Colorado’s new Browns Canyon National Monument is centered on the Arkansas River, a popular whitewater rafting spot as it runs through a granite-lined canyon.
“The granite walls of the canyon stand like a series of natural cathedral spires that change hues as the light of day wanes,” according to the U.S. Forest Service.
The monument, which extends from the river to the east, also features granite outcroppings, spires and hoodoos, backcountry forests of aspen, pine and fir, and abundant wildlife.
The monument can be explored by rafting, kayaking, hiking, bicycling, fishing, rock climbing and horseback riding. It’s a 2 1/2-hour drive from Denver.
Outfitters based in Buena Vista and Salida offer guided whitewater rafting trips through the canyon. Half-day trips are most popular, but trips of up to three days are available. The rapids include Canyon Doors, Pinball, Zoom Flume, Egg Beater, Widowmaker, Raft Ripper and Graveyard.
The monument, created by President Barack Obama and dedicated in 2015, covers 21,586 acres between Buena Vista and Salida at elevations ranging from 7,300 feet along the river to 10,000 feet at the top of the canyon, which offers views of a string of 14,000-foot peaks in the Sawatch Range.
The monument’s higher elevations are remote and primitive, with rugged terrain. There are four miles of non-motorized trails but no developed campsites or roads. The only formal trailhead providing backcountry access is at the northern end of the monument just east of the Ruby Mountain Campground in the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area.
The monument’s wildlife include elk, mule deer, bighorn sheep, black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, fox and golden eagles.
The monument is jointly run by the U.S. Forest Service and the federal Bureau of Land Management, which had managed the land before the monument was created.