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How to Hike the Coke Ovens Trail and See Otherworldly Geology in Colorado National Monument

If you are looking for a short but rewarding hike where you can see unique geological formations in Colorado National Monument, the Coke Ovens Trail is for you. The Coke Ovens trail is one of our favorite short hikes in the park, with its beehive-like rock structures, stunning views of Monument Canyon, and a fun little cave that is actually just a drainage (but still cool!).

One of the few short hikes that go below the canyon rim, Coke Ovens provides an opportunity to feel immersed in the canyon’s red-rock walls. Even better, it’s only one mile round trip with minimal elevation change.

Our guide to the Coke Ovens Trail has details on how to get to the trailhead, what to expect on the Coke Ovens trail, and some tips on how to extend your hike. Read on, friend!

Sarah walks along the Coke Ovens Trail in Colorado National Monument
Sarah in front of the Coke Ovens in Colorado National Monument

Colorado National Monument Entrance

Colorado National Monument charges an entrance fee of $25 per vehicle for 7 days. You can also use a national parks pass. We get an America the Beautiful Pass every year since it pays for itself after 3 visits to a national park service site. There are over 2000 locations included in the pass throughout the United States. It’s definitely worth getting the pass if you plan to visit other national parks. Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Mesa Verde, Canyonlands, Arches, and Rocky Mountain National Parks are all within a few hour’s drive of Colorado National Monument.

You’ll enter the park at either the east (Grand Junction) or west (Fruita) entrance. It doesn’t really matter which way you go, since Rim Rock Drive (the main road through Colorado National Monument) is two-way.

Coke Ovens Colorado National Monument
Coke Ovens

Coke Ovens Geology

Located on the western side of Monument Canyon in Colorado National Monument, the Coke Ovens are rounded conical pillars resembling beehives. This geological feature gets its name from the coke ovens used in the 1800s to convert coal into coke (which was then used for smelting iron).

Approximately 200 million years ago, what we now see as the Coke Ovens were wind-borne sandstones deposited in this location as sand dunes. The Wingate Sandstone, as the type of rock is called, eroded along this ridge over time to create the beehive shapes we see today.

Wondering what gives the Coke Ovens their colorful shades of red, orange, and purple? It’s the iron and other minerals in the rocks!

Coke Ovens Trailhead

The Coke Ovens Trailhead is located on Rim Rock Drive. Getting to the trailhead is easy. Just drive south on Rim Rock Drive from the Saddlehorn Visitor Center for 3.8 miles. The pullout for Upper Monument Canyon and Coke Ovens trail will be on your left.

Coke Ovens Overlook Map Colorado National Monument
Map courtesy of NPS
Coke Ovens Overlook Signpost

Note that there are no toilet or water facilities at the Coke Ovens Trailhead, so be sure to fill up your water bottle and use the bathroom at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center before your hike!

Coke Ovens Trail Description

Coke Ovens Trail Fast Facts

The Coke Ovens Trail is pretty short, at just one-mile round-trip. You lose 180 of elevation on your way to the Coke Ovens overlook, which of course you must climb up on way out. Still, it’s a fairly flat and wide trail, making it an accessible choice for a wide range of hiking abilities.

The trail is fairly obvious, leading east into the canyon. After a series of switchbacks descending into the canyon, you’ll make a right at the fork and continue across the ledge along on dirt trail to the Coke Ovens.

Although the views of Monument Canyon are epic from Rim Rock Drive, there’s something extra awe-inspiring about being below the canyon rim with the red-rock walls towering above you!

Tim on the Coke Ovens Trail Colorado National Monument

When you get to the view of the Coke Ovens, look behind you to see the small drainage cave. We went inside (though I’m not sure it’s recommended to do so!), and it just goes under Rim Rock Drive. Still, it was pretty cool to find and also made a good spot from which to take photos since it allowed us to get further back from the rim!

Drainage tunnel on Coke Ovens trail
Drainage tunnel

What to Wear on the Coke Ovens Trail

The most important thing to have with you on the short Coke Ovens hike is water. In the summer, you should carry a gallon jug for each person each day. You should also bring sun protection like hats and sunscreen.

Otherwise, because the Coke Ovens hike is very short and relatively flat, you don’t need any specialized equipment. A pair of durable sneakers or hiking shoes and clothes that feel comfortable to you is all you need! Note that winters are cold and summers are hot, with cool temps every night even in the summertime. Your best bet is to pack a lot of layers, like a wool baselayer, a pullover, and a coat or jacket if hiking anytime other than summer. In summer, shorts and T-shirts are sufficient but we still recommend a jacket layer as well.

Where to Stay for Coke Ovens Trail

There are a lot of options for where to stay near Coke Ovens Trail and the Colorado National Monument. Saddlehorn Campground is your best option within the park, and the towns of Palisade, Grand Junction, and Fruita are all good options just outside the park.

Saddlehorn Campground

Saddlehorn Campground within Colorado National Monument is definitely the most convenient location to stay when visiting CNM or hiking Coke Ovens Trail. The campground is located near the Saddlehorn Visitors Center. You can check Saddlehorn Campground reservations and availability online.

Hotels in Fruita, Palisade, and Grand Junction

Fruita, Palisade, and Grand Junction are all excellent bases for a trip to Colorado National Monument. Fruita and Grand Junction hug either end of CNM, and Palisade is just outside Grand Junction and a great choice for those who want to see Colorado’s wine country as well.

Grand Junction Hotels

Palisade/Wine Country Hotels

Fruita Hotels

 

Coke Ovens Colorado National Monument

Final Thoughts on Coke Ovens Trail

The Coke Ovens Trail is an easy, short hike option for seeing unique geological formations in Colorado National Monument! While on Rim Rock Drive, don’t miss Otto’s Trail, another short hike in Colorado National Monument and a perfect complement to Coke Ovens Trail. If you have even more energy, add Devils Kitchen to your itinerary, too! Whether you are making a quick stop along your scenic drive of Rim Rock Drive or hiking to Coke Ovens as part of a longer Monument Canyon Trail hike, we hope these unique formations inspire you to keep exploring!

If you are visiting Colorado National Monument as part of a larger Colorado trip, be sure to check out our guides on Rocky Mountain National Park!

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