Round Trip Distance: 4 miles (Independence Rock)
Round Trip Distance: 12 miles (Rimrock Drive)
Cellphone: 1-4 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs - No bikes
Time: 6 hrs. 15 min.
Trailhead: Lower Monument Canyon
Attractions: Monument geology, bighorn sheep, classic hike
View Monument Canyon in a larger map
The Monument Canyon trail is another jewel for the National Park Service. It looks like a lot of man hours were spent in its making. If you like walking among towering spires of sandstone and scenic canyon walls then this is the place to be. I started out before sunrise and there were already half a dozen cars in the parking lot. As I hiked in I met a dozen or so joggers making their way back to the trailhead.
The trail begins by skirting a subdivision along the NPS boundary fence. After a little over half a mile you reach the mouth of Monument Canyon.
The trail hugs the north side of the canyon as you begin to gradually work your way up the canyon gaining elevation as you go. There are several colluvial forests of boulders that give the trail a meandering statuesque character.
Independence Rock is a little over 2 miles up the trail. This towering monolith is what's left of a ridge that once divided Monument Canyon from Wedding Canyon. The Chinle formation base, which supports Independence Rock, looks to me to be getting a bit weathered. While looking at it I had to wonder how many more years would pass before it succumbs to the force and it all comes tumbling down. Independence Rock might be one of the most enduring images of Colorado National Monument that visitors take with them. This is as far as most people venture before turning around.
Just past Independence Rock, about 2.5 miles from the lower trailhead, the trail begins working its way further up the canyon turning in a southerly direction. Standing prominently at the point of each canyon cliff are silent sentinels of sandstone.
The trail bends around each of these outcrops. The first rising pinnacle is named 'The Kissing Couple'. As you round this cuddling twosome you are about 3 miles from the lower trailhead. The trail continues in this fashion for another 2 miles before turning to the west where the final approach to the upper trailhead begins to unfold.
It looks a little daunting at first as you venture towards the head of the canyon with the 'Coke Ovens' on the left and a shear wall of rock on the right. Don't get discouraged though. This is one of the best up climbs I've ever done.
The builders of this trail did an outstanding job of turning an obstacle into a hiking pleasure. If you ever have to climb 500 feet of cliff you can't do much better than this.
I reached the upper trailhead on Rimrock Drive around 0930. After eating a bagel and taking some pictures I headed back the way I came.
Just down from the upper trailhead is a branch that leads over to the 'Coke Oven' overlook. It only adds about 1 mile to the hike and it is a fairly level traverse. The Wingate sandstone that forms the cliffs has a hard cap of Kayenta formation. The protective Kayenta formation has long disappeared from the Coke Ovens and allowed them to weather into their present rounded form.
The views on the way out aren't any less spectacular. I was back at the trailhead just before noon. I went through 100 ounces of water, 60 ounces of Gatorade, 1 bagel and 2 protein bars. If you aren't up to hiking the entire trail in round trip fashion you can always make use of a second vehicle or get someone to drop you at the top. If you begin at the upper trailhead and hike the 6 miles downhill to the lower trailhead you can enjoy the scenery and avoid most of the effort. I met 2 apparent sexagenarian ladies who had someone drop them at the top. I also saw 2 other hikers who were having someone pick them up at the top. The current entrance fee is $10 per vehicle for a one week pass to the monument. If you want to drive to the upper trailhead you will need to buy a pass at the park entrance. I always buy the annual pass for $25. It's about the best bargain in town. If you want to see these extraordinary monuments for yourself all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.