Monument Canyon Trail offers plenty of interesting things to see

Independence Monument is one of the rock formations you will come upon when you hike along Monument Canyon Trail, which is a premier hike in the Colorado National Monument.


Monument Canyon

Drive time and distance: Grand Junction to lower trail head 14 minutes, 8.9 miles; GJ to upper trail head 35 minutes, 19.5 miles

Length: 6.3 miles

Hiking Time: 3.5 hours

Elevation gain: 4,700 feet (1,433 meters) to 6,140 feet (1,871 meters)

Difficulty: Steep climb from top, otherwise easy to moderate

Fat tire fanatics are gearing up for “The 15th Anniversary ~ New Belgium Brewing ~ Fruita Fat Tire Festival presented by US Bank and supported by Shimano & the City of Fruita” — formerly known as the Fruita Fat Tire Festival.

You’ll get to ride across miles of world class mountain bike trails. And then, there are the parties and great bands in downtown Fruita during the evenings — sponsored by the aforementioned Fort Collins Brewery.

Fat tire enthusiasts from around the globe will travel to our backyard from April 29 to May 2 for this festival, featuring world-class single-track rides across spectacular high desert and red rock canyon country. It’s cool to have a great local festival that attracts world attention. It’s even cooler to live here and enjoy these trails every week.

But my mountain bike is broken and my body needs a break, so how about a hike?

Trail builders have been busy this spring, sprucing up our favorite Colorado National Monument trails.

I headed into Monument Canyon the other day to hike the National Monument’s “premier hike,” Monument Canyon Trail. Here, I found the fruits of those trail builders’ labors in the form of very large rocks — stepping stones into a geologic wonderland. Some folks don’t like these convenient repairs, but let’s face it, the Monument sees a ton of visitors each year. Some of them may not be as agile as you. Besides, these strategically placed rocks prevent erosion, so the trails will last for centuries.

There are two trail heads for this trail traversing through one of the most spectacular canyons within the National Monument. To reach the lower trail head, take Grand Avenue over the Colorado River bridge, where it turns into Colorado Highway 340 (Broadway) about 8.9 miles from the corner of 4th and Main to the Monument Canyon trail head turnoff, approximately two-tenths of a mile northwest of the Deer Park subdivision.

If you’re coming from Fruita, head toward the Monument on Highway 340, cross the Colorado River, continue past the west entrance of the monument, drive up Question Mark hill, and you’ll find the trail head parking area on your right just before you reach Deer Park subdivision.

If you’d like a beautiful drive to go along with your hike, go to the upper trail head. It’s only 19.5 miles and 35 minutes from 4th and Main through the east entrance of the Colorado National Monument along Rim Rock Drive. The trail head is located south of the Coke Ovens Overlook and approximately four miles south of the Monument Visitor Center. (Again, if you’re coming from Fruita, take Highway 340 to the monument, and turn right into the west entrance of the monument. Travel up to top of the monument and continue past the Visitors Center for four miles.)

I opted for the lower trail head the other day. The trail first winds its way behind Deer Park Subdivision before entering the cottonwood-filled mouth of Monument Canyon. The trees are just beginning to bud.

The trail then snakes upward and beneath “the island,” an incredible rock wall that shapes and turns the northern end of Monument Canyon.

As a premier hike, Monument Canyon Trail gets you down and among the standing monuments that the Colorado National Monument is famous for. Many of the park’s major rock sculptures — Independence Monument, Kissing Couple, and the Coke Ovens — tower overhead.

Look down, though, and you’ll spy tiny desert flowers, like the pretty little yellow Bladderpod, just beginning to bloom.

The first major structure encountered past “the island” is Independence Monument.

It was once part of a massive rock wall that separated Monument and Wedding Canyons. Slowly, as the forces of erosion enlarged these canyons millions of years ago, the dividing wall was narrowed and weakened. Eventually the wall was breached and parts of it collapsed. Independence Monument survived as a freestanding monolith.

Beyond Independence Monument, hikers are greeted by other startling rock structures, including the Kissing Couple, Cleopatra’s Couch and the Coke Ovens. From there, the trail climbs 500 feet in the last mile to top out on Rim Rock Drive at an elevation of 6,140 feet.

Desert flowers are beginning to peak out, and the birds are singing. It’s time to wake up and smell the Bladderpods.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife, Grand Valley Anglers and numerous other organizations will sponsor the Third Annual Outdoor Heritage Day at River Bend Park in Palisade on April 24 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Attracting more than 1,000 kids from across the valley, the day is designed to introduce children and their families to the great outdoor opportunities surrounding us, and to arm families with information on how to enjoy them on their own.

This free event features youth activities including fishing, archery, rock climbing, shooting and nature hikes. Lunch is provided.


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