News Flash! There is one list in the world that all seasoned travelers look to in the month of January to inspire their trips for the year. It's The New York Times' "52 Places To Go in 2023." Guess who made the list?
GRAND JUNCTION, COLORADO!
Considering Grand Junction is sharing the spotlight with London, Madrid, Palm Springs, Taipei and many other world-renowned destinations, it's pretty exciting being in the "it" crowd.
If you're looking for your next vacation destination, Grand Junction is the place to go in 2023. We’ve even made it easy for you by including adventures from mild to wild that speak to creative art lovers, history buffs, die-hard hikers, and adrenaline seekers. The best part of all these activities is that Grand Junction is affordable, and 76 percent of the area is public land so there are no crowds. Check out over 38 hotels and hundreds of vacation homes to stay in.
WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE
1. Coffee, tea and breakfast bites – Start your day off right!
You didn’t think we would make you start off an adventure-filled day without guiding you to the perfect coffee shops, did you? Grand Junction’s strong coffee culture percolates through every cup of joe. Grand Junction has a wide variety of coffee ambiance from hip & trendy to retro chic so it’s worth checking them all out.
Swing by Kiln in Downtown Grand Junction for a cup of quality coffee in an uber-modern environment. Identical twin brothers, Jonathan and David Foster, are self-professed coffee geeks who visit the farms where they source their beans. Relax at Copeka Coffee where the retro design is like you stepped back in time when Betty Crocker cookbooks were on every kitchen counter. It’s a comfortable living room where you’ll find students studying, a crochet club sharing tips, and even cocktail parties and film nights. There are also board games and puzzles or try to count how many giraffes adorn the shop – it’s a lot!
Tea & Pastries
Do you prefer tea over jitter juice? Check out Willow Creek Herbs and Teas which offers over 195 bulk herbal teas and 200 organic spices. They are super helpful with custom blends so ask for suggestions. This shop is also bursting with local art and beautiful jewelry. While Downtown, stop by Main Street Bagels (free doggie treats!) or Be Sweet Café & Bakeshop to grab a hot breakfast or a homemade pastry before taking on the day. The housemade granola pancakes with blueberries and apricot jam are worth the stop.
Mother Nature really does play favorites, and Grand Junction can prove it. The second most natural arches in the world are just outside the city, a mini–Grand Canyon is only 6 miles from Downtown Grand Junction and the largest flat-top mountain in the world is only 45 minutes from town.
2. Rattlesnake Arches
Take the road less traveled in 2023 and explore Rattlesnake Arches in McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. Rattlesnake Arches is the second-largest concentration of arches outside of Utah’s Arches National Park – and no crowds. With 35 natural arches, all within a mile of each other, there are two routes to consider when visiting Rattlesnake Arches. The first is a 15.5-mile roundtrip hike along part of the Pollock Bench trail and the second is a shorter route on the Upper Trailhead from Glade Park. The latter (our recommendation) requires a high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle or a mountain bike to access it, so plan accordingly. You can also rent a RZR or reserve a guided tour from Adrenaline Driven Adventure Rentals & Tours or Funshares Sales and Rentals, or take a jeep tour with Grand Junction Adventures. The professional guides are worth every penny – you’ll see more, learn a ton, and you won’t get lost!
3. Colorado National Monument
The Colorado National Monument is located just six miles from Downtown Grand Junction, yet has 20,000 acres of land managed by the National Park Service and 43 miles of hiking trails. Rim Rock Drive is like hiking from your car as you traverse up the Monument, where there are convenient pull-offs to see the scenic overlooks. Hint: Stop off at Upper Ute Canyon View for a really cool echo to the left of the “mummy.” The Canyon Rim hike is only 1-mile round trip yet has some of the most epic views of the park. Check out some of the best ways to explore the Colorado National Monument.
4. Grand Mesa
As the world’s largest flat-top mountain, the Grand Mesa is glistening with over 300 alpine lakes that are perfect for fishing, canoeing, and picnicking. Each of the four seasons on the Grand Mesa offer unique activities: The spring bursts with refreshing waterfalls, pastures of wildflowers, and alpine streams from melting winter snow. In the summer, the Grand Mesa is a sportsman’s paradise equipped with fishing, hiking, camping and OHVing. Fall on the Grand Mesa is unlike anywhere else in Colorado. Golden glowing aspens contrast elegantly against the green forest pines, making for a kaleidoscope of colors that will have you capturing the perfect photos. In the winter, Grand Mesa becomes a snow-filled wonderland for skiers, snowboarders, snowmobilers, snowshoers and ice fishers. By now you have figured out that the Grand Mesa is beautiful year-round. Check out some of the best ways to experience the Grand Mesa in 2023.
