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9 Best Hikes in Colorado National Monument (According to a Local)


Sunset overlooking Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Located in Grand Junction, Colorado, Colorado National Monument is a can’t miss destination for anyone who loves hiking in the desert. This post covers the best hikes in Colorado National Monument, which is home to dozens of miles of hiking trails ranging from short jaunts to challenging 12+ mile treks. 

I live in Grand Junction, not far from a few trailheads, so I’m fortunate to have Colorado National Monument basically in my backyard. It’s my go-to location when I want to get outdoors for a quick hike. I’ve hiked every developed trail in the Monument (some many times), so I feel confident in qualifying these as the best hikes in Colorado National Monument! 

Hiking trail sign for Monument Canyon Trail and Wedding Canyon Trail in Colorado National Monument.

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What You Need to Know About Visiting Colorado National Monument

Rim Rock Drive: One of the Best Scenic Drive in Colorado

The highlight of Colorado National Monument is Rim Rock Drive, which stretches 23 miles from Grand Junction to Fruita. Each side has an entrance with its own fee booth. The fee for private vehicles is $25 ($15 for hikers or bikers) or you can use your America the Beautiful or other recreation pass. Some trailheads are located outside of the Monument’s boundaries, but all visitors are required to pay a fee or have a valid recreation pass.

Because Colorado National Monument is located on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau, visitors often compare the terrain to other popular desert destinations like Moab, Zion, and Sedona.

If you are planning to drive over Rim Rock Road I would personally recommend driving over from the Fruita side. The road is extremely exposed in a number of areas with no shoulder, and driving from Fruita keeps you on the inside lane instead of right along the edge. Regardless of the direction you choose, make sure to drive carefully and keep an eye out for bighorn sheep!

Bighorn sheep next to the road in Colorado National Monument.

Is Colorado National Monument Dog-Friendly?

Unfortunately, none of the trails in Colorado National Monument are dog-friendly, but there is plenty of public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management right outside of the Monument if you’re in need of a dog-friendly trail. I recommend checking out the Lunch Loops or McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.

Hiking trails in Colorado National Monument are also closed to mountain bikers and motorized recreation.

Recreating Responsibly in Colorado National Monument

When hiking and enjoying the outdoors it’s important to practice Leave No Trace to help minimize your impact on the environment. Colorado National Monument is a treasure and it’s up to all of us to help preserve it for future generations!

Here are the 7 Leave No Trace principles to keep in mind while hiking in Colorado National Monument:

  1. Plan ahead and prepare. Make sure that you pack enough water when hiking in the desert!
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Remember to stay on the trail!
  3. Properly dispose of waste. Pack out all of your trash!
  4. Leave what you find.
  5. Minimize campfire impacts.
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors. Remember uphill hikers have the right of way. Please don’t play music over speakers on the trail!

The member-driven Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics teaches people how to  enjoy the outdoors responsibly. This copyrighted information has been reprinted with permission from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.

Be advised, bathrooms are limited in Colorado National Monument. If you’re visiting from the east entrance there are pit toilets available at the Lunch Loops trailhead a few miles down the road from the entrance booth along with porta potties in the Devils Kitchen picnic area. If you are visiting from the west entrance there are bathrooms available at the Saddlehorn Visitors Center.

When to Go Hiking in Colorado National Monument

Certain times of year are better for hiking in Grand Junction than others. The best time of year to go hiking in Colorado National Monument is during the spring and fall, from March-May and late September-November. This is when the temperatures in Grand Junction are most comfortable for hiking throughout the day. 

Winter (December-February) is also a great time to hike in Colorado National Monument. Temperatures can be cold, but you usually encounter fewer hikers. Colorado National Monument typically experiences some snow and ice during the winter. While things tend to melt fairly quickly, snow and ice can linger in shady areas. It’s often easily navigable, but carrying microspikes can be helpful.

Summer in Grand Junction is very hot, with temperatures often exceeding 90-100+°F during July and August. The best time of day to hike in Colorado National Monument during the summer is at sunrise. The majority of the trail faces east and is very exposed. Afternoon thunderstorms during the summer are also fairly common.

