If you’re looking for a short hike with the kids or seniors at Colorado National Monument, don’t miss Otto’s Trail. I asked several rangers for advice, and, of course, got several different answers. However, after exploring the monument, my vote goes with Otto’s Trail because you’ll see several canyons, three named formations and incredible scenery.
The trailhead for Otto’s Trail is about 5.1 miles from the west entrance (with a short detour at the Visitor’s Center). Park at the signs for Otto’s Trail. One explains that Otto used this route for his first ascent of Independence Monument – a rock formation you’ll see on the hike.
*Note, while both signs promise a ¼ mile hike, my GPS registered 0.4 miles each way.
The hike starts at the signs and goes through some short trees on a dirt trail. The trail is on a mesa between two canyons, so you’ll occasionally see each canyon through the vegetation. The trail drops a few feet, down a few steps here and there, as you hike out to the end of the plateau. Stay on the trail so you don’t disturb the fragile soil in the area.
You can stop and turn around at any point along the trail, but I recommend going all the way out to the fenced viewpoint at the end of the trail. At the end of the mesa, that big formation in front of you is called the Pipe Organ. (Honestly, I don’t know why.) To your south is the most famous monument in the park –the 450-foot Independence Monument. A sign near the viewpoint explains how Otto scaled the mountain on the Fourth of July. The sign also explains that John Otto got married at the base of the monument, but the marriage didn’t last. The sign explains why.
As you enjoy the views here, let’s talk about John Otto. Otto found the canyons in 1906 and fell in love with them. The National Park Service says Otto spearheaded fundraising campaigns, collected signatures for petitions, and penned newspaper editorials and endless letters to Washington politicians in support of national recognition for the ancient canyons and towering monoliths of his adopted home. It paid off in 1911. Read more about Otto here.
You can see at least one more named formation from this overlook – look past Independence Monument and see if you can spot the Kissing Couple.
When you’re done enjoying the views, return the way you came.
Want more hikes in the area? See a list below and check out this list of 200+ great hikes in Colorado.
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Details: The hike is about 0.8 miles with 50 feet of elevation gain.
Directions: From I-70, take exit 19 and go south around the traffic circles. Continue south until a sign tells you to veer right for Colorado National Monument. At the entrance station, reset your odometer. The trailhead for Otto’s Trail is about 5.1 miles from the entrance station.