Grand Junction, Colorado has some of the best trail connectivity in the state. Load up the quads, the dirtbikes or the side-by-sides, and get ready for jeep trails and singletrack with canyon overlooks after almost every turn. If you don’t have an OHV of your own, don’t worry! Adrenaline Driven Adventure Rentals & Tours and Funshares Sales and Rentals offer both rentals and guided tours, so stop by either for expert advice on where the best trails are based on what you are looking for.
6. Jet Boat Colorado
If you’re looking for a Colorado River thrill, then Jet Boat Colorado earns a spot on your 2023 adventure list. This New Zealand-style jet boat named “Wild Mustang” holds up to 11 passengers and can run in water that is only 4 inches deep. Take a ride on the Wet & Wild tour for power slides, fishtails, speed runs and their famous “Cowboy Spins” that will have you shouting, “let’s do that again!” If leisure is more your speed, Jet Boat Colorado also offers scenic boat tours on the Colorado River. Cruise along while a knowledgeable guide shows you scenic points of interest and tells stories of the area’s rich history. Keep your eyes peeled as you will likely spot a bald eagle along the way!
7. Scenic Air Tours
Photo: Devan Konn
Take to the sky in 2023 with Colorado Flight Center. Depart from the Grand Junction Regional Airport for a high-flying view of Grand Junction and the surrounding area. Take the Upper Colorado Loop which provides an aerial perspective of some of Grand Junction’s most prominent landscapes like Mt. Garfield, Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, and the Grand Mesa. For a truly monumental experience, opt-in for the Canyon Country tour. This tour offers views of the Colorado Plateau, the monoliths and red-rock canyons that sprawl across the high desert landscape below.
8. Rock Climbing
Photo: Bobby Segurola
Head to Grand Junction to clip in for a variety of rock to choose from like the granite walls of Unaweep Canyon and the sandstone spires of Colorado National Monument. Unaweep Canyon, just outside of Grand Junction, boasts more than 2,300 routes and has everything from multi-pitch trad routes to bolted sport routes. Sunday Wall is a local favorite in Unaweep because it offers both trad and bolted climbing options. Colorado National Monument also attracts hundreds of climbers. The sandstone cliffs and spires have 360 views of the Grand Canyon-like landscape. Most routes require traditional climbing, as installation of new permanent hardware is prohibited.
For bouldering near Grand Junction, check out the Millenium Falcon. This iconic and aptly named rock formation has a juggy overhang that leads to an awkward mantle to the top. Summiting this boulder is entertaining and rewarding for both beginners and seasoned boulderers and is well worth earning the bragging rights. Don’t forget to bring crash pads as this challenge may take you a couple of tries to figure out as seen in this Outside TV episode of Venturing Out Park2Park.
10. Downtown Grand Junction
You likely didn’t know that there are over 115 larger-than-life outdoor sculptures and murals in Downtown Grand Junction, also known as Art on the Corner. Downtown is a designated city park with wide pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and narrow roadways, so viewing outdoor art is quite enjoyable. Some of the sculptures in Downtown are part of the legends of Grand Junction collection, which features historical figures like John Otto, the forefather and first advocate for the Colorado National Monument, and Chet and Vernie Enstrom, founders of the famous Enstrom Candy Company. Art on the Corner rotates out temporary art pieces each year at the Downtown Art Festival, so there are always new sculptures and art pieces to view.
11. DIY Endeavors
Now that you are artistically inspired, create your own masterpiece. From painting canvas to forming pottery, and scented candles to Pinterest DIY, these innovative art shops will bring out the Picasso in you! Sip and paint your way to your very own work of art at the Palette or try your hand at glazing your own ceramic piece at Fat Cat Pottery. If candles and crafts are more your forte, then Candle Kitchen and Funky Junk have hundreds of options to choose from. At Candle Kitchen, you can create your own custom-scented candle, which just makes “scents”, or bring your Pinterest idea to life at Funky Junk DIY Studio – their motto is literally “If you can pin it, we can do it.” For more ways to get artfully inspired, check out how to unleash your artistic side in Grand Junction.
12. Lunch Loops
Mountain bikers rejoice! No more searching for a convenient place to ride because Lunch Loops is a straight shot from Downtown Grand Junction. This mountain bike area was named for being the go-to spot for locals to kick up some dirt on their lunch breaks. Push your pedals and your limits on Andy’s Loop for a difficult, yet rewarding ride. Looking for a good trail to get warmed up on or still trying to get your pedals under you? Kid’s Meal Loop is a beginner trail that is relatively easy with only a few minor obstacles to look out for.
