Dinosaur National Monument

Dinosaur National Monument consists of 210,000 acres along the Colorado and Utah border. The Colorado side of the monument features vast canyons surrounded by mountainous terrain and offers spectacular views of the Green and Yampa rivers. We did not explore the dinosaur fossil areas on the Utah side of the park because the visitor center was closed for covid precautions. We spent 4 nights within the monument at a free spot on some BLM land adjacent to the park.

Harpers Corner Road

Harpers Corner Road is a scenic drive through the center of the monument with many points of interest and scenic sights of the park. Echo Park Overlook was our favorite of the stops because of its awesome views of the Yampa River canyon below.

Ruple Point Trail

On our second day, we hiked Ruple Point Trail which is a 9 mile out and back trail that winds through hills of sagebrush and juniper trees until eventually terminating at its namesake overlook that has incredible views of Spirit Mountain Canyon and the Green River below.

Takeaways

We were considering skipping this location because it was a little out of the way on our path through Colorado. After spending a few days here, we were glad we decided to make the trip and hope to return to the “fossil” side of the park later this year when we are in Utah.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is in southeastern Colorado near the town of Montrose. The park is relatively small comprising of the canyon and surrounding area. We spent one day exploring the park after a nights stay at a BLM campsite just outside the park border. The canyon stands 2,722 feet at its deepest point and is made up of sheer, narrow, vertical walls of appearing dark colored rock. Parts of the canyon only get 33 minutes of sunlight a day and shadows make the canyon walls appear dark and almost black. Some of the dramatic overlooks even made Ashby woozy and weak in the knees.

Oak Flat Trail

Upon entry to the park we proceeded to the visitors center which was closed due to covid precautions but fortunately, a park rangers stood outside to answer any questions. We obtained a map and decided to take a hike down the Oak Flat Loop which took us below the rim of the canyon a couple hundred feet and provides some great views along the way.

While hiking the trail, Ashby of course had to stop to observe and photograph all of the unique flowers she saw.

South Rim Drive

After completing our short hike we drove down the south rim scenic drive. This road took us along the canyon and has several scenic viewpoints where we stopped to take in different parts of the canyon. We stopped at all viewpoints along the drive, our favorite of which was “Painted Wall”, a massive rock wall with multi-colored bands that happens to be the tallest cliff in Colorado.

Takeaways

This is a unique natural wonder that is almost unworldly. Had we planned more time here we would have taken a day trip to the canyon floor for a true “under the rim” experience. We hope to return someday and experience the canyon from the banks of the Gunnison river.

Crested Butte and Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness

After exploring Hartman Rocks, we found a neat area in Gunnison National Forest to camp in. This spot wins the award for most picturesque campsite to date. We were surrounded by beautiful wildflowers, lush green mountains and rustling Aspen and Birch trees.

The next day, we woke up early and went into Crested Butte for some fresh bagels at Butte Bagels before our hike. We devoured the bagels and even purchased two more for lunch on the trail. Carbs don’t count when you are hiking, am I right? Just trying to make us feel better for eating 4 bagels in one day.  

Copper Creek Trail to Copper Lake

Copper Creek Trail is a 12.4 mile in and out with 2431 ft elevation gain. This hike wins the award for most fun and challenging hike to date. We knew this hike would take us about 5 hours so we had to move quick to beat the bad weather that was headed our way. Early in the hike we came across a fast-flowing stream that had a rocky bottom and was about two to three feet deep in some areas. There were two people putting their shoes back on after trying to cross the stream unsuccessfully. Alan and I decided to give it a shot, we took our shoes off and stuffed them into our daypacks and then charged through the 45-degree water using our hiking poles to help us maintain our balance through the stream. The rocks were slippery, and the water was so cold it numbed our feet! After successfully crossing the stream, we had to wait a few minutes to let our feet defrost before putting our boots back on. Encouraged by our successful crossing, the other couple decided to make a second attempt and succeeded. Little did we know, this was the first of five stream crossings on the trail. Luckily, we only had to take our shoes off for two of them.

Alan crossing stream on Copper Creek Trail

The trail continued through a valley with mountain views on both sides. The wildflower scene was amazing so of course I had to stop to take a photo of each unique flower that I saw.

As we got closer to the lake, the skies began to darken, and we could hear thunder in the distance. We began to pick up our pace to try and beat the weather. On the last mile, we encountered snow and much steeper terrain. As soon as we reached the lake it began to sprinkle and hail. We quickly soaked in the views, snapped some photos and began our descent. Fortunately, the weather was moving in the opposite direction and skies quickly cleared up as we hiked back down.

Copper Lake

Takeaways

We had a lovely time exploring this area and are excited to return in the future. The scenery was awe inspiring and we couldn’t get enough of it. It was after this visit that we even talked about moving to Colorado. Too bad we love Texas too much!

Note to future selves: Conundrum Hot Springs and Peak trail would be the perfect backpacking trip.

Click here for more photos of this adventure!

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Hartman Rocks

Located near Gunnison, CO, Hartman Rocks is an area with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The area consists of rolling hills with large granite formations and boulders. There are many gravel roads that were somewhat easily navigated in our van throughout the park. We mainly chose this location as a stopping point before heading north to Crested Butte. We were surprised to find that all the campsites were designated and that there was at least 50 sites within the park. We spent 2 nights here before heading on to Crested Butte.

Since this area was so nice, we decided to take a day hike on a loop comprised of many different trails around the park. This area is well renowned for mountain biking and we mostly saw cyclists cruising the trails. This area is also a well-known climbing destination and being there inspired us to buy a bouldering crash pad so we can boulder at future locations.

Takeaways

All in all, this was fun place to stop before heading up into the mountains. We were able to find a camping spot high up with scenic views of the park and surrounding rocky mountain peaks. We will definitely keep this place in mind for a stopping point when traveling through the area in the future.

Browns Canyon National Monument

This 22,000 acre national monument belongs to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Forest Service. The park is located near Salida, CO along the Arkansas River. We stopped here on our way west from Colorado Springs for a quick hike in the afternoon then stayed in a dispersed campsite on the southern end of the monument. We hiked the Turret Trail to a beautiful spot overlooking the river. Along the way we were rewarded with beautiful views of the Collegiate Peaks, a string of 14,000 foot mountains in the area.