The Western Slope of Colorado, particularly Grand Junction, is growing in popularity year-round, but especially during the fall season. And it’s not just drive by leaf-peeping. There is a myriad of opportunities and activities that allow visitors to enjoy fall foliage in Grand Junction and the surrounding area, ranging from the spectacular Colorado National Monument to the Colorado River Trails and the majestic Grand Mesa. Here are four ways to experience fall colors on the Western Slope of Colorado:
1. Explore the Grand Mesa:
Among Grand Junction's spectacular red cliffs and winding canyons, visitors will see the towering 11,000-foot Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-top mountain, which is bursting with more than 300 lakes. The Mesa, as locals call it, is a natural wonder as well as a year-round recreational paradise with incredible scenic beauty. This area offers some of the most fabulous fall foliage anywhere in Colorado. Experience vibrant scrub oak set against golden shimmering aspens as you traverse Highway 65 - the Grand Mesa National Scenic and Historic Byway. As you travel through four major ecological zones on the 6,000 ft. climb skyward, a number of pullouts along the way provide you an opportunity to observe the dramatic contrasts in the landscape – 10 million years in the making. The 350,000 acres Mesa is also graced with deep forests of aspens set against Colorado pine, spruce, fir which add to the kaleidoscope of color. For hiking enthusiasts, Crag Crest Trail offers the perfect high alpine hike atop the spine of the Mesa where you can see for 100 miles. Hikers enjoy wide-open views and are treated to several refreshing lakes along the way.
2. Bike or drive through the Colorado National Monument:
Located just six miles from Downtown Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument is a breathtaking must-see while visiting the Western Slope. The National Park Service (NPS) coins it as “The Heart of the World,” and many who visit ask why it’s not a national park. At 7,000 feet, the Monument offers jaw-dropping views of towering red rock spires, canyons, and monoliths. Drive or bike across the National Monument’s Rim Rock Drive to enjoy scenic overlooks of brilliantly-colored fall foliage in shades of red, orange, and yellow set against 20,000 acres of 1.7-billion-year old rock of sandstone and granite-gneiss-schist rock formations rising above the Colorado River. Numerous hiking trails like Serpents Trail are accessible directly from Rim Rock Drive. Unlike many NPS sites in the country, Colorado National Monument offers “trails less traveled,” so you will find the solitude and respite you desire.
3. Stroll along the Colorado River:
Accessible from multiple points in town, the Colorado Riverfront Trail is a lovely stroll along the famous Colorado River. This 30-mile flat hosts habitat for more than 200 species of birds and three endangered fish species, so bring your camera. Walk or bike ride through the Audubon Section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail for perfect viewing of the changing colorful landscape. The Audubon section is 1.4 miles of the trail that takes you alongside the Colorado River beneath a canopy of trees. It is also a tranquil setting for bird watching and spotting many other species of wildlife along the Colorado River.
4. Taste and sip your way through the Grand Valley:
The Grand Junction area is known as Colorado’s Wine Country, featuring more than 28 wineries. The area is also renowned for being home to a plethora of fruit stands, orchards, and farms. Foodies and wine enthusiasts can experience wine tasting at any of the wineries located throughout Grand Junction any time of year, but fall is the opportunity to capture harvest photos, making it extra special. The Fruit and Wine Byway is an idyllic way to take in all the area has to offer and can be driven or biked. It starts in downtown Palisade and includes three different routes ranging from 5- to 25-miles long leading to more than 30 stops, including wineries, fruit stands, farms, and orchards. The byway also cruises along the scenic Colorado River, offering unparalleled views of the Grand Mesa and Grand Valley. If you want to stay closer to Grand Junction, be sure to check out Two Rivers Winery & Chateau. As you approach the chateau, you feel like you were transported to a villa in France.
For more information on Grand Junction’s “4 Seasons of Outdoor Pursuits,” check out the Official Visitor Guide here.