Not far from the hustle and bustle of the Front Range, Colorado’s Western Slope offers a welcome respite to those looking to escape the demands of life. Those who visit share that just a few days in Grand Junction leaves them feeling refreshed and revived.
Grand Junction is a unique region, just a few hours from Denver, where powerful rivers course through verdant valleys, and where the opportunities for outdoor adventure are abundant in every season, due to the year-round temperate climate. Comfortably warm days and cool nights provide the perfect environment for enjoying the outdoors.
What was once a sacred adventure spot for those in the know, Grand Junction has become one of Colorado’s most celebrated outdoor playgrounds. The valley is enormous, the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, with over 76 percent public land. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, OHV recreation, as well as water sports, attract visitors from around the world.
With thousands of miles of trails to roam on, it’s no surprise that hiking is one of the most popular activities that residents and guests enjoy. Here are some quick tips and popular treks to get you started. And don’t worry, you won’t run into crowds – the massive trail network disperses everyone naturally.
During the summer, if you prefer cooler temperatures, hit the trail earlier in the day or later in the evening, and no matter when or where you hike, bring plenty of water, sunscreen, shades, and snacks. Don’t forget to charge up your phone or bring a camera, because hikes in the Grand Valley are rich with wall art, natural history, wildflowers, and wildlife.
Distance: 22 miles
Accessible directly from town, the 22-mile Riverfront Trail is a lovely stroll along the Colorado River. You can even ebike it, except for the Audobon Section. It’s part of an ongoing, 25-year project to connect the town of Palisade in the east to Fruita in the west by one uninterrupted path. The trail includes many different sections including the Audobon Trail, Blue Heron Trail, James M. Robb State Parks, Connected Lakes, and Corn Lake. The Audobon Section of this trail attracts over 200 species of birds, including bald eagles, hawks, blue heron, and ducks. Parts of this trail are being worked on, further details here.
2. DEVILS KITCHEN
Distance: 3 miles round trip
Photo Jimmy Thomas
A Colorado National Monument favorite, the hike to Devils Kitchen offers phenomenal views. The hike is popular for its unique geology and opportunities for fun rock scrambling. The "kitchen" is a hallway formed by giant boulders and offers incredible views of the valley. As a bonus, the trailhead is also the starting point for other not-to-be-missed hikes, including No Thoroughfare Canyon. This TikTok captures it well.
3. CANYON RIM AND WINDOW ROCK
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
This trail offers some of the biggest and most jaw-dropping views of Colorado National Monument. The easy Canyon Rim Trail begins on the back porch of the Visitor Center and follows Wedding Canyon to the Bookcliff Overlook. From here, hop on the Window Rock Trail for sweeping views of the canyon’s brilliantly-hued walls and the towering monoliths in the Monument and Wedding Canyons below.
4. Dominguez-ESCALANTE National conservation Area PETROGLYPHS
Distance: About 1.5 miles round trip
Photo Jimmy Thomas
It’s an easy hike to see well-preserved petroglyphs in Escalante Canyon. Only 30 miles from Grand Junction, Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area has more hikes than you can shake a stick at. One of the more unique options is the Bridgeport Trail where you can easily view the ancient petroglyphs. Be sure to look at all sides of the rocks, because many of them have petroglyphs on more than one side.
5. OLD SPANISH TRAIL
Distance: 7 miles point-to-point
Orchard Mesa sits roughly four miles from Downtown Grand Junction. It’s amazing how much history you can find so close to town - this historical trade route ran all the way from Santa Fe to Los Angeles. This seven-mile hike from Orchard Mesa to Whitewater follows a portion of the northern branch of its 700-mile path, giving hikers an idea of what Native Americans and traders might have encountered on their long journeys. Expect to see wildlife and colorful desert plants, and then hop on the Gunnison River Bluffs Trail (overlooking the Gunnison River of course) for a change of scenery.
6. SERPENTS TRAIL
Distance: About 3.5 miles round trip
Serpents Trail is known as “The Crookedest Road in the World.” Before paved roads were a possibility in Colorado National Monument, the aptly-named Serpents Trail was it. This trail, the precursor to Rim Rock Drive, is a popular destination for many locals who incorporate the 16 switchbacks into part of a daily fitness routine. However you choose to hike it, it’s fascinating to imagine the work that went into creating a road in such rough terrain in the early 1900s. This trek through the Wingate Sandstone is beautiful any time of year, and the area is also a great spot to go stargazing on a clear night.
7. TRAIL THROUGH TIME
Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
If there are any dinosaur enthusiasts in your group, the Trail Through Time is not to be missed. Just over 20 miles west of Grand Junction in the Rabbit Valley area, the Trail Through Time is a 1.5-mile loop designated with interpretive signs. There’s also an active dinosaur quarry, which is still being excavated during the summer months. Fossils found here include of the Brachiosaurus, Allosaurus, and Diplodocus.
8. KOKOPELLI TRAIL
Distance: Mileage varies
Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous
Mountain biking and backpacking are popular on the Kokopelli Trail, but it’s hikeable, too. Beginning in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area near Loma, Colorado, this 142-mile trail stretches all the way to Moab, Utah. The Kokopelli Trail was established in 1989 and remains a popular destination for mountain bikers and hikers. This remote route follows the mighty Colorado River through shale canyons and along sandstone bluffs, with plenty of wildlife and native plants along the way. It’s mostly made up of singletrack and 4x4 roads.
9. RATTLESNAKE CANYON ARCHES TRAIL
Distance: 5 miles round trip... if you can get to the upper Black Ridge Wilderness parking lot. 16 miles if you start at the Pollock Bench Trailhead
Just 20 miles from Grand Junction proper, this trail boasts the highest concentration of natural arches in the world, outside of Arches National Park in Utah. Expect to see more than just the famous arches, though—there’s also spires, windows, giant alcoves, and panoramic views of the valley below. You can even get on top of some of the arches for the best vantage point! The hike tends to be hot in the summer, so you’ll need to bring plenty of water. If you have a high clearance, 4-wheel drive vehicle, you can drive to the closer parking lot found in the Black Ridge Wilderness. Otherwise, hike in from the Pollock Bench Trailhead in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area.
Note: Check ahead of time for seasonal road closures and seasonal route changes to the Rattlesnake Arches trailhead.
10. MOUNT GARFIELD
Distance: 4 miles round trip
Locals often use Mount Garfield to train before tackling a Fourteener.
This challenging hike in the Book Cliffs, ten miles from Grand Junction, is considered excellent training for Colorado’s many Fourteeners. It’s not the altitude itself that gets you, it’s the elevation gain: the hike climbs 2,000 vertical feet in just under two miles. Distract yourself from the difficulty by keeping an eye out for fossils.
11. CRAG CREST LOOP
Distance: 10 miles round trip
This loop, a National Recreation Trail in Grand Mesa National Forest (about 50 miles from Grand Junction), can be accessed from two spots: near Island Lake or Eggleston Lake. From its high point of over 11,000 feet atop the Grand Mesa, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, with views for over 100 miles on a clear day. Get an early start on this one to avoid afternoon thunderstorms in the summertime.
12. LUNCH LOOP TRAILS
Difficulty: Easy to Strenuous
The Lunch Loop Trails are shared with mountain bikers and offer incredible views of the Grand Valley. With a trailhead practically in town (it’s just across the Colorado River on Monument Road), the Lunch Loop Trails System is one of the best, most accessible recreation spots in Grand Junction. The trails are frequented by mountain bikers, too, and offer views of both Colorado National Monument and Bangs Canyon. There are several options here, ranging in distance from 2.7 miles to almost 20 miles.