The popular 2.5 mile River Trail is a favorite for families with small children and those wanting to cover a lot of territory in the park on mostly flat terrain.
It starts on your left just after you cross the bridge in the river gorge.
First you need to descend into the park from the main entrance by the Welcome Center.
Looking straight up at the rock face at the start of the trail, you start to see climbers on routes along Picnic Lunch Wall.
There is a compost bathroom nearby should you care to hang out a while and watch the climbers.
Just past Christian Brothers as you round the bend, look up to your right at Asterisk Pass, marked by a boulder resembling Woodstock from Snoopy comic strip fame.
As you continue along the bend you come up on a horse ford, where on summer days you may see them crossing with their riders when the river is lowest. The Smith Rock Group with Phoenix Buttress, another popular climbing area, lies just beyond.
As you round the Southern Tip, another climbing spot, you may see deer fording the river. They don’t have an official trail designation, but they don’t seem to care.
Continuing along the river, you’ll see small grassy islands, where water fowl tend to hang out, as well as the occasional otter family swim by.
The trail ascends a bit at this point, but then flattens out quickly along the river’s edge once again.
Great views, including that of a park icon, Monkey Face are all along the way.
At this point you can simply turn around and go back the way you came to stay on level ground.
If you want to get some amazing views from the top, as well as get up close and personal with Monkey Face, hang a right on to the Mesa Verde Trail, for a steep .28 miles.
Once at the top, take the .68 mile Misery Ridge Trail along the ridge until it descends down a steep scree path back to the bridge.