13. Powderhorn – Mountain Biking
Located on the side of the Grand Mesa, Powderhorn Mountain Resort is more than just a ski resort. In the summer months, Powderhorn opens its lifts to those looking for a downhill two-wheel thrill or a hike among the pines. Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy 13 miles of downhill mountain bike trails and 5.2 miles of hiking trails, which makes it the perfect place for both winter and summer adventures. In the winter, Powderhorn boasts an average of 250 inches of snow with 45 runs and two terrain parks. As of March 27, 2023, Powderhorn has the second-largest snow base in Colorado so there’s no time like now! The best part is Powderhorn is just 45 minutes from Grand Junction so you can take advantage of Grand Junction’s affordable lodging and stay a few extra nights.
THE BIG GAME
14. Grand Junction Sports
Watching competitive sports is an American mainstay, so there’s no better way to add some fandom to your vacation than to sit back, relax with a cold beverage in hand, and watch a game. From the World Series of junior college baseball to university football, it’s time to root root root for your team in Grand Junction!
For over 60 years, Grand Junction has hosted the Junior College (JUCO) World Series at Sam Suplizio Field. The 2023 JUCO World Series is set to take place from May 27 – June 3, 2023. Attending this multi-day event is a tradition for residents, guests and baseball enthusiasts alike. So, don’t strike out in 2023, plan to add America’s pastime to your June getaway.
If you can’t make it to Grand Junction for the JUCO World Series, don’t worry! Grand Junction’s Pioneer League baseball team, who recently changed their name from the Grand Junction Rockies to the Grand Junction Jackalopes, play from May to September, so there are plenty of opportunities to get your peanuts and Cracker Jacks and enjoy some professional minor league baseball.
Golden aspens, scenic drives and college football. Could there be a better time of the year to visit Grand Junction? Plan your next Grand Junction fall vacation and experience the beauty of the changing season all while cheering along with the fans at a Colorado Mesa University (CMU) football game. Join the CMU students for some Saturday tailgating or purchase a ticket for the hospitality suite to receive complimentary food and non-alcoholic drinks. Just remember to say “Go Mavs!” Keep an eye on the schedule so you don’t miss the next big game.
15. Wild Horses
Staying true to its western roots, Grand Junction is home to one of the few remaining wild horse refuge areas in Colorado. The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range is located just outside of Grand Junction on 36,000 acres of protected land. The wild horses travel in bands of up to a dozen and the best times to see these wild mustangs are in the spring and early summer. For more information on spotting these majestic animals, check out the Legacy Equines of Colorado.
16. Bighorn Sheep
Desert bighorn sheep roam Grand Junction and its surrounding areas like the Colorado National Monument. As a nationally protected area, the Colorado National Monument provides protection and a place to call home for these magnificent creatures. If you’re looking to see a bighorn for yourself, take a cruise along the scenic 23-mile Rimrock Drive in the Colorado National Monument. This drive offers extraordinary views of monoliths and red-rock canyons as well as opportunities to see bighorn sheep. The best part about searching for bighorn sheep in the Monument is they can often be seen without even leaving your vehicle. Fun fact: the bighorn sheep is Colorado’s state animal.
Some people say that a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work and Grand Junction is here to help you test that theory. With over 300 alpine lakes on the Grand Mesa, the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers, two state parks with excellent fishing waters and a dozen other local favorite fishing holes, finding a place to get your line wet in Grand Junction is easier than you think. Island Lake on the Grand Mesa is a popular spot because of its easy accessibility (you can drive right up to the shore) and the increased chances to reel in a wide variety of trout species. If you prefer to stay a little closer to Grand Junction, head over to Connected Lakes, a section of the James M. Robb State Park, for promising bites from bass, bluegill, catfish, and black crappie.
WET AND WILD
18. Make a Splash in Grand Junction
There’s no shortage of water in the Grand Junction area. The Colorado River and the Gunnison River wind their way right through Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa is bursting with over 300 lakes, which makes it easy to get wet and wild.
Float along the Colorado River in Ruby-Horsethief Canyon or take on class III rapids in Westwater Canyon with the help of Rimrock Adventures. They have the gear and expertise to get you out on a wickedly wild excursion! For guided rafting tours, Rimrock Adventures offers daily trips, ranging from 1.5 hours to full-day trips. If you are wanting to spend a couple of days on the Mighty Colorado, Rimrock Adventures also offers multi-day rafting trips.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
For a leisure water adventure, rent a stand-up paddleboard from Grand Junction Adventures at Las Colonias Park and float on the Butterfly Pond. If you’re feeling courageous, float down the Colorado River from the 32 Road boat ramp to the Las Colonias Park boat ramp. This is one of the most popular floats in Grand Junction and varies in time to complete based on the rate at which the river is flowing. After a day on the water, head over to Edgewater Brewery for the ‘Rado Burger and a tall glass of the Chinook IPA, which are best enjoyed sitting out in their open patio area.
