For centuries, the rugged granite cliffs, colorful rock outcroppings and stunning mountain vistas of Browns Canyon National Monument have attracted visitors from around the world. The area’s unusual geology and roughly 3,000-foot range in elevation support a diversity of life and a wealth of geological, ecological, riparian, cultural and historic resources.
President Obama designated the 21,589-acre Browns Canyon National Monument on February 19, 2015. The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service jointly manage the Monument. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), through the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA), manages river-based recreation on the the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon.
Rafting Browns Canyon
Whitewater rafting is the most popular recreational activity that occurs in Browns Canyon. There are many outfitters in the area that offer whitewater rafting trips daily through Browns Canyon National Monument.
The Arkansas River is the most accessible way to enjoy the National Monument. The remote canyon provides a unique type of whitewater boating experience when compared to other segments of the Arkansas River, allowing visitors to experience solitude in a natural setting while enjoying the scenery.
Fishing Browns Canyon
The Arkansas River between Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado is a world-class fishery and provides an excellent opportunity for anglers to test their skills at catching brown trout and rainbow trout. There are many outfitters who offer guided float fishing trips and walk wade fishing trips in Buena Vista & Salida, Colorado. As a testament to the excellent fishery the Colorado Parks and Wildlife designated the Arkansas River from the confluence of the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River downstream to Parkdale, Colorado (102 miles), as a Gold Medal Trout Fishery in 2014. These waters are defined as being able to produce 60 pounds of trout per acre, and at least twelve 14″ or larger trout per acre. This addition to the Gold Medal registry is the state’s longest—nearly a third of Colorado’s 322 Gold Medal river miles in a single segment. The Gold Medal designation itself does not carry any specific regulations; however, a valid Colorado Fishing License is required and other regulations apply within certain portions of the Gold Medal stretch of river. For more information please refer to Colorado Parks and Wildlife fishing regulations.
Hiking Browns Canyon
Hiking Browns Canyon National Monument offers incredible views of three distinct mountain ranges. Gaze at the lofty 14,000-foot peaks in the Sawatch Range to the west, the jagged Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the south, and the Mosquito Range to the north. Over 11 miles of developed single-track hiking trails are present.
Browns Canyon National Monument is home to a huge variety of wildlife that can be spotted by those with patience and a bit of luck. The rugged, isolated nature of the terrain and proximity to year round water sources provide a perfect habitat for animals both big and small. Elevations between 7300 and 10,000 feet create a wide range of vegetation types conducive to different wildlife needs. Lying on the eastern edge of the Arkansas Valley, Browns Canyon sits in the rain shadow of the mighty Sawatch Range and the crest of the Continental Divide. This geographic arrangement creates a sheltered environment during the harsh winter months.
Ruby Mountain Trailhead
Ruby Mountain Recreation Site
Distances and estimated hiking time:
• Roundtrip to river at little Cottonwood via Turret Trail (#6045): 2.7 miles, 2 hours
• Roundtrip to the river via the River Bench Trail (#6045A): 5.5 mile, 3 hours
• Roundtrip to the river via the River Access Trail (#6045B): 9 miles, 4.5 hours
• Roundtrip including Catkin Gulch Loop (#6046): 11.5 miles, 5 hours
Hecla Junction Trailhead
Hecla Junction Recreation Site
Distances estimated hiking times:
• Roundtrip out-and-back along the west bank of the Arkansas River via Seidels Suckhole Trail: 2 miles, 1.5 hours
• Turret Trail 6045 en route to the Arkansas River at Little Cottonwood Creek is a steep but short 2-mile round trip hike with views of the area’s northern half.
• The 5.5 mile trail “in and out” hike along a gentle dead-end River Bench Trail 6045A provides a good sample of the northern monument with an Arkansas River overlook.
• The 11.5 mile Catkin Gulch Loop 6046 roundtrip via the Turret Trail 6405 goes deep into the Monument for a fuller experience of its wilderness character.
Browns Canyon National Monument does not require fees for entrance. However parking at the Ruby Mountain Recreation Area Site and/ or the Hecla Junction Recreation Site requires either a Colorado Parks and Wildlife annual or daily parks pass. Annual parks passes may be obtained at the Arkansas Headwaters Visitor Center in Salida, Colorado or daily passes can be obtained at self-serve kiosks at the recreation sites.