Grand Junction is the perfect spot for a weekend getaway with its spectacular scenery, miles of trails, Colorado’s best mountain biking, nearby skiing, the world’s largest flat-topped mountain, and a mild year-round climate. Grand Junction and the surrounding Grand Valley is also Colorado’s wine country, a perfect counterpoint to the natural beauty of the surrounding mesas, cliffs and canyons, and the city’s reputation for rugged outdoor sports. Two days is hardly enough time to do everything around Junction, but it’s enough to get acquainted. Besides, you can always come back for another weekend in Grand Junction!
Day 1 — Colorado National Monument and Fruita Mountain Biking
The first thing to do when you reach Junction is to head right to Colorado National Monument, the area’s best natural wonder. The monument protects six cliff-lined canyons that drain north to the Colorado River. Enter the park at its east entrance station, about four miles from downtown Grand Junction, and follow twisting Rim Rock Drive for 23 miles along the canyon rims. The scenic route, also great for road biking, offers dramatic overlooks, including Cold Shivers Point, Coke Ovens Overlook, and Grand View Point, and access to short trails that lead to big viewpoints. If you’re a climber, pack a rope and cams to climb Otto’s Route up 450-foot Independence Monument, Colorado’s tallest sandstone tower. Be sure to stop at the Visitor Center for displays about geology and natural history or to take a ranger-led hike. Nearby is 80-site Saddlehorn Campground, the best public camping area near Grand Junction.
After exploring the monument, descend the drive and head north to Fruita and I-70. A fascinating stop is Dinosaur Hill by the Colorado River. A 1.5-mile trail encircles the hill, passing the quarry where Elmer Riggs found a 70-foot-long Apatosaurus in 1900. The Fruita Unit of James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park lies on the north side of the river. Check it out for boating, hiking trails, fishing in Bookcliff and Red Rocks Lakes, and camping in its deluxe campground.
Next stop—a bite to eat in Fruita. This small city, western Colorado’s sports capital, offers great dining spots. The Hot Tomato serves pizza that will rival any other pizza restaurant in Colorado, while Camilla’s Kaffe has a diverse menu with vegetarian options, and Copper Club Brewing Company pours fine beers.
RELATED: [Gallery] Legacy of John Otto at Colorado National Monument
Day 2 — Get Wet, Take a Drive, and Sip Fine Wine
Breakfast is the order of the next morning. While the chain restaurants offer passable fare, seek out local favorites for the best breakfast. A personal favorite is unpretentious Lois’ Place in a downtown strip mall on Grand Avenue, otherwise Dream Café and Main Street Café with varied menus and never-empty coffee cups.
Before the morning gets away, head east from downtown Grand Junction to explore the eastern Grand Valley. The Colorado River defines Grand Junction, entering the valley through Debeque Canyon. Hot summer days are perfect for watery fun on the river. Good bets are the Connected Lakes and Corn Lake units of James M. Robb-Colorado River State Park, where you can canoe, stand-up paddleboard, or go fishing. The river between Palisade and Junction is perfect for novice boaters. Rent all the gear you need in town and head downriver. A fine 17-mile float runs from Palisades Riverbend Park to Redlands Parkway Boat Ramp. For more wet fun, consider taking a raft trip through spectacular Ruby and Horsethief Canyons west of Fruita.
If it’s too cold to bob down the Colorado, take a hike or a drive. One of the most challenging hikes is the two-mile Mount Garfield Trail, which climbs steeply to an expansive viewpoint atop its namesake peak. Alternatively, drive to the top of Grand Mesa, a huge flat-topped mountain that rules the Grand Valley. Drive east on I-70 and then exit onto Colorado 65, the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, which twists up the mesa’s north flank through golden aspen forests to Crag Crest. The top of Grand Mesa is covered with lakes and forests at a cool 10,000 feet above sea level. The best views are at Land’s End on the mesa’s western edge. If you have the time, descend Lands End Road (FR 100), a scenic gravel road, down 20 steep switchbacks to U.S. 50.
Spend your last afternoon exploring Colorado’s famous wine country around Palisade, but first, remember to designate a sober driver. The Palisade area, with dry air, warm days, and cool nights, is the perfect climate for growing grapes. A good way to discover orchards, vineyards, wineries, and fruit stands is to drive the Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway. There are plenty of wine tasting rooms, orchard tours, and stands to buy famous Palisade peaches along its back roads. Check out Hermosa Vineyards, Carlson Vineyards, Talon Winery, Maison le Belle Vie Winery, Varaison Vineyards, and the unique Meadery of the Rockies which makes honey-based wines like King Arthur. It’s a perfect way to relax after a busy weekend spent discovering the natural wonders of Grand Junction.