The Crookedest Road in the World
Not far from Grand Junction, Colorado are the rocky landscapes of Colorado National Monument and the 16 switchbacks of the Serpents Trail. This part of western Colorado features landscapes some people don't associate with the state. You're away from the Rocky Mountains and quite close to the Utah border. So red rock desert landscapes rule here.
View from the Serpent Trail in Colorado National Monument
Started in 1912, the Serpents Trail was the first road to cut through Colorado National Monument. When completed, the entire length of the road once featured 50 switchbacks and was built at such a steep incline that cars going up the road had to travel backwards to keep their engines running, since fuel pumps didn't exist at the time!
The days for cars and even horses on this trail are now long gone, as in 1950 the flatter (safer) Rim Rock Drive route was completed nearby. The Serpents Trail was then closed to vehicles and has been a hiking-only trail ever since.
Depending on your interests and how much time you have to explore Colorado National Monument, your options are to either hike down from Upper Serpents Trail to the Devils Kitchen Trailhead, or vice versa. It is mostly a wide gravel path suitable for hiking or jogging, so if you want a little extra exercise hike up the trail, or do a round trip hike.
But keep in mind that even though the route is short (1.75 miles in length), it has an elevation change of 780 feet in that distance, meaning it's a moderately challenging trail.
This is a hiking trail only, no dog walking and no biking allowed. Personally, my kind of preferred trail, as I'm not a big fan of mixed-use trails. Keeping it a purely hiking-only trail means it's a peaceful time out in nature allowing you to listen for and spot many of the creatures that live in this part of the park. As the sign at the trailhead says "Be quiet, let nature's sounds be heard."
Wildlife that is most commonly spotted along the Serpents Trail are ground squirrels and chipmunks, which live in rocky outcroppings and tunnels alongside the trail, while lizarrds are also a popular sighting.
Fittingly, snakes are also seen on the Serpents Trail, sometimes sunning themselves. Larger animals such as the re-introduced desert bighorn sheep may take a bit more luck to spot, but if you visit after some recent rain, there are good chances of seeing sheep, or even coyote tracks along the trail.
Don't forget to look up in the sky as you're hiking along as well, this part of Colorado National Monument is a great place for watching turkey vultures soar high above on the thermals, looking for their next meal.
Depending on the time of year you visit, the low lying desert flora may be sprouting some colorful flowers too, as it was in early summer and late spring during my last visit. For such a short trail, it really has a lot of potential to please any nature lover.
A lizard spotted on the Serpent Trail
On that note, the outdoor adventure options of National Monuments sometimes get overshadowed by the National Parks that get all the glory. With fewer restrictions on where you can camp and explore in the back country it really should be the other way around! But don't tell too many people, as part of the beauty is that the hiking trails never seem to be quite as busy here as they are at some of the more famous nearby National Parks in Utah.
Whether you're hiking on your own, with friends or your family, this trail is close enough to the main park road that it is convenient for everyone. At the base of Serpents Trail you can easily connect perfectly with a couple of other hiking trails. Among the options, the short Devils Kitchen Trail is my favorite choice for some interesting rock grottos.
The easiest way to get to this trail is to drive from Grand Junction and enter by the east entrance, with the trailhead located only 0.2 miles down the road. Give yourself about an hour to hike the trail, unless you're a wildlife fan like I am, then you may be stopping many times, so allow for two hours.
Typical red rock scenery in Colorado National Monument