Sunrise over Colorado National Monument and Independence Monument.
Sunrise in Colorado National Monument

The 9 Best Hikes in Colorado National Monument

1. Otto’s Trail

The short hike on Otto’s Trail begins right off of Rim Rock Drive a mile from the Saddlehorn Visitor’s Center, which makes it the perfect pit stop if you’re looking to stretch your legs. The trail takes you past junipers and pinon pines to an overlook with breathtaking views of Monument and Wedding Canyons, with the Colorado River, Fruita, and the Bookcliffs in the distance. It’s an easy trail the whole family will enjoy!

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Easy. The parking lot has more spaces than other overlooks off of Rim Rock Drive, and since the hike is so short people tend to cycle through fairly quickly.

Distance: 1 mile out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 125 ft.

Difficulty: 1/10

Estimated Hike Time: 30 minutes

AllTrails Link

Ottos Trail Map

2. Devils Kitchen

Who says you need to go all the way to Utah for cool rock formations? Devils Kitchen is Grand Junction’s own sandstone playground. The hike up to Devils Kitchen begins on a well-maintained trail leading away from the parking lot. The initial stretch of trail is wide, easy hiking with trail signs at each junction that will point you in the direction of Devils Kitchen.

The majority of the trail is easy to hike, but there’s a short climb to actually get up to the Devils Kitchen rock formation at the end. Once you’re at the top there are a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. Hiking up to Devils Kitchen can be as easy or adventurous as you want it to be, which makes it a great option for beginner hikers or folks exploring with young kids.

A couple wearing hiking gear including winter hats, a periwinkle jacket, and orange pullover stands on a sandstone rock with a canyon behind them at Devils Kitchen in Colorado National Monument.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. Parking is available at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, which is a small lot on the left hand side of the road shortly beyond the east entrance to the park. If that lot is full you can also park in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area and take a short spur trail to the main trail. Both parking areas serve numerous trails, so they fill up quickly on nice days, especially during the weekend.

Distance: 2 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 400 ft.

Difficulty: 3/10

Estimated Hike Time: 1 hour

AllTrails Link

Devils Kitchen Map

3. Echo Canyon

The trail to Echo Canyon begins at the same trailhead as Devils Kitchen. After hiking for 0.5 miles you come to a signed trail junction where you’ll turn to hike into Echo Canyon. The trail takes you through the canyon and ends abruptly at a steep pourover. Water doesn’t always flow through Echo Canyon, but if it has rained recently you can expect to find a small waterfall. There’s also a small cave to the right of the pourover that curious minds won’t be able to resist exploring.

A tall sandstone pourover in Echo Canyon in Colorado National Monument.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. Parking is available at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, which is a small lot on the left hand side of the road shortly beyond the east entrance to the park. If that lot is full you can also park in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area and take a short spur trail to the other parking lot. Both parking areas serve numerous trails, so they fill up quickly on nice days, especially during the weekend.

Distance: 3 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 630 ft.

Difficulty: 4/10

Estimated Hike Time: 90 minutes

AllTrails Link

Echo Canyon Map

4. No Thoroughfare Canyon

Waterfall hikes in the desert are a rare treasure and the waterfalls in No Thoroughfare Canyon are no exception! The hike up No Thoroughfare Canyon begins at the Devils Kitchen trailhead. Head towards Devils Kitchen and follow the signs for the turnoff to No Thoroughfare Canyon. The trail follows the canyon, which has a stream running through during the spring. The trail crosses back and forth over the stream and is easy to follow.

Waterfalls are the highlight of No Thoroughfare Canyon, although their flows are seasonal. The first waterfall is small and a little over a mile from the trailhead. From there the trail climbs up a series of steep steps before continuing up the canyon. After an additional 0.7 miles you come to a much taller waterfall. This is where most people end their hike. The trail continues beyond that point, but becomes unmaintained and requires some scrambling.

The best time of year to hike is during the spring when the stream and waterfalls are flowing. The canyon can be icy in the winter, so be sure to carry microspikes!

Woman wearing a cobalt blue sweatshirt and yoga pants stands in front of a waterfall in No Thoroughfare Canyon in Colorado National Monument.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. Parking is available at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, which is a small lot on the left hand side of the road shortly beyond the east entrance to the park. If that lot is full you can also park in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area and take a short spur trail to the main trail. Both parking areas serve numerous trails, so they fill up quickly on nice days, especially during the weekend.