Kayaking & Canoeing
To escape the heat in the summer months, consider kayaking or canoeing on the Grand Mesa. There are over 300 lakes to choose from so your options are almost endless. Rent a kayak from Grand Junction Adventures or Palisade Cycle & Shuttle and hit the water. For canoes, you can rent from Thunder Mountain Lodge on the Grand Mesa. Sunset Lake is a great option for getting out on the water and you can always drop a fishing line in hopes of getting a bite. Another option to consider is Island Lake, the largest lake on the Grand Mesa, complete with a boat ramp making it easy to launch your kayak or canoe.
PSA: Whichever H2O experience you choose, please be sure to wear a personal flotation device (PFD).
BIRDIES & BREWS
Break out the irons and the woods for some of the best golfing in Colorado. Grand Junction boasts four public golf courses that are open almost year-round thanks to Grand Junction’s high-desert climate and temperate seasons. Hit the long ball at Lincoln Park Golf Course, a 9-hole course, or bask in the beauty of the Colorado National Monument that towers over the Tiara Rado Golf Course and Redlands Mesa Golf Course. If you prefer to work on your short game, Chipeta Golf Course is an 18-hole par 59 with a variety of hazards to help you dial in your mid-range.
20. Disc Golfing
Does your definition of golfing involve a set of discs and chain basket holes? Well, you are in luck because Grand Junction not only has a variety of disc golf courses that are free to play, but also has a strong community of disc golfers. To prove it, Grand Junction native and local legend, Aaron Gossage is now playing as a disc golf professional around the country. So, whether you are looking to play a casual round with friends or win your next tournament, Grand Junction has what you need to let’em fly!
21. Craft Beverages
Wineries, breweries and distilleries all make up Grand Junction’s prominent craft beverage scene. Grab a wine flight at Carlson Vineyards Downtown Tasting Room or stop into Two Rivers Winery to enjoy a glass while you stroll through the lush vineyards. Or if a fresh brew is more your speed, Trail Life Brewing is Grand Junction’s newest brewery and most of the menu items can be made vegan or vegetarian – all of which pair excellently with their house beers like the River Shuttle Blonde. For a distilled spirit experience, Clark & Co.’s Distillery offers a wide variety of flavored moonshines as well as expert mixologist cocktails. Check out more ways to immerse yourself in Grand Junction’s craft beverage scene with this list of must-see breweries and distilleries or Grand Junction’s must-try wine!
HONOR THE PAST
22. Museums of the West
Take a stroll through time by visiting one of Grand Junction's three museums. Each of the museums pays homage to Grand Junction’s past. From fossils and an apple orchard to the wild west, Grand Junction is rooted in rich history that is unique to Colorado.
For a real Jurassic experience, check out Dinosaur Journey Museum to learn about the dinosaurs that used to roam the area and the fossils that were found here. This is a wonderful experience for kids and adults and the animatronic dinosaurs make for a real immersive blast from the past. The largest and most significant dinosaur found in the Grand Junction area was a Brachiosaurus, which was discovered at what is now known as Riggs Hill, just outside of Grand Junction.
Take a glimpse at how an apple orchard was run in the early years of Grand Junction and stop by Cross Orchards Historic Site. As one of Grand Junction’s earliest fruit-producing farms, Cross Orchards is still in operation as a working apple farm and is now a designated museum. Stop by on Saturday mornings in the summertime for the Cross Orchards Farmer’s Market and pick up fresh produce and some historical perspective. They also offer train rides for the kiddos and adults - we won’t tell anyone!
Real firearms from gunslinging outlaws, Ancestral Puebloan artifacts, and a Pastime saloon can all be found at the Museum of West. Learn about how the west was developed and the role Grand Junction played in such a historic era of American history.
23. Petroglyphs & Waterfalls
DO go chasing waterfalls in Grand Junction because the Big Dominguez Canyon hike offers a dual experience. On this hike, you will discover historic Native American relics, shelters and petroglyphs while also stumbling across several waterfalls along the way. Wildlife such as bighorn sheep, deer and pronghorn are also often seen on this trail so keep an eye out for furry creatures. For more waterfalls to chase in Grand Junction, check out this blog for all the top waterfall spots in GJ!
For more exciting activities to add to your 2023 adventure list, check out the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide.