. There, you will find the most spectacular monoliths, canyons, sweeping views, and fairy-tale rock formations. Regardless of which entrance you decide to enter, you will have spectacular views throughout the route.

The road is challenging, narrow, and steep in some sections with sheer dropoffs. But it’s not a scary route. You don’t need to be afraid of it. Just drive carefully. The maximum speed is 25 mph. But it’s a paved road, so a regular car is enough to do this drive. Moreover, watch out for cyclists, motorcyclists, and wild animals. Finally, Rim Rock Drive includes three tunnels. Turn on your lights so that other visitors can clearly see you.

car on the Rim Rock Drive
goats on the Rim Rock Drive
motorbikes on the Rim Rock Drive

2. Stop and take photos from the best overlooks in Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument offers breathtaking photography opportunities. Moreover, the most spectacular shots can be taken from the scenic vistas along Rim Rock Drive. Starting your trip from Fruita allows you to concentrate on the western half of the road with the best vistas and light for photos.

The best time of the day for a visit is in the morning and mid-afternoon with sunset. If you like photography, be there before the golden hour. So, the best option is to explore the monument one afternoon and the next morning.

Below is our subjective list of the best viewpoints in the Colorado National Monument, with photo opportunities.

Chris Labanowski, co-founder of the Van Escape blog, is standing on the enge of the rock and is taking pictures from one of best viewpoints in the Colorado National Monument

The best Colorado National Monument viewpoints

We present, in our opinion, the best and most exciting viewpoints in the Colorado National Monument from a photographic perspective. The Rim Rock Drive includes 19 overlooks, but we mention only the best. It is worth focusing on them if you have little time to explore them. You encounter them starting your Rim Rock Drive from Fruita.

  • Fruita Canyon View offers a great morning and mid-afternoon vista of Fruita, surrounded by red rocks.
  • Book Cliff View is located close to the campground loop road (next to the visitor center). The best is to combine it with Window Rock Trail, which is an easy 10-minute walk. The views are fabulous.
  • Independence Monument View is one of the best overlooks of the huge monolith. It’s most impressive when the afternoon light illuminates it.
  • Grand View. If you only must select one viewpoint where you can stop during your quick trip to Colorado National Monument, select Grand View. This is the essence of this place. Moreover, great light is during mornings and afternoons. You can admire Fruita Canyon with the Independence Monument in the foreground.
  • Monument Canyon View should also be your choice if you have limited time for a visit. It’s absolutely breathtaking view of the spires of Monument Canyon. The best light is late afternoon as early morning as well.
  • Coke Ovens Overlook is exciting due to the conical shape of the rocks.
  • Cold Shivers Point is located near East Entrance. It is further away from Monument Canyon and overlooks Columbus Canyon. The most exciting part is that you are 300 feet above the ground off a cliff. You can admire the gorgeous view deep into Columbus Canyon. If you look right, you’ll see Grand Junction and the desert valley off in the distance. It’s our favorite overlook from East Entrance.
Grand View
Chris Labanowski taking pictures in colorado national monument

3. Oversee the rocks to spot wildlife in Colorado National Monument

Look for bighorn sheep, mule deer, songbirds and ravens, collared lizards, and coyotes during Rim Rock Drive. It is full of wildlife. Bighorn sheep may jump out from a rock on a winding road. Therefore, drive very carefully and observe the landscape.

wildlife in colorado national monument
Bighorn sheep

4. Go for an easy hike in Colorado National Monument

Even if you only have half a day to visit the Colorado National Monument, you can make 2-3 hiking trails during this time. Trails are accessible from Rim Rock Drive. They are not difficult, quite short, and do not require any special preparation. Surely it would be best if you had shoes with good grip, drinking water, and sun protection. Trekking poles will also be useful.

The best easy and short hiking trails in Colorado National Monument

  • Window Rock Trail. It is a 0.25-mile long one-way (0.4 km) easy and short trail. So you need about 30 minutes to do it both ways. It offers excellent Monument Canyon and Wedding Canyon views and most of their major rock formations, including Independence Monument. The trailhead starts at the Saddlehorn campground.
  • Canyon Rim Trail. It’s a 0.5-mile-long one-way (0.8 km) hike. It will take you about 45 minutes up to one hour to do it. It’s easy but offers spectacular views. It’s along a cliff edge above the colorful canyon. If you must pick one hike – take this one. It starts behind the Saddlehorn Visitor Center and ends at Book Cliffs View.
  • Alcove Nature Trail is another 0.5-mile-long one-way (0.8 km) hike perfect for families with kids. You can admire plants and rock formations from this easy hike. It starts directly across Rim Rock Drive from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center.
  • Otto’s Trail is a perfect hiking trail that is only 0.5 miles long one-way (0.8 km). It is a gently sloping trail that leads through pinyon-juniper woodlands to an overlook with views of Sentinel Spire, Pipe Organ, Praying Hands, and Independence Monument. For us, it’s one of the best short hiking trails in the Colorado National Monument. To get to the trailhead from Saddlehorn Visitor Center, turn left onto Rim Rock Drive and proceed 1.0 mile (1.6 km). The trailhead is on
  • Coke Ovens Trail is also a great hike, that is only 0.5 miles long one-way (0.8 km). It puts you almost on the top of the softly rounded monoliths. From Saddlehorn Visitor Center, turn left onto Rim Rock Drive and proceed 3.8 miles (6.1 km) to the trailhead on the left. It is also the trailhead for Monument Canyon Trail.
Agnes Stabinska, the author, with trekking poles on the hiking trail in colorado national monument
Agnes Stabinska, the author, on the Canyon Rim Trail in colorado national monument

5. Go for a moderate hiking trail in Colorado National Monument

Choose a moderate hike to enjoy the park scenery if you like hiking.

  • CCC Trail is a 0.75-mile one-way (1.2 km) hike. From Saddlehorn Visitor Center, turn left onto Rim Rock Drive and proceed for 3.8 miles (6.1 km). The trailhead is on the right.
  • Devil’s Kitchen Trail is a moderate 0.75-mile (1.2-km) hike. It is closer to Grand Junction, just after the east entrance. Limited parking is on the left, so parking is best at the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area.
  • Serpents Trail. It’s a historic trail built in the early 1900s. This historic trail has 16 switchbacks, and it’s called “the Crookedest Road in the World”. But it is steep and 1.75 miles one-way (2.8 km) hike. To get to the trailhead from the east entrance, travel 0.2 miles (0.3 km). Limited parking is on the left. For additional parking, turn right into the Devil’s Kitchen Picnic Area.
Devil's Kitchen Trail

6. Take a backcountry hiking trail

If you have more time and are well prepared to trek, consider backcountry hiking trails in Colorado National Monument. These are already a few hours and all-day hikes of moderate and difficult degrees. Often steep. But you will have plenty of opportunities to admire wildlife and unusual rock formations. Therefore, it is obligatory to prepare well for them.

Take plenty of water and a lot of hiking snacks with you. Dress appropriately for the season. Hiking boots with great grip are a must. Trekking poles will help you a lot. You can check our Day Hiking Packing List and adapt it to your needs. We only did most of the Ute Canyon Trail.

It’s a fabulous trail, but it’s pretty strenuous, especially when it’s hot. Next time, we are going to explore more backcountry trails. The best routes are briefly listed below. Detailed descriptions can be found on the official website. Before you go on a long hike, it is worth getting a detailed map.

Backcountry hiking trails in Colorado National Monument:

  • Black Ridge Trail
  • Monument Canyon Trail
  • Liberty Cap Trail
  • Ute Canyon Trail
  • Old Gordon Trail
  • No Thoroughfare Canyon Trail
  • Corkscrew Trail Loop
ute canyon trail
Backcountry hiking trails in Colorado National Monument

7. Backcountry camping in Colorado National Monument

If you have more than two days, the perfect option is to spend a night under the stars. Backcountry camping is allowed in the Colorado National Monument and might be a fabulous adventure.

But you must have a backcountry use permit. You can obtain your permit at Saddlehorn Visitor Center. For more details, you can call (970) 858-2800 or visit the official website.

8. Rock climbing in Colorado National Monument

Rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular in the Colorado National Monument every year. No wonder because the sandstone cliffs and spires of the Colorado National Monument are fabulous. It’s a perfect place for climbing, attracting hundreds of climbers yearly.

Most routes in the park require “traditional” climbing techniques. The installation of new permanent hardware in the Colorado National Monument is prohibited. Before you go, check the current climbing regulation.

If you plan climbing, check Rock Climbing Colorado: A Guide To More Than 1,800 Routes, including routes in Colorado National Monument. You will also find here the big cliffs and faces of Rocky Mountain National Park, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and the smaller crags and outcrops of Pikes Peak, Boulder, Rifle Shelf Road, Elevenmile Canyon, and more.

9. Cycling in Colorado National Monument

Bicycling the Rim Rock Drive is very popular. But it’s challenging. Bicyclists must obey all traffic laws, including speed limits, passing zones, and stop signs, and stay on the roads.

So, respect all the rules and check regulations before you go. Off-road mountain biking is not permitted in the Colorado National Monument, but several adjoining areas near Fruita and Grand Junction are ideal for it.

cycling in colorado national monument

10. Enjoy a Picnic

You can stop for a picnic if you have a little more time after sightseeing at Colorado National Monument. A great place for a picnic is Devils Kitchen Picnic Area. The East Entrance is located it. It offers picnic tables, a shade shelter, charcoal grills, a drinking fountain, bathrooms, and garbage/recycling.

On the opposite side of Rim Rock Drive, you can rest at Saddlehorn Picnic Area near the Visitor Center. It has picnic tables, charcoal grills, a drinking fountain, bathrooms, and garbage/recycling.

bighorn sheep on the rock in the park
colorado national monument

Where to stay while visiting the Colorado National Monument?

Saddlehorn Campground

If you prefer camping, the best option is to reserve a Saddlehorn Campground. It is located near the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, four miles from the west entrance, near Fruita. It is the only established campground within the Colorado National Monument.

There are no electric hookups or showers. It offers 80 sites year-round. It has restrooms with flush toilets and sinks, drinking water, charcoal grills, and picnic tables. Check the details and make a reservation.

Campgrounds in Fruita and Grand Junction

You will also find campsites around Fruita and Grand Junction. It is worth booking a site in advance, especially if you are traveling in an RV and need electricity or other facilities.

We recommend Monument RV Resort, which is the closest park to the Colorado National Monument & Dinosaur Journey. There are 88 spaces available, with full hookups, a tenting area, and cabin rentals.

Accommodation in Grand Junction

You will find the best accommodation in the Colorado National Monument area in Grand Junction. The town has a wide range of lodging on a very different budget. In addition, there are plenty of attractions, great restaurants, and souvenir shops. Nearby are the Book Cliffs and the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa.

We stayed in Days Inn by Wyndham Grand Junction and had a nice room and service for two nights. The price was also affordable.


Grand Junction

Accommodation in Fruita

Fruita is also interesting and worth seeing, but accommodation here is definitely more expensive than in Grand Junction. But check the prices. Maybe you will find some specials. Great value and affordable prices offer La Quinta by Wyndham Fruita or Super 8 by Wyndham Fruita.

Both have great reviews. It is definitely worth stopping in Fruita for a moment while visiting Colorado National Monument. Check the Deals Finder below to get the best offers.


cycling statue in Fruita
statue in Fruita
horse statue in Fruita


  1. We have travelled through Colorado a few times but have never stopped to enjoy the sights.  I can see why we should add the Colorado National Monument to our list when we visit.  We might need a longer stay if we want to visit the 9 National Parks in the Colorado Plateau.  Great to know that the Colorado National Monument is a less visited spot.  If we timed it properly we would have less tourists.  We would definitely want to enjoy a few of the hiking trails.  And to take pics from all of the great viewpoints you have presented.  A great reference for when we plan our visit.

  2. I’ve been to Colorado quite a few times but I actually didn’t know anything about the Colorado National Monument! So interesting because this landscape almost looks like Utah. It’s beautiful and I’d love to visit the next time I make it out west.

  3. I love how you shared the best hikes and the best viewing spots! It’s hard to believe that you could not have a good view in such an incredible place! I definitely would take your advice and travel in either spring or fall to avoid the scorching hot summer temperatures. Looks like a dream holiday. 

  4. Oh My god! those cliff views are stunning. I will totally love taking pictures at those lookouts. I have always had Colorado National Monument in my list but have never got the chance to visit it. I love the rock formations and the dry mountains, look spectacular. Yes I will definitely be spending time hiking a few trails when I visit there.

  5. I just loved the Colorado National Monument with its reddish colors of the wonderful rock sculptures. With the river valley close by it certainly would be few hours of great fun there. The Canyon Rim Trail sounds exciting too.Monument RV Resort in Fruita quite appeals to me and it should be nice staying there for a night. Thanks for this wonderful guide which should be of great help whenever we manage to travel there. 

  6. I’ve seen pictures of those red-coloured rocky landscape. But now I know it is all Colorado National Monuments, so thanks for this detailed visitors guide. Good to know that its a lesser known place and not really crowded. I always prefer places like that. I knew about National Park Pass, but hadn’t know about the America is Beautiful pass. I will check that out. Oooh. It does get pretty hot in summer, I will plan my visit in Spring or Fall. Thanks for the tip.

  7. I saw the sign to Colorado National Monument on our way to Moab from Utah. Too bad we didn’t have time even for 2-3 hours only. After reading your post, I know that one day we will have to make a stop here. The Rim Rock Drive sounds like a must-do. If we only drive-thru, I think I will do the Canyon rim Trail like you suggested. I hope it’s dog-friendly though.

  8. Monument valley has been on my bucket list for a while I definitely want to do some of the backcountry trails and the serpent historical hike. 

  9. The Colorado Plateau is truly one of the most dazzling places on the planet. We’re so fortunate to have explored it extensively over the course of our four-year camper journey. But somehow we have missed the Colorado National Monument! Really glad you brought it to our attention because we’re always looking for new things to do in this region.

  10. OMG…I’m glad I had the chance to read this. I have bookmarked it because we will be in Grand Junction in the first week of August. Can’t wait now. Thanks.

  11. Enjoyed reading your interesting blog post! I love those reddish colored sheer and uniquely shaped structures! The 23 mile scenic Rim Rock Drive sounds perfect to explore this place. I love long drives with scenic stops along the route. They will be just right for photo ops. Also, we could take time out and check out the various trails en route. I did not know about this Colorado National Monument and now I am adding it to my bucket list. 🙂

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