Distance: 4.5 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 440 ft.

Difficulty: 4.5/10

Estimated Hike Time: 2-2 ½ hours

AllTrails Link

No Thouroughfare Canyon Map

5. Serpents Trail

If you’re short on time and want sweeping views of the Grand Valley, then head to the Serpents Trail. The trail is actually an old mining road that was constructed in the early 1900s and was known as the “crookedest road in the world” because of the 16 switchbacks that drivers had to climb. Because the trail was originally built for automobiles, the grade is fairly mellow and consistent throughout the entire hike. It’s also wide and can handle a lot of people, so it’s a great choice if you’re hiking with a bigger group.

Serpents Trail is great for training for more difficult hikes because you get a decent amount of elevation gain in a relatively short distance without things getting too steep like some of the more difficult hikes below.

Serpents Trail. Wide red dirt hiking trail with rocks in the desert.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. Parking is available at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, which is a small lot on the left hand side of the road shortly beyond the east entrance to the park. If that lot is full you can also park in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area and take a short spur trail to the main trail. Both parking areas serve numerous trails, so they fill up quickly on nice days, especially during the weekend.

Distance: 3.5 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 700 ft.

Difficulty: 5/10

Estimated Hike Time: 90 minutes-2 hours (1 hour or less if trail running)

AllTrails Link

Serpents Trail Map

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6. Monument Canyon & Wedding Canyon Loop

The Monument Canton & Wedding Canyon Loop is arguably one of the most scenic hikes in Colorado National Monument. The trail takes you up to the base of Independence Monument where you’ll have sweeping views of both canyons. Be sure to keep an eye out for rock climbers scaling the towering monolith!

You can hike the Monument Canyon & Wedding Canyon Loop either clockwise or counterclockwise. Alternatively, you can just do an out-and-back through Monument Canyon (this brings the distance down to about 4 miles). The trail through Wedding Canyon is considered an “unmaintained trail” by the National Park Service, and it’s much steeper and rockier than the well-maintained trail up Monument Canyon. I prefer doing the loop up clockwise up Monument Canyon and down Wedding Canyon.

This would be my top hiking recommendation for most people visiting Colorado National Monument. It’s not too difficult, the views are spectacular, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see mountain goats on your hike through Monument Canyon!

Woman wearing a backpack stands on a rock in front of Independence Monument while hiking in Colorado National Monument.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Easy-moderate. There are a limited number of spaces in the main parking area, but there’s plenty of room for overflow parking. Be advised that the parking lot is not paved and the overflow spaces may be difficult to park in without a high-clearance vehicle.

Distance: 4.5 miles

Elevation Gain: 760 ft.

Difficulty: 5.5/10

Estimated Hike Time: 2-2 ½ hours

AllTrails Link

Monument Canyon & Wedding Canyon Loop Map

7. Lower Liberty Cap & Corkscrew Trail Loop

If you’re looking for epic views and a killer workout, then head on up the Lower Liberty Cap Trail, one of the best hikes in Grand Junction. Liberty Cap looks like a little rock dome on the top of the Monument and can easily be identified from across the Grand Valley.

The trail up to Liberty Cap contains 2 distinct sections with steep elevation gain. The first section is a thigh burner that climbs over 500 ft. in a little over ⅓ of a mile. This is the steepest section of developed trail in Colorado National Monument. The second section climbs a little over 300 ft. over roughly the same distance, so it feels comparatively easier. The National Park Service recently made improvements to this portion of the trail, so things are secure and easy to follow.

You’ll know you arrived at Liberty Cap when you reach an overlook next to a giant rock formation. You can scramble up to the top of the rock, but it’s a little too spicy for my taste! The views from the base of Liberty Cap overlooking Ute Canyon are some of the best in the Monument, in my opinion.

Woman wearing a black sports bra and leggings stands on a sandstone rock overlooking Ute Canyon in Colorado National Monument.

If you’re looking for a longer hike you can continue hiking beyond the Lower Liberty Cap Trail up the Upper Liberty Cap Trail. Hiking from the trailhead to Rim Rock Drive is 7 miles one way, so this adds considerable distance as an out-and-back.

