In 2014, 1.3 million people flocked to the iconic sandstone formations at Arches National Park. In the same year, less than a third that many visited Colorado National Monument. Take away: Hikers who want to explore a sandstone wonderland without the crowds are in luck. But it won’t remain anonymous for long—efforts to upgrade the monument to full national park status have gained traction. The time to visit is now.
Get a sampler platter of Southwest geology on this 11-mile overnight from the Liberty Cap trailhead. Follow good trail across a thinly forested ridgetop that affords views into the 500-foot-deep canyons that drop off on either side of the trail. Scramble up 5,880-foot Liberty Cap for a view of the surrounding valley and canyonlands before heading into seldom-visited Ute Canyon. Look for the 200-foot expanse of Finger Arch, extending like a teacup handle from the eastern canyon wall, near mile 7.6, and pitch a tent in the canyon bottom. Reach Rim Rock Drive at the end of the trail and shuttle, walk, or hitch the 2.9 miles back to your car. Water is scarce year-round; pack enough to last the trip.
Distance 11 miles, 1-2 days Trailhead 39.055555, -108.737006 Shuttle car 39.036883, 108.708983 (Commercial option: Sunshine Taxi; $14/two people) Season March through November, though summer months can hit triple digits Permit Free; obtain at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center