Monument Canyon Trail, Monument Canyon - Upper Trailhead, Colorado National Monument, Colorado

Monument Canyon Trail - 11.6 miles

Monument Canyon - Upper Trailhead

The red-rock monoliths of Monument Canyon (GPS: N39 4.813 W108 43.41)

The red-rock monoliths of Monument Canyon (GPS: N39 4.813 W108 43.41)

Round-Trip Length: 11.6 miles
Start-End Elevation: 6,140' - 4,722' (6,140' max elevation at trailhead)
Elevation Change: -1,418' net elevation loss (+2,000' total roundtrip evelation gain)
Skill Level: Moderate
Dogs Allowed: No
Bikes Allowed: No
Horses Allowed: No
Related Trails:

Monument Canyon Trail - 11.6 Miles Round-Trip

The Monument Canyon Trail is the quintessence of Colorado National Monument. Rangers will tell you that if you have time for only one long trail, this is it.

The trail begins at Monument Canyon's Upper Trailhead and drops 900' in just .9 miles to the canyon floor.

This initial descent follows 50M years of geological history including sedimentary rock deposited during the Upper Jurassic and Upper Triassic periods of the Mesozoic Era. As you descend, you will notice several different layers, all with their own unique characteristics that helped to create these sheer walls and rock formations.

The rock layers, from top to bottom:

  • Layer 1 = Variegated sandstone and mudstone layers of the Tidwell Member of the Morrison and Wanakah Formations
  • Layer 2 = Salmon-colored slickrock formations of the Entrada Sandstone family
  • Layer 3 = Very resistant, darker colored and bench-forming Kayenta Sandstone
  • Layer 4 = Towering, sheer walled and cliff forming Wingate Sandstone layer
  • Layer 5 = The crumbly, red-brick colored rock of the Chinle Formation

Below the Chinle Formation lies two types of harder metamorphic rock from the Precambrian period called gneiss and schist.

Upon reaching the canyon floor, Pinyon Pine and Juniper Trees dominate the landscape as Yucca plants and Mormon Tea abound. The canyon floor is rife with Wildlife including mule deer, desert cottontail and desert bighorn sheep. If you look close, signs are life are everywhere.

The trail flattens out on the canyon floor and skirts the sheer red-rock walls. At the 1.8 mile mark, the canyon opens up to reveal the giant red-rock monolith formations that give Monument Canyon its name. Within view from a distance are the impressive Pipe Organ, Praying Hands and Kissing Couple formations, all of which get closer as the trail continues.

The next 1.5 miles undulate along the canyon floor with good views of Pipe Organ, Praying Hands and Independence Monument along the way. Independence Monument, a 450' high red-rock formation is where John Otto, the founder of Colorado National Monument, was married.

It was he who first created this 'trail' in hopes that one day it would be made an official monument. In 1911, the area was declared an official monument. Also visible from this spot is Window Rock, an arch-like formation easily identified in the distance.

Upon passing the famous monoliths, at 4.2 miles the trail begins a steady descent on its way to the lower trailhead. Look for signs of Desert Bighorn Sheep along this stretch, as they are frequently spotted in this area of the monument.

At 5.0 miles (4,768') the trail levels past a sign-in sheet for the lower Monument Canyon trailhead. It bears left and follows a barbed-wire fence with residential homes off to the right to the terminus at the lower Monument Canyon Trailhead (5.8 miles : 4,722').

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Worth Noting

  • Water is not available on this trail. Carry at least one gallon of water per person, per day.

Camping and Backpacking Information

Saddlehorn Campground

  • The Saddlehorn Campground is located next to the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, four miles from the west entrance.

  • $20 per site per night (in addition to the entrance fee). $10 per site per night discount for holders of Inter-agency Senior or Inter-agency Access Passes.

  • There are 80 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis with a self-registration kiosk at the entrance. Sites accommodate tents and RVs, with some pull-through sites (length limit is 40').

  • Each site includes a picnic table and charcoal-only grill. Wood fires are not permitted anywhere in the monument. There are no electric hookups or showers. Restrooms have flush toilets and water available during the summer.

  • 7 person per site limit, 3 tents per site, and two 2 vehicles per site. Generator use is prohibited from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.

Backcountry Camping Regulations

  • Backcountry Camping Permits are required in Colorado National Monument. Permits are free. The permit must be in your possession while traveling in the backcountry.

  • Group size is limited to 7 people.

  • Campers must camp 1/4 mile or more from any road or developed facility and 150' from any trail. Camping is not permitted in streambeds.

  • Fires are not permitted, with the exception of gas or alcohol camp stoves.

  • Pets, bicycles, motorized equipment, and devices such as radios, generators, etc., are not allowed in the backcountry.

  • In any calendar year, backcountry campers are limited to 14 overnight stays, whether accrued consecutively or in any combination of separate visits. Single trips are limited to 7 nights.

  • Water is not available in the backcountry, even during the spring runoff. Springs, streams, and pools may contain harmful substances like selenium or bacteria like Giardia.


Rules and Regulations

Entrance Fees
Private, non-commercial vehicle: $10
Motorcycles: $5
Individual (hiker, bicyclist ): $5

Fees are good for seven consecutive days. Fees apply to persons 16 years and older.

  • It's illegal to move, remove, or enter historical artifacts or structures unless explicitly stated.
  • Pets are not permitted on trails in Colorado National Monument. Never leave pets in unattended vehicles.
  • Mountain bikes are not allowed on trails in Colorado National Monument.

Directions to Trailhead

The Monument Canyon Trail is located at Monument Canyon's Upper Trailhead, 8.1 miles from the park's west entrance on Rim Rock Road.

East Entrance from Denver Grand Junction: Take Highway I-70 to Grand Junction, and take Exit 31 (Horizon Drive). Follow signs through Grand Junction to the east entrance. 

West Entrance from Denver to Fruita: Take Highway I-70 to Exit 19 (Fruita) and go south on Highway 340 to the west entrance, which is approximately four miles from Fruita.

East Entrance From Utah to Grand Junction: Take Highway I-70 to Grand Junction, and take Exit 31 (Horizon Drive). Follow signs through Grand Junction to the east entrance.

West Entrance from Utah to Fruita: Take Highway I-70 to Exit 19 (Fruita) and go south on Highway 340 to the west entrance, which is approximately four miles from Fruita.

Contact Information

Colorado National Monument
Fruita, CO 81521-0001

Trip Reports

There are no trip reports on this trail.


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