When you’re coming down from Liberty Cap I recommend hiking down the Corkscrew Trail instead of going back the way you came. It adds about a mile to the hike, but the grade is much more mellow so it’s easier on the knees. The Corkscrew Trail also adds an additional scenic element to the hike, taking you past billion-year-old precambrian rock.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Hard. The Wildwood Trailhead is located in a private neighborhood and has very limited parking. The trailhead serves multiple hikes in Colorado National Monument and can fill up early on weekends. There is no overflow parking available on the street, so if the lot is full choose a different hike!

Distance: 4.8 miles

Elevation Gain: 1,400 ft.

Difficulty: 7/10

Estimated Hike Time: 2-3 hours

AllTrails Link Note: this route doesn’t take you to Liberty Cap, consult this trail for the spur.

Lower Liberty Cap Trail Map

8. Old Gordon Trail

Like many of the other best hikes in Colorado National Monument, the Old Gordon Trail begins at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead. Begin hiking the well-maintained trail and follow the trail signs towards Old Gordon. You know you’re on the right path when the incline starts getting steeper (as opposed to the other trails in the area, which take you deeper into the canyons). Continue to consistently climb higher, taking in the views of Grand Junction as you hike.

The Old Gordon Trail isn’t very popular, which is why it makes the “best hikes” cut, but it also isn’t exceptionally scenic like many of the other hikes in Colorado National Monument. I’d only recommend it if you’re looking for solitude and a really good workout. The trail is largely exposed so be sure to carry sun protection and plenty of water!

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Moderate. Parking is available at the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, which is a small lot on the left hand side of the road shortly beyond the east entrance to the park. If that lot is full you can also park in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area and take a short spur trail to the main trail. Both parking areas serve numerous trails, so they fill up quickly on nice days, especially during the weekend.

Distance: 7 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,775 ft.

Difficulty: 7.5/10

Estimated Hike Time: 3-4 hours

AllTrails Link

Old Gordon Trail Map

9. Ute Canyon Trail

Hiking the Ute Canyon Trail will transport you into a remote canyon wilderness that will make you forget how close you are to the city of Grand Junction. Ute Canyon Trail is my personal favorite for a long, challenging hike in Colorado National Monument. While you can start from either the top or bottom of the trail, I recommend starting at the bottom so you don’t have to end your hike with a big ascent (although if you’re preparing to hike Rim-to-Rim across the Grand Canyon, starting at the top makes for a great training hike).

If hiking from the bottom park at the Wildwood Trailhead and begin hiking on the same trail that takes you to Liberty Cap. Veer left at the fork that leads you to the Corkscrew Trail. Follow the Corkscrew Trail up to a bench where you will continue hiking into Ute Canyon. The trail ends with another steep ascent up to Rim Rock Drive where you’ll find a small parking area. Hike back the way you came or have someone come pick you up!

A woman wearing a backpack, maroon leggings, and hiking poles stands on a rock overlooking Ute Canyon in Colorado National Monument surrounded by tall pinon pines.

Trail Stats

Trailhead Location: Google maps

Trailhead Parking Difficulty: Hard. The Wildwood Trailhead is located in a private neighborhood and has very limited parking. The trailhead serves multiple hikes in Colorado National Monument and can fill up early on weekends. There is no overflow parking available on the street, so if the lot is full choose a different hike or hike down from Rim Rock Drive.

Distance: 11 miles out-and-back

Elevation Gain: 1,900 ft.

Difficulty: 8/10

Estimated Hike Time: 5-6 hours

AllTrails Link

Ute Canyon Trail Map


Where to Stay Near Colorado National Monument

Hotel Maverick

Hampton Inn Grand Junction

SpringHill Suites by Marriott Grand Junction

Tru by Hilton Grand Junction Downtown


Looking for more desert hiking adventures?

Pin It For Later:

  1. My husband and I have hiked a lot in Colorado, but haven’t spent much time hiking here. Now we have more hikes we need to try… and pictures for me to take along the way.

  2. Yvonne says:

    Such a helpful guide! We haven’t done much hiking in Colorado as we are usually just driving through. I guess we need to make it a destination on an upcoming road trip and hit the trails!

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