One of the things that makes Colorado National Monument special is how easy it is to visit. The monument entrance is a five-minute drive off busy Interstate 70, and the most spectacular scenery is only another 15-20 minutes farther. Yet only 416,000 people visited this awesome park in 2014. Clearly, most of those hurtling down the freeway have no idea of what lies just a few miles away.
And awesome it is! It encompasses the edge of a high plateau that has been wildly eroded into deep canyons with nearly vertical walls, along with giant formations of reddish sandstone. From the rim, you look down into the canyons from 2,000 feet above, with the farms of the Grand Valley of the Colorado River off in the distance.
Scenery and more
Colorado National Monument features a well-equipped visitor center, a decent campground, and hiking trails ranging from easy strolls to challenging treks. The 22-mile scenic drive runs along the plateau edge with numerous viewpoints. The eastern end of the scenic drive leads right into Grand Junction – largest city in western Colorado. Along the way, you have a good chance of encountering wildlife, especially bighorn sheep, which are relatively abundant here.
The monument lies just east of the Utah border. It’s a great side trip if you’re road tripping on I-70 to or from Denver or the Utah canyon country. It’s also a nice day trip if you’re staying in Moab to visit Arches and Canyonlands National Parks.
Strategies for your visit
Figure on adding at least two hours for a quick stop at the visitor center and stops at the most spectacular viewpoints. The most impressive scenery is near the western end. Take Exit 19 from I-70 and follow the signs for two miles. The road immediately climbs via steep switchbacks (okay for RVs driven with care) another four miles to the visitor center at 5,787 feet. The best viewpoints are in the 5-7 miles south of there. If you’re making a side trip from I-70, it’s easiest to retrace your steps. If you’re staying overnight in Grand Junction, as I did last month, continue on the scenic drive to its end. NOTE: Watch for bicycles along the road.
For more, information, visit the monument’s website at www.nps.gov/colm/