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Hiking at Colorado National Monument: Serpents Trail

The start of the Serpents Trail
The start of the Serpents Trail
Deb Stanley

Most hikers prefer not to hike roads, but Serpents Trail isn't just an old road, this is an historic "motor route" from the early 1900s.

Serpents Trail
Deb Stanley

In 1912, crews started working on a "motorized route" across the new monument. The "road" from Grand Junction to Glade Park took nine years to build and had more than 50 switchbacks. When it was completed in 1921, most cars didn't have fuel pumps and had to go up the road BACKWARDS so fuel would flow to the engine using gravity, according to a sign at the trailhead. The sign also explains that at the time, the road was called the "crookedest road in the world."

While most of the old road disappeared in the 1950s when the new road opened, the park kept a small stretch of the original road and opened it as a hiking trail in 1961.

The so-called Serpents Trail starts near the park's east entrance (directions below). From the parking lot, walk across the road, checking carefully for vehicles. Remember, while you may clearly see the vehicles, the drivers may be looking at the scenery and not see you. On the other side of the road, follow the trail a few steps to two signs explaining the history of the road. Then it's time to start climbing.

If you're fit, the grade of this hike is perfect. If you're not used to this elevation or haven't been hiking in awhile, that's OK, just take lots of breaks on the way up and enjoy the scenery.

As you hike, you'll see the road was likely wide enough in most spots for vehicles to pass. The old road bed is dirt and rock and very scenic as it winds up the hill, on the side of a canyon. The rock formations are fascinating and you may notice some of the more recent work along the edges of the road to shore up the sides.

It's 1.75 miles from the trailhead to the top of the Serpents Trail, where it ends at the new blacktop pavement. Even in this spot, you'll see how the road still has several switchbacks. You may also notice that the trail ends on top of a tunnel -- traffic goes right under where you're hiking. Marvel at the construction, the scenery and think about what it must have been like here 100+ years ago.

When you're ready, return the way you came. From the same trailhead, you can also take the short, easy hike to Devils Kitchen. Learn more about the Monument and get maps, directions, admission fees and more here. Other hikes in the Monument and nearby include Monument Canyon to Wedding Canyon, Otto's Trail, Flume Canyon and Devil's Canyon. Find more hikes in the area listed below or check out this list of 200+ hikes in Colorado. Don't miss any of my trip reports, sign for an email alert at the top of this page and follow me on Facebook.

Details: The hike to the top of the trail and back is about 3.5 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain.

Directions: The park's website says if you're coming Westbound on Highway I-70 towards Grand Junction, Exit 31 (Horizon Drive). Follow signs through Grand Junction to the east entrance. The visitor center and campground are 19 miles from the east entrance. (I recommend googling eastern entrance Colorado National Monument for the best directions for you.) At the east entrance, pay the entry fee, and continue on monument Road. Just a short distance from the entrance station is a parking lot on the left for Devils Kitchen.

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