Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Spring is the perfect time for canyon hiking. There are plenty of canyons to explore in our local National Conservation Areas (NCAs), our nearby National Parks and Monuments and the Bureau of Land Management Public Lands. Kids love to scramble around the warm rocks looking for cracks and crannnies to explore. This one looks like a perfect fit! (Hannah Freed, Photo Credit: Christine Freed)
Every day the weather seems to be gradually getting a little warmer (in between those spontaneous Colorado snowstorms, at least), and that can only mean one thing—spring is near! The transition from winter to summer activities will be here before you know it, and it’s time to start planning some excursions with your little ones as the trails dry and the warm sun comes out. The benefits of getting outside are numerous, from mental health, to physical health, to just having fun together as a family. Here are a few quick and easy hiking trails that you can enjoy with your whole crew:
The Lunch Loops are always a crowd favorite. Less than 10 minutes from downtown Grand Junction, and with ample parking, access doesn’t get much easier than this. The most accessible trail is of course the paved one—the Monument Trail runs alongside Monument Road all the way from the intersection with Broadway up to the Lunch Loops parking lot, and in 2024 it will be extended all the way up to South Camp Road.
If you’d rather get off the pavement and onto dirt trails instead, there are numerous possibilities at the Lunch Loops. For the very easiest hikes stick close to the parking lot on trails like Short and Cranky or the Kids Meal Loop. For a more strenuous hike head up Tabeguache for an out and back, or take Hop Skip and Jump to Big Sister for a short loop, with a few steeper parts, but rewarding views. Wherever you hike at Lunch Loops just be sure to keep an eye out for mountain bikers and dogs, as there are always a fair number of both on these well-loved local trails.
Heading up towards the Colorado National Monument, a very popular option for a short hike is the Devils Kitchen Trail. Note that there is an entrance fee required, since this is within the Colorado National Monument. This trail can get crowded, but unlike the Lunch Loops, you don’t need to worry about dogs or bikes on the trail since neither are allowed within the Monument. The trail is just under 2 miles, and it’s an out and back (so you’ll come back the same way you headed in); there is some mild elevation gain, but it is very approachable for most casual hikers. If you make it up the full length of the trail, you will be rewarded with beautiful views and some really cool rock formations!
If you’re looking for a hike with a big payoff for your mileage, the Mica Mines Trail should rank high on your list of must-dos. Another out and back trail, this starts at the Bangs Canyon Trailhead up Little Park Road, and takes you about 1.3 miles in (one way) to a very cool historic mica and quartz mine. The glittering, shimmering mica in the rock amphitheater formed by the long-closed mining operation is sure to be a huge hit with the kids! The trail is pretty flat the whole way, so it’s a very easy hike for anyone to enjoy. By the time you’ve reached the mine and made it back to the car, you’ll have hiked about 2.6 miles on flat terrain, which should be approachable for most families. The mine was operated up until the 1950s, and the mica that they were mining at the time was used for manufacturing paints and electrical insulation, so you can build a little history lesson into your excursion!
One of the coolest hikes in the Grand Junction area is the Monument Canyon Trail, with the added benefit of getting to experience the Colorado National Monument without having to pay the entry fee (remember to leave the dogs at home since they aren’t allowed in the Monument). The parking lot for accessing this trail can be found by searching for Monument Canyon Trailhead, as it enters the Colorado National Monument interior, rather than taking you along the upper rim of the Monument. This one can be a bit of a step up in difficulty, being quite a bit longer than the other options, but you can always turn around part way if you don’t want to hike the whole ~5 mile loop. If you do make it all the way, though, the payoff is huge—literally! Aside from a high likelihood of getting to see some desert bighorn sheep, this trail leads, you right up to the incredible Independence Monument rock formation, which towers 450 feet above the desert floor. This formation was first climbed all the way back in 1911 by John Otto, founder of the Colorado National Monument, and shortly thereafter by Beatrice Farnham, to whom Otto was briefly married. If you look for a large, slightly sloping flat rock a few hundred yards northeast of the rock tower, you can still faintly see a giant inscription of the first line of the Declaration of Independence, which was carved into the rock by Farnham.
Venturing a little further afield, the Dominguez Canyon trails can offer a real wilderness experience. About 20 miles south of Grand Junction, the trails here offer a long, flat hike that will take you as far as you’d like to go. The entire Big Dominquez and Little Dominguez Canyon Loop stretches for an astonishing 39 miles, but the vast majority of hikers just travel in as far as they want to go for the day, and then head back out. Little Dominguez Canyon has some very cool historical features, if you’re willing to do about 7 miles of hiking in total. Around 3.5 miles in, a homestead from 1911 has been preserved by the BLM and offers a fascinating look at life over 110 years ago. The house is remarkably well preserved, and the skeletons of old farming equipment are still dotted around the property. It’s really something worth seeing! The whole of Little Dominguez Canyon is beautiful, with astounding rock formations throughout, and it’s not at all uncommon to see desert bighorn sheep roaming along the hillsides.
From the very easiest of hikes, to something a little more adventurous, but still approachable, this should give you a good start as you begin planning for some warm spring days hiking and enjoying nature with your family. Start with something easy and work your way up to the longer hikes, and before you know it you and your kids will be skipping up the most beautiful and rewarding trails on the Western Slope. Get out there and explore, spring is almost here!
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