The area around Grand Junction and Palisade has made a name for itself as the heart of Colorado’s wine country. But vino is just one of the region’s great qualities. Nearby are thousands of miles of hiking and mountain-biking trails, phenomenal golfing, buzz-worthy dining options, dinosaur fossils and whitewater rafting.
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. If you don’t ride, take a two-hour turn on the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway, which winds through towering 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. 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.
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.
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.
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 and 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.