This 6.3-mile, point-to-point descent through Monument Canyon winds through the eponymous chasm at the heart of the Colorado National Monument. It holds the most famous and imposing rock features of the park, including the Kissing Couple and Independence Monument. Fall is the perfect time to visit, rewarding visitors with prime temps, stunning colors and plenty of solitude. You can crank this hike out in a day, but why not spend the night to enjoy star-filled skies?

Note: Obtain free, required backcountry camping permits at Saddlehorn Visitor Center. Water is not available in the backcountry, even in the spring.

Going Down 

From the Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead, begin your descent into the canyon on a well-maintained dirt path. Sandy switchbacks lined with pinyons and junipers offer sweeping views of the red rock cliff walls.



Reach a signed intersection with the Coke Ovens Trail. Continue north (left) to pass a sign-in box.  From here, the trail narrows, turns a bit more rugged and crosses a slickrock shelf with a steep drop off to the left. Enjoy walking through this narrow gauntlet, hugging the sandstone cliffs on your right as you delve deeper into this wild, remote portion of the Monument. Chipmunks and collared lizards scurry across giant boulders lining gullies next to the route. The trail hugs the left side of the canyon as it continues down.

Hit Bottom

On your right, pass a giant rock pillar that grows in size each day thanks to the fact that hikers throw tiny stones on top of it. The canyon buzzes with life: Turkey vultures, ravens, lizards, chipmunks and Stellar’s jays flitter about. The soil turns rockier and red as you reach the canyon bottom.  Here a small wash harbors a cottonwood tree and various lush plants. Once you have explored this tiny oasis, cross the wash to find a trail sign pointing you east.

Kiss, Kiss

Soon, you cross another wash and climb rock steps to continue along the flat, smooth dirt trail winding through the canyon. Reach the Kissing Couple and set up camp for the night (or take a break if you are doing it one day) in the romantic duo’s shadow.

Feeling Free

Cross a drainage and begin heading west and then north away from the Kissing Couple. The trail climbs gradually and turns sharply right (east) to reach 450-foot-high Independence Monument, the largest freestanding rock formation in the park.

Wedding Canyon trail

Descend gradually through pinyon-juniper to reach the signed junction with the Wedding Canyon Trail. Turn east (right) to continue exploring the lower part of Monument Canyon, which becomes rockier, narrower and more rugged.


Continue descending to reach a sandier, wider trail that passes a sign-in box. Swing sharply north (left), climb a few steps and follow the fence line bordering a neighborhood.


Pass the second junction with the Wedding Canyon Trail coming in from the west (left). Continue downhill and turn east (right).


Arrive at your shuttle vehicle at the Lower Monument Trailhead. Just one car? You can make the entire journey an out-and-back, or just go to Independence Monument (5) and back.


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Spacious, comfortable and ridiculously light at two pounds, 14 ounces, this three-season shelter with two doors and roomy vestibules integrates LED lights into the tent body so you can find gear, play games and hang out without ruining the mood. $480;


Thermarest Antares HD Sleeping Bag and NeoAir XTherm Pad

Together, these insulating dynamos create a warm, light, extremely comfortable sleep system perfect for fall. The highly compressible Antares can endure bad weather thanks to Nikwax Hydrophobic Down, while the Xtherm pad, delivers the greatest incredible warmth-to-weight even though it packs down smaller than a water bottle. $500 bag, $200 pad;


�Earl Harper