The Serpents Trail in Colorado National Monument is a favorite hike amongst Grand Junction locals. Hiking the Serpents Trail provides scenic views of the Grand Valley and Colorado National Monument’s red rock canyons, along with a solid workout.
I live near the east entrance of Colorado National Monument and hike there frequently. The Serpents Trail is one of my favorite local trails when I’m looking to get in a short training hike with some decent elevation gain. In addition to being a great hiking trail, it’s also suitable for trail running because the grade isn’t too steep and the trail is wide, which it makes it easy to pass people.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about hiking the Serpents Trail in Colorado National Monument!
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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 of Colorado National Monument. 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 on weekends.
You can also hike the Serpents Trail from the top-down. There is limited parking at the top of the Serpents Trail along Rim Rock Drive. People typically stop here to do a quick walk to the edge of the trail where it overlooks Grand Junction rather than hike the full trail.
Distance: 3.6 miles out-and-back
Elevation Gain: 700 ft.
Difficulty: 5/10. Easy-moderate.
Estimated Hike Time: 90 minutes-2 hours (1 hour or less if trail running)
Fee: Colorado National Monument has an entrance fee of $25 ($15 if you’re hiking or biking in), however you can also use an America the Beautiful or other federal recreation pass.
Dog-Friendly?: No! Dogs are prohibited on all trails within Colorado National Monument. If you’re looking for a dog-friendly hike nearby, head to the Lunch Loops trail system right down the road.
History of the Serpents Trail
Colorado National Monument was established by President Taft on May 24, 1911. The Serpents Trail was originally a road that took drivers to the top rim of Colorado National Monument before Rim Rock Drive was completed.
The original road was constructed between 1912-1921. Once completed it was known as “the crookedest road in the world” due to 16 (now 20) switchbacks that wind up the edge of a cliff like a serpent. I find the modern-day drive along Rim Rock Drive to be a bit unnerving, so I can’t imagine driving up the Serpents Trail in a car (especially an early 20th-century car!).
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began constructing Rim Rock Drive along the rim of Colorado National Monument. The construction of Rim Rock Drive took over 2 decades and wasn’t completed until 1950. After its completion, the Serpents Trail was converted from a road into a hiking trail. Read more about the history of Rim Rock Drive from the National Park Service.
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 the Serpents Trail:
- Plan ahead and prepare. Make sure that you pack enough water!
- Travel and camp on durable surfaces. Remember to stay on the trail!
- Properly dispose of waste. Pack out all of your trash!
- Leave what you find.
- Minimize campfire impacts.
- Respect wildlife.
- Be considerate of other visitors. The Serpents Trail is wide, so there’s plenty of room to pass other hikers. Remember to use headphones if you’d like to listen to music.
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.
When to Hike the Serpents Trail
The Serpents Trail is accessible year-round, however certain times of year are better for hiking in Grand Junction than others. The best time to hike the Serpents Trail 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.
The winter (December-February) is also a great time to hike the Serpents Trail. You don’t have to worry about the heat and there typically aren’t as many hikers as there are during more pleasant months. Colorado National Monument experiences some snow and ice during the winter (how much depends on the year). The bottom portion of the Serpents Trail typically melts out pretty quickly after snow, but the top is in the shade most of the day, so snow and ice often linger. 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. It is essential to get an early start if you’re hiking in Colorado National Monument during the summer. The majority of the trail faces east and is very exposed. Afternoon thunderstorms during the summer are also fairly common.
Wildlife Along the Serpents Trail
You don’t need to worry about major predators when hiking the Serpents Trail (there are mountain lions in the area, but it’s extremely unlikely you would see one here). If you’re hiking between spring-fall you’ll likely encounter lizards on the trail, including turquoise and yellow colored lizards. Additionally, you’ll probably see a variety of bird species including ravens and birds of prey like turkey vultures and golden eagles.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see bighorn sheep near the trail. There are over 200 bighorn sheep in Colorado National Monument and surrounding areas that typically travel in herds. Be sure to give the bighorn sheep space by staying at least 25 yards away and letting them pass. There are also small mammals like squirrels, chipmunks, and rabbits that you’ll likely spot during your hike.
It’s possible that you will encounter a snake on the Serpents Trail if you’re hiking during warmer months (with that said, I’ve never seen one during the dozen + times that I’ve hiked the trail). There are 9 known snake species in Colorado National Monument. Most are non venomous, with the exception of the midget-faded rattlesnake. The trail is so wide that if you were to encounter a rattlesnake, you’d be able to easily avoid it!
