Follow Rim Rock Drive from the eastern end, near Devil's Kitchen, or the western end near Redlands View. Either way, you'll be treated to the same awesome views. Along the way are a number of relatively short hiking trails; most can be explored in a few minutes.
Keep an eye out for storms, which can appear quite suddenly. Also watch for wildlife.
Monument canyon is the monster of the three main canyons. It also has a creek running down the middle. You can hike down to the bottom and back up--IF YOU want. I did not. The trail looked steep to start out and switched back and forth a lot.; like about 20 times, so the go is slow. May not have been too steep, but the distance of 6 miles one way would take a long time-I did not have, nor the energy.
This seems like a "little" Grand Canyon with the steep crevices and sheer walls of color. The 23 mile Rim Drive road is the main one going through the park, and winds up the mountains about 2,000 feet. The views are fabulous, both overlooking the park colors and valleys, but also the panorama view of the valley below. Visitor center is at the north end of the park, and has a gift shop and NPS people to answer questions. The is a road form Grand Junction that loops to both ends of the park; so you can start either direction. There are 14 trails that can be taken and around 11 overlooks along Rim Rock Dr. The greenery and foliage are the main feature here, besides the steep drops into the valley floor, if you get that far.
The park also connects with McInnis CAnyons that is managed by Bureau of Land Management. It is much more rugged and remote for sites and adventures, but there are trails for hiking, biking, horseback riding. Adjacent to that is the Black Ridge Canyon Wilderness, an even more remote NCA, and no roads to enter; only foot or horseback.
Overall these two rugged and back country areas encompass about 190 square miles. Black Ridge was dedicated in 1964 and has 75,500 acres. There are no roads into it, and horseback, hiking are the methods to access. McInnis also was dedicated as NCA -National Conservation Area in 2000 to keep it form being overrun by tourists and being ruined for the ecology purposes. Both are difficult to figure out where to go into. There is a Rattlesnake arch about 13 miles in if you want to take the risk. Maybe could even venture in by vehicle, but it is said to by hard to do.
I started to drive in-but got set back a short distance because the road sucked. I did walk in for a ways, but too big for me.
The Rim Rock Road is steep in some areas, and many 10-20 MPH curves in others; or both at once in spots. Many switchbacks need to be overtaken. The CCC built most of the roads in 1930's with nothing more than hand tools for a lot of it. John Otto, who started the park designation and stayed here 1906-1930 also carved and dug out many trails and roads. He was dedicated to the park and in 1911 is was dedicated as one.
This is a nice, but watch your footing trail down toward the oven range. They are about a dozen rock formation eroded to a point that now leaves only pinnacles with balanced rocks standing out from the valley. The hike was 1/2 mile, to get the view, but you can/I did take the other trail too down the cliff face a ways. It is steep.
This is a supposed to be 3/4 miles each way hike. My calculations off the pedometer was 1.2 miles one way and I took a long route back for a 1.5 mile trek. The first half was easy walk through the sand and along rock base. The last half was a rather rigorous climb up a huge rock cliff and the incline was 300 feet. So, that was not that easy. I saw a lot of people turn back because they could not reach the distances between the rocks to climb up.
The Serpent rail is an easy slower incline and is about 2 miles long one way. It connect to the other end of the road before Cold Shivers overlook. There were at lest 15 curves/switchbacks to take on. That was not bad, but takes times. The climb is nice because the view looking down to the canyon is nice.
The visitor's center is typical of the National Park service providing information, exhibits, slide shows a gift and book store. Rangers or volunteers are on hand to answer any questions. There's a covered viewing area of the surrounding mountains out the back door. A few hiking trails commence here as well.
The visitor's center is located 4 miles into the park from the west entrance. During the off season, your National Park fee is to be paid here since the west entrance gate is not staffed.
The free-standing monolith was once a massive rock wall separating Monument and Wedding Canyons. Through the forces of nature the wall eroded and collapsed leaving the rock monument standing on its own.
The west entrance of the park ascends rather quickly up the Rim Rock Drive which is 23 miles in length. There are many hairpin curves and steep drops so watch your speed. In my opinion the most dramatic viewpoints are on the west end yet the eastern section has views from the highest points.
If you fly into Grand Junction, CO there are some outstanding views of the Rim Rock Drive from the left side of the plane.
The view to the right includes the rock formation in the foreground of the "Kissing Couple" and further back Monument Mesa. On the valley floor is Monument Canyon Trail traversing 6 miles of Monument Valley where most of the major rock formations can be seen.
This photo was taken along the Black Ridge Trail. From this vantage point, you can see a sample of all the scenery Colorado National Monument has to offer. The plateau drops off near one of the canyons, exposing the black sandstone cliff in the distance. The view stretches even farther still, hundreds of miles toward the San Juan mountains.
Like most wilderness areas, Colorado National Monument was created by the patient yet powerful forces of nature. The monuments' sandstone landscape was created by an evolutionary process which began 300 million years ago.
The once mountain range uplifted, probably due to the shifting of plates beneath the Earth's surface, the sediment eroded and the area became a broad flat plain. Red sand washed through the plain in the wake of the rivers and winds swept even more sand on the surface. This process continued for tens of millions of years, creating the layers of sandstone which are now visible today.
Rim Rock drive climbs about 2,000 feet in a series of hairpin turned switchbacks. From the road's summit near the Visitor's Center, the town of Grand Junction is visible below, and far off on the distant horizon, the San Juan Mountains form the backdrop of this otherwise seemingly endless plateau.
The deep canyons are perhaps the most striking feature of Colorado National Monument. The canyons were formed by the uplifting of an ancient Rocky Mountain range, millions of years ago. Today, the canyon's depths are places of solitude, as few venture that far into the region. Unfortunately, these canyons amplify the traffic and other noise from neighboring cities and, while its possible to hike without seeing another person, the presence of man is made well known and quite audibly.