Monument Canyon

Round Trip Distance: 7 - 12 miles
Difficulty: Strenuous
Elevation: 5224 - 6070 feet
Cellphone: 2-5 bars
Time: 3 -6 hrs.
Trailhead: Upper Monument Canyon
Fee: $15/vehicle, $10/motorcycle, $5/hike-bicyclist
Attractions: Scenic geology, bighorn

The Monument Canyon trail in the Colorado National Monument near Grand Junction, Colorado is another jewel for the National Park Service. The upper end of the trail begins at a trailhead on Rimrock Drive where it makes a winding 700 foot descent into Monument Canyon. From there it travels along the base of the cliffs passing various rock formations like the 'Kissing Couple'. Near the midpoint of the trail it passes the hulking mass of Independence Monument which separates Monument Canyon from Wedding Canyon. Continuing past the junction of the 2 canyons the trail works its way on to the lower trailhead near Highway 340. This post covers the portion of the trail between the upper trailhead and Independence Monument which is covered in a different post. If you like walking among towering spires of sandstone and scenic canyon walls then this is the place to be.

The Upper Monument Canyon trailhead is 4 miles past the Visitor Center on Rimrock Drive.

Spectacular views of Monument Canyon begin unfolding as hikers work their way beneath the rim descending carefully built staircases of stone and wood.

Within a quarter mile of the trailhead the route passes the start of the Coke Ovens trail.

The trail passes a sign in box for those that are venturing further into the canyon. A long wide ramp comes up that was blasted out of the cliff to provide a hiking route where one would have otherwise been impossible. At the bottom of the ramp the trail continues down a slide that has a series of switchbacks that are most memorable on the hike back out of the canyon.

During the descent, which lasts for more than a mile before the trail begins leveling off, you truly begin to feel part of the canyon

It was at this point, before reaching the main canyon, that we were able to spot a couple of bighorn rams up near the base of the cliffs. We had seen some fresh scat as we were coming down the trail which let us know to be on the lookout. A 450mm zoom lens was used to take this photo as they were 50 or 60 yards or more away. It is best not to approach the bighorn as it causes them stress which leads to blisters in their mouths. At times you might encounter them within 10-15 feet of the trail and that is fine as long as you don't try to approach them. Unless they are laying down they will shortly move on as they continue to browse amongst the bushes.

By the 2 mile point the trail is well around the point of the cliff and headed on down the canyon. From here the canyon walls, towering spires and monoliths create an awe inspiring scene that is sure to delight all that are lucky enough to behold it.

One of the geological features that the trail passes is called the 'Kissing Couple' which forms a natural arch that is best viewed and appreciated from just this spot.

When viewed from the east Independence Monument looks like a tall skinny spire that the wind could almost blow over. The broadside view coming down the Monument Canyon trail reveals its true mass which is all that is left from a fin of sandstone that probably once divided the 2 canyons.

For this post we turned around at the 3.5 mile point on the east side of Independence Monument where the primitive trail through Wedding Canyon branches off on the left. It is another 2.5 miles from here to the Lower Monument Canyon trailhead. If you would like to hike all the way around Independence Monument on your way back there is a climbers trail that you can follow. It is a bit rugged but it gets the job done. Be careful to stay on the existing trail and not create any new ones.

For those that want to hike then entire length of the trail through Monument Canyon we recommend starting at the lower trailhead if doing it in round trip fashion. Our original post for Monument Canyon might be useful for planning your hike. Most hikers and trail runners either start at the lower trailhead and hike to Independence Monument, returning the way they came, or loop back to the lower trailhead via Wedding Canyon - or they start at the upper trailhead and hike to Independence Monument and back like we did for this post. The Park Service has made a lot of noticeable improvements to the upper portion of the Monument Canyon trail making an already great hike even better. Anyone that doesn't mind a good workout will enjoy it even more while being surrounded by the beauty of the Colorado National Monument. If you would like to see it for yourself then all you have to do is 'Take a hike'.