The ugly truth about Colorado National Monuments is simple and that truth is they are completely worth visiting. Here is our complete guide to all of the National Monuments in Colorado and our favorite outdoor activity at each of them to do.
Colorado National Monument
Located near the Utah border, this breathtaking national park features steep red rock canyons, wide plateaus, and immense monoliths. Whether you’re visiting for a sunny day hike, overnight camping at their 80-site campground, or simply taking a drive along Rim Rock Drive, this spectacular American treasure holds one eye-catching scene after another. It’s no wonder it’s known as one of the great landscapes of the American West!
If you are looking for a fun hike, the Devil’s Kitchen is a favorite at Colorado National Monument. Known for its unique geological features and rock scrambling opportunities, “the kitchen” is a rewarding half mile and offers spectacular views of the valley below.
Browns Canyon National Monument
Currently under the care of both the National Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, this canyon looms over the Arkansas River and has long attracted rafters, hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, and photographers alike.
Formed by a glacier more than 70 million years ago, this canyon boasts tall spires that have been likened to those of a cathedral and is home to some of the highest peaks in the region.
For a scenic view of the Arkansas River, hike the 5.5 mile River Bench Trail at from the Hecla Junction Trailhead!
Yucca House National Monument
One of the largest archaeological sites in southwest Colorado, these ancient remains once acted as a primary community center for the Ancestral Puebloan people from 1150-1300 AD. Remarkably, the stone edifice was originally created around a prolific spring and was once mistakenly thought to have been built by the Aztecs. Because the site has only been subjected to limited archaeological testing and has never been excavated, it imparts a sense of discovery for the observer after remaining virtually untouched for nearly 1,000 years.
Hike in the third of a mile to the Yucca House during wildflower season for optimal views!
Chimney Rock National Monument
This free monument is a truly undiscovered gem in southwestern Colorado. Featuring dramatic rocky spines reaching thousands of feet into the air as well as ruins from Ancestral Puebloans of the Chaco Canyon, this monument sits nestled in the San Juan National Forest and contains roughly 200 ancient ceremonial buildings and homes. Sign up for one of their guided informational tours for deeper insights into these historical rarities!
The hike from the trailhead to the summit is about a half mile and rewards with panoramic views of both Colorado and New Mexico.
Hovenweep National Monument
Elaborate ruins, stargazing events, wildlife and wildflowers, and ancient paintings on stone…these are some of the sights to see at Hovenweep National Monument. By 900 AD, the nomadic peoples who wandered through Cajon Mesa to hunt and gather food began to settle into Hovenweep year-round. By 1300 AD, Ancestral Puebloans erected the towering structures of Hovenweep and cultivated sophisticated farmland out of the surrounding area, which was home to about 2,500 people. However, by the 13th century, Ancestral Puebloans abandoned the structures they had built, which remains a mystery to archaeologists to this day.
Hike the 1.5 mile Cutthroat Castle Trail for spectacular views of the neighboring canyons as well as the enigmatic ancient structures of Hovenweep.
Dinosaur National Monument
This monument is a must-see for dinosaur enthusiasts! Known for its impressive dinosaur quarry, which produced some of the most ecologically complete remains of Late Jurassic dinosaurs in the entire world, this monument offers everything from stargazing and camping to river rafting and fishing. Today, visitors can view bones left in-situ, meaning they were carefully exposed while remaining left in their original state in the ground as they were discovered. If dinosaurs aren’t your thing, not to worry—this river-carved canyon has attracted figures throughout history to its wild nature, including homesteaders and bandits alike!
Hike the three mile round-trip Fossil Discovery Trail to view three distinct fossil areas. Discover dinosaur remains on your journey just as Earl Douglas did in 1909!
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
This monument boasts the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States, with evidence of Native life and culture ranging from sweat lodges and shrines to reservoirs and cliff dwellings. Just 12 miles west of Mesa Verde National Park, this monument was established by the president in 2000 in an effort to protect natural and cultural resources. Don’t skip the museum, which contains more than three million artifacts from the Anasazi (or Ancestral Puebloan) and Native cultures from the Four Corners region.
Sand Canyon and Rock Creek Trails are open to hikers, mountain bikers, and horseback riders, and will take curious monument-goers past dozens of archaeological sites!
Ute Canyon View
Just outside of Grand Junction, this 0.2 mile loop attracts bird enthusiasts as well as those curious to catch a different perspective of Colorado National Monument. Good for all skill levels, this lightly trafficked trail hosts an array of wildflowers and is sure to floor you with its knockout vantage point of Ute Canyon.
Bent’s Old Fort National Monument Historic Site
Also known as “Castle of the Plains,” this historic site on the Sante Fe Trail features a reconstructed adobe fort based on an 1840’s trading post. Ben’s Old Fort was once a place where Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribesmen, travelers, traders, and trappers could come together for peaceful exchange. Today, its reconstruction is open for guided tours, where living historians recreate life as it would have looked, smelled, and sounded back when the fort was constructed.
Walk the full mile and a half of Bent’s Old Fort Hiking Trail along the Arkansas river for great birdwatching!
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Home to one of the richest fossil deposits in the entire world, this national monument contains thousands of intricate fossils of plants and insects which at one point were thought so abundant they were simply given away to visitors. Since the 1800s, scientists have been studying this treasure trove of fossils from the Eocene period including petrified redwood stumps which are still visible to this day. One of the preserved stumps is a whopping 14 feet wide!
Journey down Petrified Forest Loop for a look at some of these harbingers of the past as they once stood in the bed of Lake Florissant!
Truly, Colorado is a land of fantastic history and extraordinary landscapes. Although some may ask the question on which National Monument to visit first, we simple recommend that you simply pick just one to start and go from there.