Outdoor Paradise on the Grand Mesa
With mountain views on the horizon and the Grand Valley below, the Grand Mesa rises up 6,000 feet above Main Street in Grand Junction and 11,000 feet above sea level. About an hour’s drive from Downtown Grand Junction, the Grand Mesa National Forest has no main street of its own and little in the way of shops and restaurants, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t teeming with life. Moose, mule deer, elk, black bear and marmot are among the many animals that call the Grand Mesa home.
Stay Cool on the Grand Mesa
When the mercury rises in the Grand Valley, the Grand Mesa is a great escape from the heat. Temperatures can be twenty degrees cooler than in the valley below. In fact, the hottest it has ever been atop the Mesa is just 80 degrees. That doesn’t mean the sun isn’t strong: wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself at these altitudes.
In the early summer the hiking and fishing around the lower altitude lakes is ideal. The snow is mostly melted and the flowers are beginning to bloom. If you’re staying into the evening or overnight, be prepared for cooler nighttime temperatures.
Getting to the Grand Mesa
Grand Mesa National Forest provides a perfect outdoor setting for adventure, whether you’re up for a hike, a day of fishing, a picturesque drive over the mountain, or a multi-night stay in a tent, cabin or lodge. The Mesa can be approached by venturing eastward on I-70 or down US 50 out of Downtown Grand Junction. In the summer, the venturesome driver can take US 50 to Lands End Road straight up the side of the mountain on a gravel road full of switchbacks. For the rest of the year (or less daring drivers), take US 50 to the town of Delta before turning onto State Highway 65 to head up the mountain.
The terrain changes quickly along the route as you head from the Grand Valley up onto the Mesa. Stop at the many pull-offs to soak in the views and take photos of mountains, lakes and colorful landscape. Many enjoy the winding roads and cool mountain air on a motorcycle or in a convertible. No matter what you drive, turn off the AC and roll down the windows as you cruise Route 65.
On the approach to Grand Mesa from I-70 is the Powderhorn Mountain Resort. In the summer, the slopes are a deep green, making the resort look very different from when it’s blanketed in winter snow. The resort hosts a number of fun summer events including mud runs, mountain man movie nights and an outdoors fest.
Things to do on the Grand Mesa
Enjoying a Colorado hike with scenic views, mountain lakes and untouched terrain is one of the most popular activities on the Grand Mesa. Stop at the Grand Mesa Visitors Center to pick up a map and get the scoop on where to hike. Snow can linger into July at peak elevations and four-wheel drive is recommended on many of the gravel roads early in the summer season where Moose are regularly spotted grazing in the meadows.
Anglers will find several species of trout, cutthroat and other fish well stocked in the lakes atop the Mesa. You can cast from the shores of the Mesa Lakes right by the main road or test your four-wheel drive and head deeper into the wilderness on forest roads to get some real peace and quite. Learn more about fishing on the Grand Mesa >>
Every year on the last Saturday of July, more than 1,000 people ascend the mountain to enjoy Grand Mesa Moose Day. During this family festival, you can gain a new appreciation for moose on a hike guided by a Wildlife Officer or check out the many children’s activities.
For the serious hiker looking for a challenging and even daring hike, look no further than the Crag Crest Trail. This 10-mile loop goes up over a needle edge trail that gets as narrow as three feet wide with cliffs hundreds of feet tall on either side. You can hike the whole thing or just the upper or lower sections. Find more hiking trails in Grand Junction >>
Where to Stay on the Grand Mesa
Stop in the town of Mesa at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Motel. Order the chicken fried steak for a hearty, homemade meal on the mountain. If you’re laying down a tent for the night, Island Lake and Ward Lake campsites offer scenic lakeside camping and clean, convenient restrooms. Stop by the Grand Mesa Lodge for supplies or to rent a Rustic Cabin on the lake. The Lodge offers boat rentals, including canoes, rowboats and fishing boats with trawlers. If you really want to get out into the wilderness you can set up a tent pretty much anywhere in the back country of the National Forest. Find more lodging in Grand Junction >>
Still not convinced? Watch a quick video highlighting some of the things to do on the Grand Mesa and then go explore this unique natural treasure.
Visiting in Winter?
Do you have a favorite outdoor experience on the Grand Mesa? Share your adventure on social media and tag it with #ShareGJ.