The geological history of this National Natural Park is as rich and varied as an epic novel, and there is an ecological variety to match. Deeply rooted in Native American, western, and world history, this marvel naturally attracts large crowds–and for good reason. The boundless recreational opportunities with a breathtaking backdrop steeped in a rich history are well worth a day trip.
Amidst the 15 miles of trail found within the park, hiking, rock climbing, mountain and road biking are the activities of choice, and there is a paved 1.5-mile loop accessible by strollers and wheelchairs. A tangle of trails explore almost every nook of the park, and a map is available at the visitor center along with knowledgeable staff and much more information.
Mountain bikers frequent the 5-mile double track out-and-back trail in the park. Although it experiences only a 400-foot shift in elevation, it offers breathtaking views and is ideal for acclimation before treading further back and higher up into the Rockies.
Climbing on the sometimes-brittle sandstone is permitted, and acquiring a permit from the visitor center is free but required before tying in. Climbs vary from 40 to 400 feet in length and one to eight pitches, most of which are trad routes; however, there are some options for sport climbing on fixed gear. Note that only chalk matching the rust-red color of the rock is allowed and that bouldering is prohibited in some areas.
An estimated 65 million years ago (about 100 million years after dinosaurs meandered about the area), the old Pacific plate slammed into the North American plate, tipping the orange and rust colored rocks that were once behemoth sand dunes like the Great Sand Dunes found in southern Colorado. Adding to the magnificence of the scenery is its perch between the great plains and the foothills, reflecting the ecology of both zones.