The Colorado National Monument, in Fruita, Colorado, is a stunning, scenic attraction that draws visitors from all over the country. Take a hike, check out the visitor center, have a picnic, and even do some rock climbing… visiting is pure family fun.

More ideas: Best Weekend Getaways, Best Day Trips

History

Originally discovered by John Otto (the same man who founded nearby Grand Junction)

because prior to that the residents of the area believed the canyons to be completely inaccessible to people, the national monument was established in 1911. Otto was actually hired on as a park ranger after that, drawing a dollar a month salary and living in a tent on the grounds. The area gained popularity in the 1980s after its inclusion in the Coors Classic bicycle race.

Permanent Attractions and Exhibits

Saddlehorn Visitor Center: A great starting place for a visit to the national monument is the visitor center. Full of maps, brochures, and educational exhibits, the knowledgeable staff is happy to answer questions and give pointers about how to make the best of a visit. There are also two different twelve-minute movies about the history of the site - one is a pictorial overview and the other focuses on the geology.

Hiking: The trails located around the national monument offer a wide variety of opportunities for hikers of all skill levels. It is also an excellent opportunity for photographers and bird watchers due to its scenic nature. With hiking trails that range from a quick quarter mile to a much lengthier trail that spans 14 miles, hikers can decide whether they want to spend a few minutes or a few hours on the trails. No pets or bicycles are allowed.

Rock Climbing: Hundreds of climbers visit the national monument every year to try their hands at the sandstone spires and cliffs. The majority of rock climbing routes in the park require climbers use more traditional rock climbing techniques and use or installation of any permanent hardware is strictly prohibited. Make sure to read through all climbing regulations prior to visiting.

Rim Rock Drive: For guests who prefer to see the premises from their vehicles, there is Rim Rock Drive. It is often listed as one of the most scenic drives in the entire United States and features natural beauty in the form of red rock canyons, green junipers, and mostly blue skies. Guests should be aware that the drive can be challenging, however, and is very steep in certain areas. This, paired with the fact that the road is narrow and has sheer drop offs mean that guests should be aware and use extreme caution. Always use headlights, obey the 25-mph speed limit, use caution around bicyclists and share the road.

Operating hours for the national monument visitor center vary seasonally. In the summer, the visitor center is open from 8am to 6pm. After October 1st, the visitor center is open slightly less hours, opening at 9am and closing at 5pm. They are closed on major holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. The monument itself is open all day long, all year round.

Educational Opportunities

Field trips are a frequent occurrence at the national monument. Bring students to dive deeper into geology, ecology, and cultural history outside of the classroom. Field trips are all guided by park rangers. The programs offered are divided into grade levels and can all be viewed ahead of time on the website or by contacting an education ranger. Self-guided field trips are also allowed and curriculum and be viewed and downloaded ahead of time on their website. Reservations should be made at least three weeks ahead of time.

Children who visit with their families can also participate in the junior ranger program. Download the guide ahead of time, or pick it up when stopping at the visitor center. Meant for children ages 5 to 12, children who complete the activities, go for a hike, and have their work checked by a park ranger will receive a certificate of completion and a badge.

Dining and Shopping

There are no dining sites available when visiting the national monument, but picnics are always welcome. There are two designated picnic areas (Devils Kitchen and Saddlehorn) that can be reserved prior to a visit. There is also a bookstore located in the visitor center and, due to the national monument’s non-for-profit status, the profits help supports the day to day operations of the site. They sell a variety of books, apparel, and other souvenirs.

Colorado National Monument, 1750 Rim Rock Drive, Fruita, CO, 81521, Phone: 970-858-3617

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