Grand Junction is known as a mecca for outdoor recreation. Hiking, biking, water sports and OHVing are just some of the activities enjoyed in the area; and they are all the more epic due to the majestic landscapes, making it an outdoor enthusiast's dream. For those who enjoy motorcycle road trips, Grand Junction is a popular destination, as well. With various affordable lodging options, astonishing views in every direction, and roads leading to fabulous day trips, now is the perfect time to visit Grand Junction.
Uncompahgre Plateau Loop
For a relaxing and leisurely five-hour ride, the Uncompahgre Plateau Loop immerses you in colorful Colorado scenery with historical small towns to stop at and explore. The plateau is a geologically and ecologically diverse region that encompasses a variety of ecosystems. This high-elevation plateau, with its unique topography, climate, and vegetation, supports a wide range of wildlife and plant species.
The loop is more than 250 miles and begins by heading south from Grand Junction on Highway 50 and encircles the Uncompahgre Plateau. Be sure to leave early, bring rain gear and an extra layer of clothing because Colorado weather can be unpredictable. It is also wise to eat breakfast before you leave Grand Junction since you won’t pass through another town for the next 50 scenic miles. Spoons Bistro & Bakery and First Watch are both convenient to get to, have large parking lots so you and your pals can all park together, and have excellent food reviews.
Depart Grand Junction and turn west on Highway 141 toward Gateway. After crossing the Gunnison River, you will start to climb in elevation as you cruise past the East Creek day use area. The Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area offers excellent hiking, rock climbing and OHVing. Desert bighorn sheep can often be seen in this area, so keep an eye out and keep your speed down.
As the road continues to climb, the foliage begins to burst with vibrant greens in the spring and summer, and golden in the fall. The dramatic canyon walls grow taller and steeper as your ride winds through beautiful views. You will cruise by Divide Road, which takes you up and across the Uncompahgre Plateau. The road juts to the south and the elevation at that intersection is a little higher than 7,000 feet.
Plan to stop at the historic marker on the south side of the road near mile marker 126. It tells the story of the Driggs Mansion. It’s a great place to get off the bike, gawk at the scenery and marvel at the intrepid pioneering souls who decided that spot was the perfect place to build their dream home. The building is no longer intact, but there’s enough material left standing to appreciate the architecture and effort it took to build. Bonus - if you look up at the canyon behind the house, you can see a natural arch high up in the stone canyon wall.
As you’re approaching Gateway, look to the west. You will see the La Sal Mountains in Utah. This area is known for Gateway Canyons Resort, built by the John Hendricks, most known for launching the Discovery Channel in 1985. Although the high-end resort is worth a visit, plan to stop by another time since you still have a ways to go for your two-wheel journey.
Continue on Highway 141 South as it begins to follow the Dolores River. You’ll make sweeping turns through towering red and orange cliffs. The road then leaves the river bottom and hugs the side of the canyon. Look for the historical marker near mile marker 75, where there is a large parking area and an information board that tells the story of the Hanging Flume. The Flume was built in the 1880s for placer gold mining and remnants of it can still be seen clinging to the canyon walls far below. It’s a great place to get off the bike, take a few photos, and enjoy the stunning scenery.
A few miles beyond, the Dolores River wanders west, and the San Miguel River takes its place as a roadside attraction until breaking off toward the north. You will then drive into Naturita. If you're ready for lunch, check out Blondie's. From the junction of Highway 141 and 145 just outside of Naturita, follow Highway 145. The scenery then changes to a prairie landscape, where sagebrush and hayfields color the landscape. You will start to see the San Juan mountains in the distance to the south and they will continue to come into focus as you get closer.
As you climb into the foothills of the Uncompahgre Plateau, the prairie begins to give way to pinyons, junipers, and eventually cottonwoods, aspen and large fir trees. The San Juans will be located to the south and the Uncompahgre Plateau is located on the north side of the highway. The road reconvenes with the San Miguel River until the junction with Highway 62. Don’t be fooled if, at some point in that part of the ride, you look at the river and swear it’s flowing uphill. This fascinating illusion is due to the terrain's topography, the river's meandering path, and the way light and shadows play tricks on your perception. It's a reminder of how the natural world can surprise and delight us with its optical wonders.
From Highway 62, head northeast to Ridgway. With several restaurant choices in the historic downtown area, Ridgway is a great spot to hop off the bikes, stretch your legs and grab lunch before heading north on Highway 550 to Montrose. From Montrose, you will hop on Highway 50 to Delta before going northwest to Grand Junction to complete the loop.
After returning to Grand Junction, you will be eager to talk about the day’s adventures with the group, so grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants on Horizon Drive or Downtown. With some of the most affordable lodging in the state, Grand Junction is the perfect stay-and-ride destination.
For more ways to experience Grand Junction, check out the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide.
Photos by: Penny Stine