About the only thing the Grand Junction area (often called the Western Slope) doesn’t have is gridlock — but we’re willing to bet you won’t miss that.
One of the largest flat-topped mountains in the world, Grand Mesa rises above 10,000 feet and is topped by virgin forest and more than 300 bodies of water, with virtually limitless mountain-biking trails that range from mild to intense. You can rent a bike from Rapid Creek Cycles in Palisade before making the hour or so drive to the mesa. Even if you don’t ride, the journey through towering aspen groves is still a must-see. Take a two-hour turn on the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway, which winds through aspen groves and past colorful skree fields.
Head back to Palisade for lunch, where a burger at the Palisade Cafe showcases the region’s locally raised bounty.
Next, take a leisurely bike ride through wine country, which has few, if any, hills. Ride out to Canyon Wind Cellars to taste one of the state’s best affordable bottles of wine, the 47-Ten Red. Stop into Garfield Estates Vineyard and Winery, Meadery of the Rockies and Maison Le Belle Vie on the way back to town.
For dinner, Inari’s is Palisade’s upscale bistro, offering a nice selection of seasonal American fare and many local wines. The town, despite being just 2,500 residents, has a lively night scene, too. Peach Street Distillers, a manufacturer of award-winning, locally made spirits, is a great place to unwind and taste some truly original liquors. Right next door is the Palisade Brewing Company, a fun place to enjoy locally crafted suds. Or have dinner at Grand Junction’s wildly popular Bin 707 Foodbar, where chef Josh Niernberg serves up a menu crafted from the Grand Valley’s best farmers, winemarkers and brewers.
By the end of this day, you’ll be ready to fall into bed at one of the town’s cozy bed and breakfasts.
The Golf Club at Redlands Mesa in Grand Junction is one of the highest rated public courses in the country. Start your morning here, bring some extra golf balls and expect a high score — the sprawling views are guaranteed to distract even the most focused pros.
Or start your morning in downtown Grand Junction, where locally owned brunch hotspots’ outdoor seating areas let you bask in the morning air. Work off that extra helping of hash browns by strolling walkable streets lined with galleries, outdoor sculptures and gift shops, as well as a Thursday farmers’ market and other fun events. See if the Grand Junction Rockies have a home game. The minor-league affiliate of Denver’s Colorado Rockies play at the city’s scenic Suplizio Field. Or head to new Three Sisters Park located just minutes from downtown Grand Junction for 130 acres of gentle hiking and biking terrain.
Grand Mesa gets a lot of attention for being so massive, but equal splendor lies west of Grand Junction at Colorado National Monument. Within just a few miles, the landscape changes to otherworldly desert. Red-rock canyons and clear rivers dazzle and can fill up a digital camera’s memory card in a blink. Drive the 23-mile scenic Rim Rock Drive, which affords plenty of pullouts for viewing and hiking, or take part in a ranger-led program that explores everything from geology to the region’s wildlife. A drive farther west will take you to McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, where trails trace stunning formations.
The truly serious biker may want to add another day to the itinerary in order to explore the mountain-biking trails around nearby Fruita, offering what is arguably the finest network of singletrack in Colorado. The landscape here is true desert, with buffed-out trails that wind through sagebrush and past endless vistas. The town is also a popular destination for ATVers who love desert trails, and rock crawlers find vast and varied terrain in the North Fruita Desert area. And golfers experience year-round bliss, canyon-country views and 27 holes at Adobe Creek National Golf Course.
In the evening, head back to Grand Junction and stroll downtown’s historic streets. Several fine restaurants cater to those looking to sample regional ingredients and support local farmers.
Days 3 & 4
With its craggy hills and unparalleled collection of prehistoric artifacts, the beautiful Dinosaur National Monument is worth the additional four-hour trek from Palisade. There are thousands of fossil types in the monument, and it’s still an active research area — a team of paleontologists discovered a new, large plant-eating dinosaur in early 2010.
Spent enough time in the car? Whitewater rafting the Green or Yampa rivers — both of which cut through the monument — is a thrilling way to view the area’s ancient rock formations. Myriad professional outfitters guide floats down the rivers, which include some burly Class IV rapids. Choose from one-, two- and three-day options.
Or, get sidetracked east toward Meeker’s 250-mile ATV trail system through the White River National Forest to explore some of Colorado’s finest wilderness. Visit in July for Colorado’s oldest rodeo, the Meeker Range Call, or September for the famed Meeker Sheepdog Trials.
Family-friendly Powderhorn Mountain Resort is located on the Grand Mesa near Grand Junction, where skiers, riders and snowtubers see something more like the Grand Canyon than the typical alpine view. They recently expanded with a new high-speed Poma lift so skiers can fit in more runs!