Red Canyon Overlook is a viewpoint at Colorado National Monument that looks directly down Red Canyon from its head to Grand Junction in the Grand Valley to the northeast. The overlook, fenced by a stone wall, is right next to a small parking area on the north side of Rim Rock Drive. The view down cliff-lined Red Canyon is a geology lesson in erosion and climate. Note that vertical cliffs hem in the west side of the canyon, while the east side is more sloping with shorter cliffs. Much erosion here occurs in the winter when water freezes and melts in cracks and crevices, prying off rock slabs by expansion. The left wall receives more winter sun so it has less erosion than the shady right side. Ancient bedrock over 1.5-billion years old comprises the floor of Red Canyon. Another canyon at the bottom forms a distinctive gunsight notch at the northeast end of Red Canyon.
- Red Canyon is very difficult to access since big cliffs line the 2.3-mile-long canyon and no trails enter it. The canyon, while easily viewed from its rim, is a true wilderness area within the national monument. If you figure out how to access the mouth of Red Canyon from subdivision on the edge of the monument, then you’ll have a true adventure hike up its rocky streambed lined with cottonwoods and willow. Occasional pools of water in the hard bedrock attract deer and bighorn sheep.
- If you want to explore a wild canyon, drive over to Ute Canyon Trail which begins 0.25 miles east of Fallen Rock Overlook at a parking area on the north side of Rim Rock Drive. The scenic seven-mile trail descends into upper Ute Canyon and then follows the canyon floor north to Liberty Cap Trail, which steeply descends to a trailhead on Wildwood Drive in the Grand Valley. Bring water, a hat, sunscreen, and good hiking shoes. Leave a car at the lower trailhead to avoid a long round-trip hike.
- Red Canyon Overlook alongside a parking area is an accessible overlook for wheelchairs. The paved trail is wide and level. Other accessible viewpoints on Rim Rock Drive are Cold Shivers Point, Coke Ovens Overlook, Independence Monument View, and Book Cliffs View. Accessible restrooms are at Saddlehorn Visitor Center and Devil Kitchen Picnic Area. Two accessible campsites are at Saddlehorn Campground.
- Cold Shivers Point, one of the monument’s best overlooks, is a few miles east of Red Canyon Overlook. The dramatic viewpoint perches above a 300-foot cliff in Columbus Canyon. Farther east down Rim Rock Drive is the top of Serpents Trail, a twisting hike that follows an old park road, and the trails to Devils Kitchen and No Thoroughfare Canyon.
Recommended season(s): Year-round.
—Stewart M. Green