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Browns Canyon National Monument

President designates Browns Canyon National Monument in Colorado’s vibrant upper Arkansas River valley

Photo by Tim Brown ©On Feb.19, 2015, President Obama designated 21,586 acres of pristine canyons, rivers and backcountry forest in Colorado as the Browns Canyon National Monument.

“Conservation is a truly American idea,” the President said. “The naturalists and industrialists and politicians who dreamt up our system of public lands and waters did so in the hope that, by keeping these places, these special places in trust – places of incomparable beauty, places where our history was written – then future generations would value those places the same way as we did. It would teach us about ourselves, and keep us grounded and keep us connected to what it means to be American. And it’s one of our responsibilities, as Americans, to protect this inheritance and to strengthen it for the future.”

The President designated the monument using the Antiquities Act of 1906, which grants the President authority to designate national monuments in order to protect “objects of historic or scientific interest.” While most national monuments are established by the President, Congress has also established national monuments to protect natural and historic features.

On the same day, President also designated the Pullman National Monument in Illinois, the site of the nation’s first planned industrial town. That monument will be managed by the National Park Service.

Browns Canyon includes 11,836 acres of the San Isabel National Forest and 9,750 acres of Bureau of Land Management land. The monument will be jointly managed by the Forest Service and BLM. Browns Canyon National Monument is the 9th monument managed by the Forest Service and the 21st managed by the BLM. The two agencies also co-manage the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

The area is unique, towering over the Arkansas River, itself a beacon to white water rafters and anglers. The granite walls of the canyon stand like a series of a natural cathedral spires that change hues as the light of day wanes.

Two people standing on a ridge line looking out over the rocky hills in front and below them.

Stretched between the communities of Buena Vista and Salida in Chaffee County, Colorado, Browns Canyon elevation ranges from 7,300 feet to 10,000 feet, offering a backdrop for and stunning views of the Arkansas Valley and the Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. The range, formed more than 70 million years ago, is home to some of the highest peaks in the region, towering above 14,000 feet in elevation.

The distinctive environmental features consist of many mountains, canyons with glacial characteristics, giant moraines or ridges of mountain debris, and gulches. Drainages interlace the canyon and drain in to the Arkansas River.

Browns Canyon provides clean water, habitat for wildlife, biological diversity, outdoor recreational opportunities, scenic beauty and grazing and other permitted uses.

The natural resources star on the monument is the Arkansas River, which provides recreational activity on the river and along the shoreline. The monument area is a recreationist’s dream with plenty of opportunity to raft, kayak, bike, horseback ride, hike, nature watch, photography and stargazing. The river is named a gold medal river for its world-class wild trout fishing. The Arkansas has long been considered the most popular whitewater rafting destination in America and features rapids with names like Canyon Doors, Zoom Flume and Seidel’s Suckhole.

© John Fielder

The land managed by the Forest Service within the monument is more remote and primitive, with rugged terrain and limited development.  There are no developed camping sites, few roads, and dispersed camping opportunities are limited to those reached by hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding through scenic vistas  There are about four miles of non-motorized trails on the San Isabel National Forest portion of the monument that provide access for those activities.

It’s also an area where some of Colorado’s most emblematic animal species call home. It’s winter range for big game such as elk and mule deer. In the 1980s, a small herd of bighorn sheep was introduced to the area and are thriving today. Other wildlife that reside in the area includes the American black bear, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, red fox and American pine marten. The bighorn sheep and pine marten are considered by the Forest Service as sensitive species and are accorded agency protection through management decisions. A variety of important bats species inhabit the area.

Surveys of the area date the presence of American Indians for at least 13,000 years. There are archaeological sites with stone artifacts documented in the area that are attributed to the Paleo-Indian and early Archaic periods. The general area is traditionally significant to the Ute.  Jicarilla Apache also claim traditional cultural ties to area.

Evidence of modern man is shown through the work of early explorers and, by the late 1800s, miners prospecting in the area. Historic cabins and other structures are generally outside of the monument area.

Other Forest Service-managed national monuments:


Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area

Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area