Fruita Canyon Overlook is a lofty roadside viewpoint at the head of four-mile-long Fruita Canyon on the west side of Colorado National Monument. The fenced overlook is reached by a 90-foot hike on a gravel path from a small parking area on Rim Rock Drive that’s 0.4 miles west of the park visitor center. Fruita Canyon, which begins near the monument’s west entrance station, is a steep canyon lined with towering Wingate sandstone walls. Rim Rock Drive snakes up the canyon below before climbing its west side. The canyon floor is composed of 1.5-billion-year-old rock that is the remains of an ancient mountain range. The broad Grand Valley, carved by the Colorado River, opens beyond Fruita Canyon. The northern horizon is an escarpment of the dark Book Cliffs topped with the lighter-colored Roan Cliffs. Note Balanced Rock, a precarious pinnacle by the right canyon wall, above the road below the overlook.
- Balanced Rock is poised against a cliff in Fruita Canyon below the overlook. The formation is a temporary masterpiece of erosion that will eventually topple over. The spire and the cliff behind it are composed of Wingate sandstone, a 210-million-year-old rock that formed in a massive sand dune field in Late Triassic times. It forms the main cliffs at the monument and reaches 350 feet thick. The pedestal rests on red Chinle Formation sediments deposited about 230 million years ago.
- Saddlehorn Visitor Center is just up the road from the Fruita Canyon Overlook. After admiring the spacious view, head up to the center to get acquainted with Colorado National Monument and its interesting geology and natural history. The center, four miles from the Fruita entrance, offers interpretative exhibits, a couple films about the park, and an information desk staffed by a park ranger eager to answer your questions. A bookstore sells books, maps, postcards, and memorabilia.
- The overlook is on the abrupt canyon edge above a sandstone slab and is fenced for your protection. Don’t venture beyond the fence onto the cliff edge to get a photo or view since a fall would be fatal. Also keep an eye on your children. Falls are the third leading cause of death in our National Parks.
- The monument’s scenic 80-site Saddlehorn Campground lies west of Fruita Canyon Overlook on a high plateau. The campground has three loops for RVs, trailers, campers, and tents. Each loop has a restroom with flush toilets and water during the warmer months. There are no wood fires, electric hookups, or showers. The campground is open year-round.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green