Do NOT underestimate this gem based solely off of its name. Although not deemed a national park, Colorado National Monument is worth the drive West from Denver and has one of the cheapest entrance fees for parks in the Southwest at $15/vehicle or $25 for a 7 day pass. However, I highly recommend purchasing the annual park pass for $80 which lasts for 1 year and allows you to visit any National Park Service- affiliated park in the U.S. It was a great investment and definitely worth the money. Continuing on… The monument includes multiple hiking trails that differ in difficulty and bike trails as well. There are no bodies of water in the monument and is mainly for hiking, photography, and scenic driving.
For the 1 day visitor who simply wants a summary of the monument, a drive through would take 1-2 hours, and this includes stopping at the major impressive points and taking photos quickly. For those who want a more in-depth summary of the monument, it would take approximately 3.5-5 hours, and this includes stopping at every point, taking photos, and walking down to the photography points (which are at the most a 5 minute walk). There is only one path to drive through the monument although a couple stops may require divergence into a smaller road. There are two entrances into the monument, a West entrance and an East entrance. Those who are entering from Colorado would likely enter from the East and those who come from Utah are would likely enter from the West. As I entered from the East, I exited from the West and a complete drive through the monument would take you towards the town of Fruita and Highway 70 on the way to Utah. The drive to Arches National Park from the monument takes approximately 1.5 hours and the drive there is barren, with only miles or crude land, so I highly suggest getting a full tank of gas before going into Colorado National Monument and filling the car up with snacks and water. Using the restroom in the monument before heading out would be a smart move.
From personal experience, I highly recommend the following stops, as they are extremely breathtaking and worth the stop, but of course if time allows, all stops are worth the stop.
1.) Cold Shivers point: the first major point when entering from the East side. The spot is just as it sounds. It will give you the cold shivers due to its high elevation and massive drop below your feet that was carved out from rapid waters. Beautiful and daunting photography spot.
2.) Echo canyon at Upper Ute Canyon Overlook: This one stop is the most memorable and fun stop in the entire monument; it is also not written on the monument map or labelled anywhere so this is sort of a hidden gem. There is a mummy-like statue that lays on the opposite canyon walls, but beyond that, the walls have the best ability to echo your voices. It is surreal and enigmatic in a way because it truly does sound like your twin is thousands of feet away from you, repeating your words a couple seconds after. I spent about 10 min here, yelling at the walls. This is a must!
3.) Artists Point: A very photogenic spot due to its array of rock colors, hence the name. The vibrance of colors will depend on weather conditions of the day, and is most colorful to the human eye on a day when clouds partially cover the sun.
4.) Independent Monument View: Stop here to see an odd rock formation that looks as if it were carved by humans.
5.) Grand View: Why would you even skip this stop when the magnificence is IN ITS NAME? It’s Grand.. no further explanation needed.
Thus, these are my top 5 stops, but once you visit the monument, you, of course, will eventually come up with your own top list.