Why you should visit Colorado National Monument

We’re on the edge of mud season. It’s prime time to head to the desert, soak up the last of the warm weather and play outside before it snows.

But if you’re thinking of making a trip out to, say, the Utah desert, you might not be the only one. This time of year, campgrounds in national parks like Arches and Canyonlands can be overrun with people who had the same idea you did.

There are, thankfully, other options. Colorado National Monument and the areas around it —Grand Junction and Fruita, just over that Utah state line — have canyons and trails to explore, and it’s much less crowded. Here’s what you can do there.

Road biking

The road into Colorado National Monument: perfect for spinning. Photo: Courtesy of Paul Hermans/Wikimedia Commons

Rim Rock Drive, the 23-mile grind up and over the Monument, gains 2,000 feet as it winds through the canyons. It’s a narrow, steep test piece of a ride, but the downhill payoff is long, fast and beautiful.

You can shuttle it end to end or ride up and back down either side.

Mountain biking

Tearing it up in Fruita, Colorado. Photo: Zach Dischner/Flickr

Fruita, Colorado, the next town west, is becoming known as Moab’s little brother. It’s rife with mountain biking trails for every level of rider, from the rolling, mellow cross-country riding of the 18 Road trails, to the classic Kokopelli ride, to the shorter but technical Palisade Rim Trail.

Hiking

Tons of hiking options abound around Colorado National Monument. Photo: Courtesy of Shepard4771/Flickr

The Monument is full of trails that drop down into canyons and climb up mesas. For a mellow loop, check out Wedding and Monument canyons, or the winding Serpent’s Trail, which gives you views of the valley. If you want a longer walk, go into No Thoroughfare Canyon.

Canyoneering

Go deep. Photo: Courtesy of Todd Petrie/Flickr

Colorado National Monument is lined with narrow slot canyons, giving experienced canyoneers plenty of places to explore. The Devils Kitchen area is full of tight squeezes, long rappels and deep canyon pools.

If you don’t have a background in canyoneering, there are locals guides, like Colorado Adventures, who will take you into slots like the Lemon Squeezer.

Camping

Sleep over near the Monument. Photo: Courtesy of Zach Dischner/Wikimedia Commons

Saddlehorn Campground is 4 miles into the park on the western side. It’s rarely crowded and gets you easy access into the rest of the Monument.

Bikers can camp out on 18-Road trailhead, in Fruita, then pedal from their tents.

Paddling

The popular Ruby-Horsethief Canyon. Photo: Courtesy of BLM/Flickr

The Colorado River cuts through the canyons in the area, and there’s a stretch of water to fit any kind of paddler’s need. Paddleboarders congregate on mellow in-town stretches near 32 Road, while rafters and kayakers head to the Class III Westwater and Class II Ruby-Horsethief sections of rapids.

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