Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip
Difficulty: Easy
Why we love it: This short-but-sweet trail is a great warm-up hike with wonderful views
When to go: Spring Break, when the sun and slickrock beckon
Pre-hike buzz: Leave enough time to stop at Main Street Bagels in downtown Grand Junction, which offers spicy, house-made chai, enormous cinnamon rolls, and delicious soups and sandwiches to bring along for a picnic
Restrooms: Available at the visitor center and Saddlehorn Campground
Dogs: Not allowed on trails in the national monument

Nothing says spring like warm, sunny days spent exploring the southwestern slickrock country. Although many Front Range families head to southern Utah over Spring Break in search of smooth rock and plentiful sunshine, there’s really no need to leave Colorado, where this same amazing scenery can be found at Colorado National Monument, just west of Grand Junction.

This fun trail leads to the Devils Kitchen, a natural rock alcove created by a circle of tall, upright boulders in No Thoroughfare Canyon, the southernmost canyon in the monument. The route is relatively easy to follow and short enough for little legs, leaving you plenty of time to admire the views and soak up some Vitamin D.

From the trailhead, the trail begins on a sandy, level path. At the first junction, turn right, following the path up the signed No Thoroughfare Canyon. At the second fork, turn left and follow the trail across the wash. As the path leaves the bottom of the canyon and starts to climb a mellow 225 vertical feet uphill, you’ll see the Devils Kitchen rock grotto ahead. Stay on the trail until you see a series of steps carved into the rock. Ascend these and head toward the base of the kitchen, where you’ll need to turn left and continue around the rocks until you see the opening to the grotto at the top of a slickrock slope.

The rocks that form the kitchen are composed of beautiful Wingate Sandstone. This thick layer of petrified sand dunes was laid down when a vast desert covered much of the American Southwest during the Jurassic Period—the heyday of the dinosaurs—when all the world’s land lay locked together in the center of the supercontinent Pangaea. The top of the rocks forming the Devils Kitchen is capped by a thin layer of a slightly harder rock whose presence has saved the kitchen from the ravages of Mother Nature.

After enjoying a leisurely picnic and enjoying the stunning views from the “kitchen window,” retrace your steps back to your car. If you’re ready for something longer, tack on the 1.75-mile (one way) Serpents Trail, a twisting, historic trail along the old entrance road that leaves from the same parking lot.

Getting there: From Denver, follow I-70 west to Exit 37 in Grand Junction. Exit here and follow the I-70 Business Loop west to its junction with Broadway (CO 340). Turn west on Broadway and cross the Colorado River, then turn left onto Monument Road. Follow this to the monument’s east entrance. The trailhead is located just 0.2 miles beyond the entrance station. Parking is available on the left side of the road as well as in the picnic area on the opposite side of the street.

Terri Cook
Terri Cook
Terri Cook is an award-winning freelance writer based in Boulder. More of her work can be found at down2earthscience.com.