Trail Guide: Hiking the Serpents Trail
The Serpents Trail is one of the best hikes in Colorado National Monument. If you’re starting the Serpents Trail from the main parking area at the bottom of the trail, head across the street and begin making your way up the well-defined trail. At the top of the first hill you’ll come to a sign with information about the area and history. From here the trail begins following the old Serpents Road.
If you’re starting the hike from the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area, follow the trail that begins on the west side of the parking lot for about 0.1 mile until it meets up with the Serpents Trail. This small section of trail is more rugged than the Serpents Trail, but it’s easy to navigate.
The first mile of the trail has the steepest elevation gain as you make your way up a series of switchbacks that parallel Rim Rock Drive. At the top of the third switchback you’ll have a stunning view of the canyon with the winding road weaving through it.
After 0.6 miles the trail switchbacks to traverse along the front of the cliff face providing sweeping views of Grand Junction and the Bookcliffs in the distance. From there the trail continues weaving its way up along the cliff.
The trail gets rougher the further you hike. There are a few sections that have seen damage and erosion from heavy rains in Grand Junction this past spring (2023), so there are more rocks on the trail than usual. The majority of the trail is packed dirt, but you’ll also find yourself navigating over slickrock and some rocky terrain. While the trail is popular and sees consistent traffic, it’s wide, so it never feels too crowded.
After approximately 1.8 miles reach the top of the Serpents Trail at Rim Rock Drive. Be sure to tap the wooden post at the edge of the parking lot before hiking back down the trail!
What to Pack to Hike the Serpents Trail
The Serpents Trail is regularly trafficked and has cell phone service along most of the trail. While you can get away with not carrying everything that you would normally carry on a backcountry hike, it’s still important to be prepared when hiking the Serpents Trail. Here is what I recommend packing at a minimum:
Pack: Hiking pack recommendations are incredibly subjective. I typically wear my trail running vest when hiking the Serpents Trail. I have the Osprey Dyna 6L pack, which comes with a 1.5L water bladder.
Hiking Shoes: Hiking shoes are going to depend on your personal preference. I typically hike the Serpents Trail in trail runners, so I can move quickly on my feet. Hiking boots also work, however I would advise against wearing heavy leather boots during the summer. The most important consideration is making sure that your hiking shoes have good traction. The trail is well-maintained, however there are some loose sections of dirt and rock.
Water: There are NO water sources along the Serpents Trail! You should plan to carry at least 1L of water per hour of hiking that you plan to do in the desert. Depending on the time of year, temperature, and how acclimatized you are to the desert, you may need more or less. Also consider carrying electrolyte packs like Liquid IV to add to your water, especially if you’re hiking during warmer months.
Snacks: The trail isn’t that long or strenuous, so you don’t need to pack many snacks. A protein bar, trail mix, pb&j, dried fruit, and jerky are all great snack options depending on your preferences.
First-aid kit: A well stocked first-aid kit should always be in your pack just in case. When hiking in the desert make sure you have band-aids, moleskin, tylenol, and tweezers.
Appropriate layers. What clothing you specifically need to wear or carry depends on a number of factors including the forecast, time of year, and your personal preferences. Keep in mind that the top of the trail is going to be cooler than the bottom. Helpful layers to consider wearing/bringing depending on the time of year include a sun shirt or jacket.
Trekking poles: Trekking poles are optional but can be helpful to navigate some of the rocky terrain.
Where to Eat in Grand Junction After Hiking the Serpents Trail
Grand Junction has a wide variety of delicious restaurants and eateries to enjoy a post-hike meal. The closest restaurant to the Serpents Trail is Ocotillo Restaurant & Bar, located at the Redlands Mesa Golf Club. The patio has gorgeous views of Colorado National Monument, and the dinner menu offers street tacos, burgers, and typical dinner plates.
My top recommendation for a quick bite and drink after hiking the Serpents Trail is Handlebar Tap House. It’s located down the road from the trailhead at the intersection of Monument Rd. and Broadway. Handlebar keeps numerous beers on tap, including many local brews. The menu includes burgers (including build your own burgers with a variety of protein options), poutines, and salads.
For a gourmet dining experience, head to Devil’s Kitchen located on the top floor of the Hotel Maverick. The restaurant is run as part of Colorado Mesa University’s hospitality program, so the service is top notch. The menu features creative drinks and a seasonal, regionally-inspired menu. I recommend sitting outdoors for sweeping views of Grand Junction.
If you’re looking for a quick bite head to Pablo’s Pizza, located on Main St. in downtown Grand Junction. Pablo’s has a variety of unique pizzas you won’t find anywhere else, along with build your own pizzas with 8 different sauces to choose from. I highly recommend adding a pesto swirl to whatever pizza you choose!