Since 1911, Colorado National Monument has preserved an area filled with interesting rock formations and canyons. The hike from Monument Canyon to Wedding Canyon takes you to the largest free-standing formation in the park — Independence Monument.
There are two ways to to hike Monument Canyon, from the top or the bottom. This hike starts at the bottom, just outside the park’s boundary, so there is no admission fee (directions below).
The lower Monument Canyon trailhead has limited parking and a few signs. Start on the dirt path toward the red rock formations. As you walk, you’ll pass a sign for the wedding canyon turnoff, however, there’s no turnoff at the first sign. The second sign does have a trail split. Remember this spot, you’ll be looping back here. For now, continue on the Monument Canyon Trail.
The first 0.7 miles of the trail is outside the park. You’ll be hiking behind a neighborhood, next to a tall fence. The trailhead had to be moved years ago when survey crews determined the trailhead was on private property and not monument property, that’s the reason for the hike behind the neighborhood. At 0.7 miles, you’ll come to a wash and turn sharply up canyon. Sign the register and begin the hike up.
These domes, spires, and sheer-walled canyons were created by erosion. Over the next 1.7 miles, you’ll be hiking up a canyon on a trail built by park founder John Otto. Otto built the trails so visitors could see the beauty and help him encourage lawmakers to protect this area as a national monument.
About 2.4 miles from the trailhead, hikers arrived at the base of Independence Monument. That rock spire is 450-feet high. It was once part of a wall, but the sides eroded away, leaving the spire. From here, you can continue 3.5 miles up Monument Canyon to the rim or turn down Wedding Canyon for a nice loop.
The Wedding Canyon Trail is more primitive. That means no rock steps here. When the trail gets steep at times, you’ll need your balance to get down the canyon safely. As you hike Wedding Canyon, look for the “pipe organ” formation across the canyon and “window rock.” Window Rock is a hole carved out of a crack in a stone wall. It looks like an arch.
One warning, at the bottom of Wedding Canyon, the trail flattens out, but not for long. There are several ups and downs as you cross small washes. There are also two formations between you and the Monument Canyon Trail — one you’ll go around, one you’ll go over — so save a little energy.
About 4.7 miles into the loop, you’ll come back to the Monument Canyon Trail and turn toward the parking lot for the final 0.1 miles.
Details: The Monument Canyon/Wedding Canyon loop is about 4.8 miles with 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From I-70, take exit 19/Fruita and go north. About 2 miles from the highway, there’s a split. The signed right turn goes toward the entrance for Colorado National Monument, but veer left on Highway 340/Broadway. From here, it’s 2.1 miles to the dirt drive turnoff for the Monument Canyon Trailhead. (The turnoff it just past the mile marker 5 sign on a curve.) Take the dirt driveway a short distance to the parking lot.
More: Visit the Colorado National Monument website. In the area, don’t miss Rattlesnake Arches, Mount Garfield, Flume Canyon, McDonald Creek and The Trail Through Time. Check out more great hikes here.
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