Round Trip Distance: 5 miles
Difficulty: Moderate - Strenuous
Elevation: 4722 - 5411 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Usage: Hiking - No Dogs - Equestrian
Time: 2 hrs. 30 mins.
Trailhead: Lower Monument Canyon
Attractions: geology, wildlife, wildflowers, rock climbing
View Independence Monument in a larger map
The Independence Monument trail is located in the Colorado National Monument. The entire length of this trail, other than the loop around Independence Monument itself, is shared with the Monument Canyon trail and the Wedding Canyon loop. The trail gets heavy use from hikers, trail runners and rock climbers who mostly come to climb the monolith of Independence Monument. The canyon is home to a growing population of bighorn sheep that can sometimes be spotted grazing along the rugged Precambrian cliffs below the trail as well as moving or laying among the boulders above it.
The Lower Monument Canyon trailhead is one of three trailheads along the base of the monument that provide access to hikers without charging a fee. Perhaps that is why none of the three trailheads have a restroom although they do have very nice kiosks. The other two trailheads, if you are wondering, are the Gold Star Canyon and Wildwood trailheads.
Early visitors to Monument Canyon would begin ride or drive to the mouth of the canyon and begin their trek from there. That area is now blocked by private land so the hike begins about 3/4 of a mile away a follows around the mountain along the monuments boundary to the mouth of the canyon.
The eastern boundary of the Colorado National Monument is lined with what is called the 'buffalo fence'. The monument served as an animal preserve giving home to a small herd of bison for about 50 years. Most were removed because of a lack of forage but the last one remained until its death around 1980. Where the buffalo declined the bighorn sheep seem to be thriving.
Independence Monument first comes into view at the mouth of the canyon. There is a trail register at this point that probably gets signed by about 1 out of every 10 visitors.
The trail is very well constructed with an easy to follow path. The unhewn natural rock serves as the base of the trail in a few places. These more primitive trail sections may leave you searching more carefully for footing but they are still easy enough to manage.
A broken arch can be spied high atop one of the cliffs of Wingate sandstone. It appears that the cliff on the right side of the picture has slipped down a few feet causing the apparent separation in the arch. Eagles can sometimes be spotted nesting in the cliff along the trail.
An extraordinary amount of work seems to have been put into the building of the trail. Some sections of rock were originally blasted with dynamite by John Otto. Since then many many stone steps have been put in place along the course of the trail making the canyon more accessible and pleasant to hike for the multitudes of visitors.
The trail will feed your thirst for adventure as it winds through and around giant boulders with amazing views of distant spires and the ruggedness of the belly of the canyon.
A group of climbers returning after having conquered the summit. Every year on the 4th of July climbers climb Independence Monument and plant the United Stats flag on the summit. A tradition that follows in the steps of the first known person to climb the towering monolith John Otto. For some of the climbers it is their first ever experience at rock climbing.
The base of the monument becomes much more massive in appearance the closer you approach it but the 450 foot height becomes harder to gauge. At this point most people either turn around or find a place to rest for awhile and enjoy the scenery before heading back. Other hikers might continue to follow the trail to Rimrock Drive as described in the Monument Canyon hike. And then there are the most inquisitive that look for a trail that travels completely around the base of the monument. You will find it if you continue around to the west side and climb to the saddle but be warned this part of the trail is very primitive and much too rough for most people.
Looking north into Wedding Canyon you can see from left to right the spires of 'The Pipe Organ', 'Praying Hands', 'Sentinel Spire', and 'Window Rock'. Some of the spires looking the other direction into Monument Canyon include 'The Kissing Couple' and 'Squaw Fingers'.
This picture was taken of the trail on the backside of Independence Monument. The YouTube slideshow at the end of this post has a complete set of pictures showing the route around the monument. The main point is that parts of the trail are steep and covered with loose dirt and scree. There really isn't much in the way of cliff exposure to worry about. The rock climbers us the east end of the trail to gain access to their starting point.
The hike out is all downhill except for the gentle rise of the hills along the buffalo fence. Hikers that aren't in the greatest of shape are usually pretty tired at that point and those gentle hills probably feel more like mountains. There are so many places where you can stop and rest making use of the rocks and boulders along the trail that this place probably has no use for such improvements such as benches. People have been spotted hiking out through the ravine of Precambrian rock that drains the canyon and at present there aren't any trail closure signs preventing them. Be warned though that there are several waterfall areas to scale down that sometimes have deep pools of water at their base and if you get caught in the bottom during a flash flood you may have trouble escaping.
The Independence Monument trail is one of the most popular trails in the valley. It usually never seems crowded even when the parking area is completely full of vehicles. Because the trail gets full sun in most places, even during the colder months, it is a good hike anytime of the year. Bighorn can often be seen basking on its sunny slopes during the winter. That same exposure makes it very warm during the summer and you may find that when the temperatures get above 80F that you will need a lot more water than on a hike of comparable distance. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.