With sheer walled canyons and towering rock formations, the Colorado National Monument in (where else?) Colorado provides a unique environment and was established as a National Monument in 1911 to preserve this landscape and its wildlife inhabitants. The Colorado National Monument occupies 20,500 acres and is located on a high desert plateau in Colorado State with the Monument Canyon running the width of the park.
The sandstone walls of the canyon have a spectacular reddish color and granite rock formations rise above the surface of the canyon, providing interesting sightseeing and photographic opportunities. Rim Rock Drive winds through the park, and allows visitors access to large sections of the park and a view of the majestic canyons. Watch out for wildlife while driving, hiking, riding, or cycling in this National Park. Bighorn sheep, deer, eagles, and coyotes are local inhabitants of the region.
The Saddlehorn Campground allows RVers to stay in this fascinating environment and participate in a variety of activities. The visitor center located on the west side of the park has a natural history museum and plenty of information that will help you to fully enjoy your stay here. A few things to note: pets are allowed at the campground, but do not have access to all the areas of the park including the hiking trails, and biting insects are prevalent in early summer, so insect repellent will make your stay here more pleasant between May and July.
To access the Colorado National Monument from the east, drive west on Highway I-70 to the town of Grand Junction. Take Exit 31 at Horizon Drive and follow signage directing you to the Colorado National Monument east entrance. From the east entrance, the visitor center and Saddlehorn campground are 19 miles on the access road which is paved.
If you are approaching from the west, take the I-70 to Exit 19 at Fruita and go south three miles on Highway 340 to the west entrance. The visitor centre and campground are four miles from the west entrance.
The road through the park has sheer cliffs beside the road. If this makes you uneasy while hauling a trailer or driving an RV, approach the west entrance so that you will be using the inside lane to approach the campground, next to the hillside, and away from the steep drop. Likewise, exit via the east entrance to avoid driving next to the steep drops.
The Rim Rock Drive has tunnels and motorists are required to keep their lights on when traversing these tunnels. Check height allowances, and be aware of your RV's height, including any items such as boats and bicycles stored on top of your RV which could be affected. Also, check conditions as some roads in the park may occasionally be closed due to poor conditions, rock, or mud slides.
Saddlehorn campground provides 79 unserviced sites, just four miles from the west entrance to the park, and 19 miles from the east entrance. The campground is tucked in among the red rock formations, with some juniper trees providing shade to campsites. The visitor centre is situated nearby. The campground has three loops. Loop A is open all year and suitable for RVs and tents and available on a first come first serve basis. Loop B is also suitable for RVs and tents and available for reservations. Loop B is limited to a one night stay if not reserved prior to your visit. Loop C is only suitable for tents, and is available on a first come first serve basis. Loops B and C are only open from March until October. There are outhouses available all year and restrooms with flush toilets available during the peak season. No shower facilities are located on site. Amenities include accessible campsites, cell phone service, picnic areas, recycling stations, picnic tables, seasonally available water, and grills. Generator usage is prohibited between 8 PM and 8 AM. Pets are permitted in the campground on a leash and on paved paths, but not on hiking trails.
The Colorado National Monument is known for its steep canyon walls, cliffs, mesas, and rock formations, so of course, rock climbing is a popular pastime at the park. Rock climbers must be aware of rules and regulations to ensure safety, and preserve the unique natural ecosystem here. Traditional climbing techniques are used to preserve the pristine environment. There are several climbing guides and outfitters that can equip you, show you appropriate climbing sites, and provide guidance to both beginners and experienced rock climbing enthusiasts.
While staying at the Colorado National Monument, keep an eye out on hiking trails and roads for local wildlife. Have your camera ready to capture the moment, but do not crowd wildlife which can be dangerous at close proximity or if they feel threatened. Some of the unique creatures you may encounter in this desert, canyon, and juniper forest environment include mule deer, bighorn sheep, and grey foxes. There are also desert cottontail rabbits, rock squirrels, Hopi chipmunks, and collared lizards. The skies are home to eagles, hawks, and vultures, and coyotes are also abundant in the canyons and forests. Although extremely reclusive, visitors have even spotted the occasional mountain lion, although these are rare sights indeed. There are also snakes in the park, although only one rare species, the midget faded rattlesnake, is venomous. Reptiles and amphibians can be seen, or in the case of frogs, heard, in summer months, especially after thunderstorms.
While bicycles are not permitted on the off road trails in the park, they are permitted on the Rim Rock Drive and other paved roadways that connect to form a 33 mile grand loop in the Colorado National Monument. Cyclists venturing out on the full Rim Rock Drive will experience a total 2300 vertical feet of climbing, with some very steep grades, so make sure you and your equipment are up to the trip. Although off-road mountain biking is not permitted in the park, there are several adjacent areas where it is permitted within a short drive of the campground.
Hiking later in the year, when biting insects have died off, and when the air is cooler, allowing hikers not to become overheated on strenuous uphill treks, will make this activity more pleasant in the Colorado National Monument region. There are over 40 maintained trails of varying length and difficulty levels in the park. Pick a trail that is appropriate for your skill level. The visitor center will have detailed maps and information on trails and updated condition reports. Please note that pets and bicyclists are prohibited on these wilderness trails. The Window Rock Trailhead is situated right at the campground, and is a 1/4 of a mile, and rated as easy. It is convenient for RV campers to use, and provides views of Monument and Wedding Canyon as well as Independence Monument.
Several trails in the Colorado National Monument are open to equestrians and their horses when trail surfaces are dry. Trails are more likely to be in good condition in the fall, and temperatures are still relatively mild, however biting insects have dissipated somewhat, making this an ideal time to venture out on the trails on four legs! Please note that horses are not permitted on archaeological or historic sites. Horses are permitted on the first five miles of Upper Liberty Cap Trail, the first three miles of Black Ridge Trail, the first five and a half miles of the Monument Canyon Trail, and the entire four mile length of the Old Gordon Trail. Use caution in this rough desert and canyon landscape; horses can spook when they encounter wildlife or where unfamiliar steep terrain is present. Ensure your horse is accustomed to the environment for their safety and yours.
The famous, and historic, Rim Rock Drive twists and turns through the canyon environment. This 23 mile road is accessible to motor vehicles and provides a birds eye view of the scenic canyon and rock formations in the Colorado National Monument. As you travel this route you will notice several lookouts with interpretive signs providing information about the natural wonders along the way. From the comfort of your vehicle, view the redrock canyons, wide open skies, and stands of juniper forest. The road is narrow, has sharp turns, steep inclines, and sheer drop offs on one side, so use caution and watch for large trucks that use sections of the road and cyclists. Some things to be aware of: when you encounter a tunnel, be sure to turn on your headlights, the speed limit is 25 mph, and you should leave three feet of clearance and use caution when passing bicycles. Fall and winter months are an ideal time to take this drive, as there is less tourist traffic and you can enjoy the views from your climate controlled vehicle. Just be sure that wet slippery conditions are not present that would make this drive hazardous.