The views of the Grand Mesa National Forest are jaw-dropping, no doubt—but just wait until you’ve got a bird’s-eye advantage of the spectacular grandeur in this part of Colorado. However you gain elevation—by foot, bike, or car—you’re all but guaranteed to find an impressive lookout, some with panoramas delivering especially stunning views. Here are nine options—three each for hikers, cyclists, and drivers—that will lead you to some of the best views Grand Mesa has to offer. Enjoy!
Hiking enthusiasts will find plenty to love in Grand Mesa, where myriad trails and sublime views abound. Many routes can be customized to fit your skill level and available time. The following three options are perennial favorites.
1. Flowing Park Loop
Distance: 15 miles Difficulty: Easy
Flowing Park Loop, in spite of its substantial distance, is relatively flat, following a lollypop loop around the Grand Mesa plateau with an incredible bird’s eye view of Grand Junction, the North Fork Valley, and the entire five-county region of the Uncompahgre Plateau. In the distance are the Sneffels and La Sal mountain ranges. The trail begins on a dirt road through a gate at Flowing Park Reservoir and climbs gradually, becoming double track and then singletrack. After about 2.5 miles, you’ll turn onto Flowing Park Loop and meander through pine forests and aspen groves, catching views of the mesa all the while, including the impressive basalt rock cliffs off of Point Peninsula.
2. Crag Crest Loop
Distance: 11 miles Difficulty: Hard
You have two start options for the Crag Crest Trail but the slightly higher West Trailhead, about an hour’s drive from Grand Junction on Colorado Highway 65, is your best bet. Begin following Crag Crest (trail #711) and take a left at the first junction, heading up a steep, craggy trail toward the ridge and staying right/straight at the Cottonwood Trail junction. You will pass alpine streams and lakes and end up on a narrow crest that falls away spectacularly. Stop to take in the panoramas, particularly from the high point of the crest above 11,000 feet, where you’ll feel on top of the world, looking down upon the Bookcliffs and peaks sprawling for 100 miles into the distance. From here, you’ll complete the loop by staying right above a series of lakes and the East trailhead, then take a left at the first junction to return to the West trailhead. All told, you gain and lose about 1,500 vertical feet.
3. Kannah Creek
Distance: 8.1 miles (one way) Difficulty: Strenuous
This out-and-back trail following Kannah Creek is a toughie with about 4,000 feet of elevation gain. But those who are willing to put in the work of a 16-mile day can enjoy alpine lakes and an excellent panoramic view at the summit. The trail has multiple creek crossings, which can become challenging during spring run-off. But the trail’s proximity to the waterway throughout the route also makes for quite the scenic route, and you can stop to fish just about anywhere along the way. And be sure to be prepared for the altitude: The trailhead is located at about 6,100 feet of elevation, while the highest point is just under 10,000 feet.
Do you prefer exploring on your mountain bike? Grand Mesa has many options that are well-suited to various levels of rider.
1. County Line Trailhead
Distance: 6.9-mile loop Difficulty: Easy
This trail starts high—at more than 10,000 feet—but riders will enjoy the relatively flat terrain along this loop. It’s even family-friendly, as younger riders should be able to handle the singletrack here, especially the first section from the parking lot to the overlook to see Island Lake. Throughout the loop of this forested trail, you’ll find some ups and downs, but the elevation doesn’t change by more than a few hundred feet. The fall is a good time to visit, as you’ll get beautiful views of the aspens.
2. Mesa Top Trail
Distance: 7.4 miles (one way) Difficulty: Intermediate
Completed in 2015, this is one of the newer singletrack trails on Grand Mesa, and it’s a joy for intermediate riders. The point-to-point course is gently downhill most of the way, starting at 10,780 feet and finishing up at 10,080 feet at Flowing Park. You spend a lot of time in the spruce and fir forest, but you pop out into the open at the edge of Grand Mesa to see some incredible views of the Elk and San Juan mountain ranges. Because of the high elevation, this trail has a relatively short window of use, generally from July through October.
3. West Bench Trail
Distance: 12 miles Difficulty: Easy
Taking you to Powderhorn Ski Resort, this out-and-back trail is almost always uncrowded, though it’s popular with cross-country skiers in the winter. It takes you gradually up the slopes to a couple of Powderhorn’s chair lifts through pine and aspen trees, over bridges and through numerous meadows rich with wildflowers and even wild raspberries. Begin at Jumbo Reservoir and head toward Sunset Lake, following the blue diamonds that mark the trail. There are numerous water crossings, and in the spring, tumbling waterfalls make the route even more sublime.
For visitors who prefer the convenience of driving, there are still plenty of ways to soak up the views. Here, three scenic drives that will take you to some of the best overlooks in the area.
1. Lands End Observatory
One of Grand Mesa’s standout attractions, the Lands End Observatory sits 6,000 feet above the valley and offers incredible views of the Sneffels Range. Most people access the observatory via Highway 65, also known as the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, which stretches 63 miles between I-70 and Cedaredge, crossing the 11,000-foot tall Grand Mesa. Turn off the byway onto Lands End Road, which is about 12 miles and is half gravel and half paved. The actual observatory, which closed in 2014, was built in the 1930s by the Forest Service Works Progress Administration, and Civilian Conservation Corps. The historic structure is still there—you just can’t enter it—but walk toward the rim of Grand Mesa and enjoy the show. You can continue along Lands End Road until it reaches U.S. Route 50, but it’s gravel the entire way.
2. Carson Lake Recreation Area
The drive to Carson Lake Recreation Area is almost as rewarding as everything you can do when you get there: picnicking, camping, and fishing, just to name a few. Located alongside Carson Lake, the area can be reached via Highway 65 and Land’s End Road. Look for the turnoff about 3.5 miles down Lands End Road, and turn left. Continue 1.8 miles to the parking area.
3. Old Grand Mesa Road
If you’re looking to go even more off-the-beaten-path, consider a trip down Old Grand Mesa Road. It, too, is accessible from Highway 65, and the dirt road twists and turns through a very scenic section of the mesa within view of several alpine lakes. Take note that there’s very little car traffic here, so it’s become a popular cycling spot as well, so keep an eye out for bikers. The road is usually open between June and November, depending on snowfall. You don’t need a high clearance vehicle to drive here, but you should expect some bumps along the way.
Written by Shauna Farnell for Matcha in partnership with City of Grand Junction.
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