Come battle me and my buddies in Serpents Trail Centennial Challenge

A group of third-graders participate in Junior Ranger activities during National Parks Week at the Colorado National Monument. This Saturday is the Serpents Trail Challenge.



Drive time and distance:  15 minutes, 6.6 miles

Length: 2.5 miles

Hiking Time: 1.5 hours to 2.25 hours

Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous

How many times can you hike up and down historic Serpents Trail on the Colorado National Monument in five hours?

Wanna bet?

Meet me on the monument next Saturday and you’ll have a chance to test your endurance against me and a bunch of my buddies, or, well, maybe just a bunch of my buddies.

May 1 is when the non-profit Colorado National Monument Association will host the Serpents Trail Centennial Challenge. This challenge is for hikers of all ages and abilities.

John Otto successfully lobbied congress to designate these glorious red rock canyons as a national treasure 99 years ago. Registration proceeds from the Serpents Trail Challenge will support public events for our very own Colorado National Monument Centennial Celebration next year when the monument turns 100 years old.

Otto believed this unique geological wonderland deserved national park status. Of course, national monument status was the next best thing. But you never know, that park designation may still happen, even 100 years later.

Saturday’s endurance challenge begins at 7 a.m. and lasts until noon. You can enter individually or as a team of four. Registration fee for adults is $25. A team of four costs $90. Young hikers 12 years of age and younger may register for $10 (T-shirt not included). Extra T-shirts cost $10 each.

Your entry fee includes admission to the Colorado National Monument, the hike, aid stations, kid-friendly educational stations, T-shirt, prizes and live music in the Devils Kitchen Picnic Area after hiking. Plus, you’ll help support next year’s centennial celebration.

The trail head for Serpents Trail is easy to find. It’s just inside the east entrance of the Colorado National Monument, located at the end of Monument Road (take a left off Broadway after you cross the Colorado River). From the entrance gate, travel .3 miles. Park on the left. The trail is on the right-hand side of the road.

Since it will be crowded on the day of the challenge, parking will be available at the monument entrance, and a shuttle bus will take you to the trail head. You can also walk or ride your bicycle in order to loosen up for the challenge.

Once dubbed the “Crookedest Road in the World,” this trail is now on the National Register of Historic Structures. Otto laid it out in the early 1900s. In fact, Otto built most of the monument’s trails and was its first custodian.

Serpents Trail was used as part of the main road onto Glade Park and Pinyon Mesa until 1950. The trail is 1.75 miles one way with a bucket-load of switchbacks, climbing steadily from east to west. The National Park Service suggests it takes the average hiker 1.5 hours to travel up and down this steep dirt road.

Views overlooking the Grand Valley from this trail are great, but watch your step and your children at overlooks and steep dropoffs. This past week, hundreds of third-graders from throughout the Grand Valley got to enjoy a nature hike on Serpents Trail as part of National Parks Week and Junior Ranger events. As far as I know, they didn’t lose one Junior Ranger, although a couple of chaperones were talked down from the edge.

Bicycles and motorized vehicles are not allowed on this trail, leaving it to foot-powered pedestrians or stout wheelchairs only. That makes it nice for hikers and runners alike. (There’s no running during the endurance challenge, though. Hiking only! That’ll give old guys like me a chance.).

Normally, you pay to play here. I have an $80 National Parks Pass. The monument also offers a $20 yearly pass. Both are bargains for the number of times I’m on the monument or visiting another national treasure somewhere on the great Colorado Plateau. Seven-day passes for the Colorado National Monument cost $4 for bicycles, $7 for cars.

Those fees are waived if you participate in the Serpents Trail Centennial Challenge. Register early so the National Monument Association can print up enough T-shirts. Registration forms are available at, the Serpents Trail trail head and the entrances and visitor center of the Colorado National Monument. You can also call 970-858-3617, ext. 360.

If you’re not up to the challenge and you only want to hike up and down once, that’s cool, too. Between 8 a.m. and noon, you can take “The Serpents Tour,” a leisurely hike on the trail, stopping at kid-friendly activity stations along the way to spot desert wildlife in the cliffs, make an animal track bandanna and more.

And here’s something to ponder as you hike up and down this trail, passing me like I’m standing still, which I probably will be: Shouldn’t Serpents Trail have an apostrophe, as in Serpent’s Trail?


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