When people think of a Colorado winter, they often imagine world-class ski resorts, powder-packed tree runs and unmatched winter landscapes. While winters in Grand Junction certainly live up to that standard, there are additional benefits to visiting the western border of the state – lodging is affordable, there are no large crowds or lift lines, and no traffic jams en route to the local ski resort. 

Cross Country Skiing

Downhill skiing isn’t the only winter activity that is treasured in Grand Junction. Located on the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-top mountain and just 15 minutes from Powderhorn Ski Resort, are some of the best Nordic ski trails in the state. Over 31 miles of professionally groomed trails and three designated Nordic ski areas make exploring and recreating on the Grand Mesa just as enjoyable in the winter as it is throughout the rest of the year. 

There are three designated cross-country ski areas on the Grand Mesa. All of which are professionally groomed and maintained by the Grand Mesa Nordic Council (GMNC), a nonprofit organization with the simple goal of promoting safe, enjoyable Nordic skiing. The three trail areas are Skyway Trails, County Line Trails and Ward Trails. 


Getting to Grand Mesa Nordic Ski Areas

Scenic view of snow covered trees and the plateau of the Grand Mesa

No matter where your Grand Junction hotel or vacation home is, it takes only an hour to reach the Nordic trail system, depending on the weather and road conditions. As you leave Grand Junction, travel east on Interstate 70. After about 17 miles, take Exit 49 onto the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, Highway 65. As Highway 65 follows Little Wash Creek through the canyon, the cliff walls surround you with dramatic emphasis. Keep an eye out as desert bighorn sheep can often be found off the road in this lower area. As you continue on Highway 65, you will pass Powderhorn Mountain Resort. At this point, the road gets steep in places as it climbs to the top of the Mesa, but the faithful snowplow drivers keep it safe, plowed and clear even on the snowiest days. 

Cross-Country Skis and Dog on Grand Mesa Nordic Ski Trail

Skyway Trail is the first and largest cross-country ski area, with paved parking, restrooms and a warming hut. Just two miles away is the County Line Trail area. Some trails connect the two areas, creating over 19 combined miles of trails. The County Line Trail area also has a paved parking lot and a restroom. Continue for four more miles to get to the Ward Lake Trail. The Ward Lake trailhead is on the other side of the Grand Mesa Visitor Center. Some trails at Ward Lake are ungroomed while others are groomed by a snowmobile, with about 12 miles of total trails at Ward Lake.


Ski Trail Etiquette

Cross Country Skis on the Grand Mesa

While dogs are not allowed on the Skyway Trails, you can bring your furry friend on any trail in the County Line and Ward Lake trail system. In the parking lots and at trailheads, dogs are required to be on a 6-foot leash. After entering the trail, let the pup roam free and enjoy the trails as much as you do. However, be sure your pup is under voice control at all times, and don’t forget to clean up after them.

Four people snowshoeing through the Trees

Snowshoeing on the Grand Mesa Nordic Council trails is also allowed on the Ward Lake Trails. Just be sure to stay on the sides of the trails to avoid damage to the cross-country trails. Also, yield to cross-country skiers. If you are looking to pass another skier, pass on the left while calling out “on your left” to alert the other party of your presence. 


What to Expect

Winter on the Grand Mesa

Come November, the Grand Mesa starts getting consistent snow and it continues to build its base until springtime in March. A typical winter season sees about 300 inches of snow. Sunny days are most common in this part of Colorado, so the sky is bright blue, and the sun’s rays makes even the coldest temperatures comfortable. Those who typically enjoy alpine skiing learn quickly that they can’t wear the same gear when they ski Nordic - they’ll get too warm. Even on an overcast, snowy day, layering is key to being comfortable. It’s not typically windy at the Nordic areas on the Grand Mesa. Because of this, you will observe the way the snow piles up on evergreen boughs and forms a thick, deep even blanket across the meadows and lakes.

Girl Nordic Skiing on the Grand Mesa with her Dog

Although Grand Mesa is a flat-top mountain with no visible peaks or 14ers to summit, there are some small hills and rolling terrain, which provide the perfect variety for your cross-country adventure. All three ski areas have at least one trail that takes skiers to an incredible viewpoint, and on clear days, skiers can see all the way to the San Juans and the West Elks. There are large maps of all the trails at the trailhead and intersections are clearly marked. Although it feels remote and wild, there is no danger of getting lost if you stick to the groomed areas. 


Popular Trails

Scales Lake/Kannah Crossing – Skyway Trail Area

Skill Level: Moderate
Distance 7.1 miles 
Time to complete: 3 hours 15 minutes 
Trailhead: Skyway Trail Area

Dog Loop - County Line Trail Area

Skill Level: Easy
Distance 2 miles
Time to complete: 1 hour.
Trailhead: County Line Trail Area

Deep Slough – Ward Lake Trail Area

Skill Level: Moderate
Distance 5 miles
Time to complete: 3 hours due to various elevation changes
Trailhead: Ward Lake Trail Area


Where to Rent

Board & Buckle

Rentals: Downhill Skis, Cross-country Skis, Snowboard Rentals, Snowshoes

Address: 2822 North Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81501

Phone: (970) 242-9285


Summit Canyon Mountaineering

Rentals: Downhill Skis, Snowshoes, Cross-country Skis, Backcountry Skis

Address: 461 Main St, Grand Junction, CO 81501

Phone: (970) 945-6994

REI Co-op

Rentals: Downhill Skis, Snowboards, Snowshoes, Ski Racks, Cross-country Skis, Backcountry Skis, Snow Gear

Address: 925 Independent Ave, Grand Junction, CO 81505

Phone: (970) 254-8970


Check out the Official Grand Junction Visitor Guide for more ways to experience Grand Junction this winter. 
Photo by: Penny Stine