Colorado's 8 national monuments are cool and not crowded — The Know

Locals and tourists alike know the majesty of Dream Lake at Rocky Mountain National Park and the fun of surfing the sandy hills at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve. But did you know that Colorado has petrified redwoods? Or that it’s got a place akin to Machu Picchu? Or cliff dwellings that aren’t in Mesa Verde? It’s true! They’re all found in the Centennial State’s national monuments.

Colorado is home to eight national monuments that pack quite a punch. Yet, they are some of the least-visited areas in the state.

So skip the crowds at the national parks this year and check out our less-trafficked monuments.

Petrified forests, prehistoric spiders, and million-year-old insects

Back in the Eocene era (about 35 million years ago), Lake Florissant stretched a mile wide and 12.5 miles long. Now, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Teller County is home to one of the richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world. It holds the secrets of the landscape and life that existed in prehistoric times. Peel back some of those secrets by taking a stroll on these trails.

Petrified Forest Loop

  • Length: 1.1 miles
  • Elevation gain: 80 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

Wheelchairs and strollers have a generally easy time traversing this loop with 3-foot-wide paths and little elevation gain. Get up close and personal with a 14-foot-wide petrified redwood stump, one of at least 30 around the monument. There are others, but there are no plans to excavate them. In fact, some were reburied in the 1980s to preserve them from weathering.

Hornbeck Wildlife Loop

  • Length: 3.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

This trail traverses open meadows and rock outcroppings making it perfect for wildlife viewing. Elk, golden eagles, prairie falcons, great horned owls, hummingbirds, bobcats, coyotes, red foxes and pronghorn are just a few of the animals you’re likely to see along this loop. Remember the sixth Leave No Trace principle: Respect wildlife and their habitat.

Walk among prehistoric giants

Although most of Dinosaur National Monument is in Moffat County, you must cross into Utah to see the fossils. This ancient ocean houses hundreds of dinosaur fossils waiting to be discovered.

To examine some of those recovered, head to Quarry Exhibit Hall. For an adventure, get outside and walk where dinosaurs once roamed.

Jones Hole Trail

  • Length: 8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 650 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate

One of the more remote trails in the national monument, Jones Hole is full of surprises. Take a fishing rod for the on-site hatchery and your camera to snap photos of the abundant wildlife, including bighorn sheep. You’ll see pictographs along the trail (not to be confused with petroglyphs — images scratched or engraved onto rock).

Sound of Silence Trail

  • Length: 3.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 325 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

If you only have time for one trail, make sure it’s this one. With plenty of petroglyphs along the way, this trail also offers dramatic, sweeping views of the monument’s most recognizable features including Split Mountain. Add the Desert Voices trail to make a 4.5-mile loop.

Stargaze inside a castle

Chances are you’ve never heard of Hovenweep National Monument, a true gem that was home to more than 2,500 ancestral Puebloans about 800 years ago. Because of its remote location, this is a Dark Sky site. Hike during the day and stargaze at night.

Hovenweep Ruins Trail

  • Length: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

This trail winds through the ruins of the ancestral Puebloan people, with vast views of the landscape including the iconic square towers. The aptly named Hovenweep Castle is a sight to see.

Cliff dwellings without the crowds

You’ve probably heard of, if not visited, the famed cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park. But a less-visited area holds the highest known density of archaeological sites in the United States. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is the only monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Colorado, which means there’s a little more leniency on trail restrictions. Dogs are even allowed on our favorite trail! Beware, there are no water features along the trail so take water to stay hydrated

Sand Canyon Trail

  • Length: 12.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 2,000 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate to difficult

This incredible trail brings you back in time as you pass through at least eight significant cliff dwellings and pueblos. As you walk along the path, several other visitors have placed bits of ancient pottery and other items on stumps for your pleasure. Make sure to follow the fourth Leave No Trace principle: Leave what you find.

Colorado’s Machu Picchu

One of the smaller national monuments, Chimney Rock National Monument encompasses just under 5,000 acres. The area is home to eight clusters of architectural structures, including great kivas, pit houses and great houses.

Chimney Rock Trail

  • Length: 0.6 miles (summer trailhead)
  • Elevation gain: 150 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy

This noticeably short trail ends with 360-degree views. It ascends an exposed ridgeline with steep drop-offs to a restored 800-year-old Chacoan religious complex. Like we said, it’s Colorado’s version of Machu Picchu, minus the llamas and expensive plane ticket.

Get the adrenaline pumping

As one of the newer national monuments (designated in 2015), Browns Canyon has more than 20,000 acres of pristine rivers, breathtaking canyons and dense forest. If you don’t want to venture on the trails, try whitewater on the Arkansas River that’s a favorite of boaters and anglers.

Turret Trail

  • Length: 6.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 1,100 feet
  • Difficulty: Moderate

You’re rewarded with sweeping views of the Arkansas Valley, the Collegiate Peaks, and the Arkansas River on the trail. It’s perfect for hikers of all ages and is a locals’ favorite at sunrise. Feel free to take Fido; this a dog-friendly hike.

Colorado’s Grand Canyon

Colorado National Monument preserves some of the most incredible geological features in the country. It has the same personality as many of the national parks on the Colorado Plateau, without all the visitors. Although Rim Rock Drive is a beautiful 23-mile traverse in your car, we suggest heading out on foot.

Devils Kitchen Trail

  • Length: 1.6 miles
  • Elevation gain: 400 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate

This trail leads you deep into the valley below the towering cliffs and orange hoodoos reminiscent of Bryce Canyon National Park. Be careful to stay on trail, though, or you might step on a prickly pear, a low-growing cactus with beautiful springtime blooms.

Monument Canyon Loop Trail

  • Length: 4.5 miles
  • Elevation gain: 800 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate

Travel through some of the most iconic features in the monument along this trail. Grab a smooch from your partner while overlooking Kissing Couple, or stop for a snack at the base of Mushroom Rock.

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The Adventurist, to get outdoors news sent straight to your inbox.

Source: Read Full Article