Located in southwest Colorado near the city of Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument is a semi-desert area of the Colorado Plateau. Designated a National Monument in 1911, it spans about 20,000 acres and, according to the National Park Service, attracts about three-quarters of a million visitors each year.
These steep-walled red canyons were first explored in depth around the turn of the twentieth century by John Otto, who dredged trails and made the canyon accessible to visitors. He and others in the region rallied for the park to become a national monument, and when it did, Otto became the first park ranger. Because of Otto's work, guests have enjoyed the park's colorful formations and huge monoliths for nearly a century.
Many visitors head to Colorado National Monument for the excellent hiking opportunities available. Hikes range from just a quarter-mile to more than 8 miles. Many are quite easy and provide good looks at some of the park's most famous formations, such as Wedding Canyon and Independence Monument. The more rigorous trails involve large changes in elevation and take hikers to The Kissing Couple and other harder-to-reach formations. Some are best accomplished as multi-day trips and camping is permitted in the back country. Many of the trails are also suitable for horseback riding.
The main road through the park, Rim Rock Drive, is available to bicyclists. This 23-mile drive is shared with cars and can be quite strenuous in many spots. Connecting roads may be accessed as well, extending the ride by about 10 miles. Off-road mountain biking is not permitted at the monument but many other national park areas nearby do offer mountain biking opportunities.
Climbing is also a popular pursuit among the canyons of the Colorado National Monument. Climbs range from moderate to difficult and many of them are suitable for experienced climbers only. Most of the climbing is accessed from the West entrance of the monument and most of the climbs are of the crack climbing variety. There are also some bolted routes and local outfitters offer guided climbs for both novice and experienced climbers.
The Visitor Center at Colorado National Monument offers maps for trails and climbing as well as an exhibit room, a slide presentation, and an occasional geology presentation. The Colorado National Monument Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of the monument, also runs a bookstore at the Visitor Center, providing educational and interpretive materials.
The park's Saddleback Campground is situated near the Visitor Center and includes 80 campsites available on a first come, first serve basis. Sites can accommodate tents or recreational vehicles up to 32 feet. Flush toilets and water are available during the summer as are picnic tables and charcoal grills.