This is a loop hike filled with stunning views of red rock canyons, towering sandstone rock formations I hiked through two canyons, past stunning sandstone scenery for a 5-mile loop on the canyon floor in Colorado National Monument I had gotten into Fruita late afternoon and drove the scenic drive up to the Visitor Center in Colorado National Monument. Wanting a good hike the next morning, a ranger suggested this hike. It’s not marked on the official monument brochure. The unimproved trail is only marked on the hiking guide. That immediately told me there wouldn’t be a lot of people on the trail. He gave me a couple of other options but said the loop was one of his favorites. I always ask rangers for their favorite trails or areas in national parks and monuments because usually the favorites are not packed with droves of tourists. This ranger marked on a map how to get to the trailhead and the loop hike on the unimproved Wedding Canyon Trail for 2.5 miles to Independence Rock, then down Lower Monument Canyon for 2.5 miles.
Trail Stats: Wedding/Monument Canyon Loop is a 5-mile loop. Both trails are 2.4 miles from trail split near trailhead. Wedding Canyon Trail is an unimproved trail. Lower Monument Trail is 1.5 miles then about a mile along a fence to park.
Getting to Trailhead: It’s outside of the park. On Highway 340, drive 2.1 miles past the west entrance. Turn right at the trailhead sign and follow the dirt road to gravel parking area.
I got to the trailhead about 8am and was the only person there. The unimproved trail starts fairly level and was pretty easy to navigate past some interesting sandstone formations and through the mouth of Wedding Canyon.
The trail suddenly went up and I entered Wedding Canyon. At the top of that short steep section, I looked back at the vast view of Fruita and Grand Valley. As I hiked, I took in the canyon panorama with sheer-walled cliffs as the trail started rolling, gently at first then steadily climbing. Having the whole canyon to myself, I was hoping to see some desert bighorn sheep and keeping an eagle’s eye for a mountain lion or coyotes. Since I was solo hiking, I made some noise singing to myself and occasionally clapping my hands, which likely gave any wildlife advanced notice I was around. I did see and hear a lot of birds in Wedding Canyon. As the trail climbed, it got a little sketchy in a couple of spots.
I hiked up through a grove of twisted and gnarly trees, crested the hill and boom! I was in a world of monoliths, or towering sandstone rock formations, rising out of the canyon floor. This is where the Wedding Canyon Trail got really faint and I had to find my way to the Monument Canyon Trail. With no one else around I stopped for a bit to enjoy the scenery from a huge boulder and even did a little yoga including a tree pose on the rock.
Independent Monument is 450 feet tall and is the largest free-standing rock formation in the Colorado National Monument. I had seen it several times from outlooks along Rim Rock Drive, but standing next to I felt very small. Here’s why it’s called Independence Monument. John Otto had campaigned hard for this desolate canyon country southwest of Grand Junction to be designated a national park. On May 24, 1911, President Howard Taft signed off on legislation to create Colorado National Monument. Otto worked several weeks carving out footsteps in the rock and putting in some iron hand and foot holds so anyone who wanted to get to the top of the monolith could. He got to the top of it for the first time on June 8, 1911. On July 4, 1911, Otto started a tradition of raising a flag on top of the it to celebrate the Fourth of July giving it the name Independence Monument. Otto was named caretaker of the national monument, which he did for just a $1 a month until 1927. Every July 4th, the Mesa County Technical Rescue Team climbs Independence Monument to raise the American flag to continue the tradition Otto started in 1911. I encountered my first people on the trail as I was circling the base of Independent Monument admiring it from different angles. When the three people arrived, I looked back at Wedding Canyon and started the second half of my hike. It was time to go anyway with the clouds thickening and darkening.
From Independence Monument, it was pretty much downhill for 1.5 miles. Lower Monument Canyon Trail is part of the park’s premier trail and you’ll likely encounter some other hikers. I only saw a few handful of folks. Weather was changing quickly with a storm moving in and I booked it down the trail, even jogging in spots, to safely get back to my car before the fast-moving storm blew through. I exited the mouth of Monument Canyon and ended my loop hiking about a mile along an old bison fence along the border of the monument.
On the drive back to Denver I stopped in Palisade for lunch at Slice O Life. It’s one of my favorite bakeries and cafes in the state.
Jennifer Broome has traveled extensively in Colorado and is considered an expert on travel and outdoors in the Centennial state. Check out the Explore Colorado section for more adventures including Hiking Warner Point Trail in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, about 1.5 hour drive from Colorado National Monument.