On Friday, October 9, 2020, I set out to create a route/attain an FKT/OKT/new route connecting each of the 10 named canyons within the boundaries of the Colorado National Monument.
The Colorado National Monument lies in western Colorado just south of Grand Junction and Fruita. It consists of 20,500 acres of deep sandstone canyons and monoliths along the Colorado Plateau. The area was officially established as Colorado National Monument on May 24, 1911 after John Otto spent years of research and development in preserving this as a national monument.
I have spent two years piecing a route together for this journey. While it is not incredibly long (roughly 40 miles) it was surprisingly difficult to find a way to connect each of the canyons using trails and off-road. While an FKT on this route would be nice to accomplish, I am most interested in the future journeys that others would be attracted to and helping them research routes that suit their needs.
My route was:
- Start at Kodel’s Trailhead located on Highway 340 across from the Fruita Rodeo Complex. Kodels (K1) trail to Fruita Dugway; 0.5 miles and 50’ el. gain
- Fruita Dugway Trail to Black Ridge Trail; 2 miles and 1027’ el. Gain This segment traverses Kodels, Fruita and Lizard Canyons.
- Black Ridge Trail to CCC Trail; 3 miles and 900’ el. Gain
- CCC Trail to Monument Trail, crossing Rim Rock Drive in CNM. 0.75 miles and 0’ el. Gain
- Monument Trail to Wedding Canyon; 6 miles and 200’ el. Gain This segment checks off Monument Canyon passing by Coke Ovens, Kissing Couple and Independence Monument.
- Wedding Canyon Trail to base of Monument Canyon Trail. 2 miles and 0’ elevation gain As the name implies, this checks off Wedding Canyon
- Monument Trail to Fence-line and over to Gold Star Trailhead. 2 miles and 100’ el. Gain Where Monument Trail turns away from the fence line toward Independence Monument and away from the buffalo fence, there are social trails that travel along the CNM boundary to Gold Star.
- travel up Gold Star Canyon Trail to Bench Trail. This is a steep 1000’ climb in 1 mile and traverses Gold Star Canyon.
- From Bench Trail follow a social trail to Otto’s Staircase and climb the stairs to the overlook. 0.5 miles and 500’ el. Gain Early in the development of CNM, John Otto carved these steps, allowing us to navigate this steep canyon wall. There is no special equipment needed but a helmet and rope may come in handy to those trying it for the first time. The trails leading to this climb are faint and there are many social trail options. Once you start to climb, keep an eye open for cairns marking the route to the stairs and along the rock ledge.
- From the top of Otto’s Stairs travel west, without trail for 0.3 miles to the Monument Canyon wall below. Follow this rock ledge for approx. 0.75 miles. This will lead you to Otto’s Bathtub; a rock formation that is super fun to explore by itself. Beware leaving the cliff edge too soon as it provides travel without disrupting the cryptobiotic soil. You will see Otto’s Bathtub and when you are at a right 90-degree angle from the formation it is safe to travel to the bathtub. While there are still spots of protected soil, the terrain consists mainly of deep sand and sagebrush. The easiest way to get on top of Otto’s Bathtub is to climb the northern-most end. However, I have found other undisclosed areas of this formation where John Otto carved additional steps. These areas are very fragile and hold great historic value so it is safest to make the climb on the northern point.
- Travel along Otto’s Bathtub and over to Upper Liberty Cap Trail 1 mile and 50’ elevation gain
- Take a right turn onto Upper Liberty Cap Trail toward Black Ridge. Follow the well-marked trail it’s terminus at Rim Rock Drive. 5 miles and 750’ elevation gain
- From the trailhead, turn left and run along the paved road for 2 miles to Ute Canyon Trailhead.
- Climb down Ute Canyon Trail into Ute Canyon and follow the sometimes faint/overgrown trail for approx. 5 miles. Elevation gain on this segment is roughly 500’
- Near the intersection with Ute Canyon Trail and Corkscrew Trail there is a social trail that goes east. This unnamed trail leads through Columbus and Red Canyons over 4 miles and 1200’ elevation gain. This trail passes by a historic water pump house and some amazing rock formations and ends near the east entrance to CNM and multi-opportunity trailhead.
- From the trailhead climb No Thoroughfare Canyon. While the first two miles of this trail are marked fairly well, the upper 5 are more route-finding than trail. Total distance 7 miles and 2000’ elevation gain. This will check off the tenth and final CNM canyon, No Thoroughfare Canyon.
Total distance = 38.9 miles
Total estimated elevation gain = 7096
Nice one. Love the creativity! I'm sure others will be inspired to try this out for themselves.
Thanks Johnny D!! It is a beautiful route. It doesn't matter how many times I've run each of the segments, I always see something new to explore. It is a great place to play in the back yard
Hey Matt! My friends and I have done so many segments of this but have been chicken to do Otto's staircase to the top... it would be such an awesome connector so we can't stop wondering what it's like on the last part above the carved stairs... tricky? We plan to only go up and then run over to LIberty Cap not the opposite way thanks for any intel! We are strictly trail runners NOT climbers.... so ... thanks!