Unlike other parts of Colorado, Grand Junction and its neighboring state, Utah, hold onto warm weather activities year-round. From hiking in national parks to OHVing, the temperate climate is perfect for exploring both areas in the winter months.
Rattlesnake Canyon Arches National Park
Grand Junction, Colorado Moab, Utah
Outdoor explorers flock to Utah for its iconic national parks. From towering canyons to striking deserts, Utah’s awe-inspiring landscapes are worth the road trip. To make the most out of your experience, it’s a good idea to plan a few stops along the way. Many people stop in Grand Junction to rest, refuel and catch some scenic views during their trip. To help you plan your trek, here is a comprehensive Utah national parks itinerary.
Fueling Up in Grand Junction
Colorado National Monument Canyonlands National Park
Grand Junction, Colorado Moab, Utah
Every exciting adventure starts with a great breakfast. Lucky for you, Grand Junction offers many popular breakfast joints and coffee shops. If you need to carb load before a day of hiking and adventuring, the Kulina Lani Organic Sourdough Bakery is a great spot to hit. Using ingredients sourced from Colorado farmers, Kulina serves up some of the tastiest organic baked goods in town, most of which are made from sourdough recipes passed down through generations.
Looking for something a little heartier? Head over to Dream Cafe. This local favorite offers a variety of breakfast options ranging from seared salmon eggs benedict, blueberry muffin pancakes and their famous sticky buns. They also have plenty of gluten-friendly options.
After munching on some sticky buns, swing by Jitterz Coffee Hut for a hot cup of joe on the go. If you’d prefer to kick back at a coffee shop for a while, then visiting Kiln Coffee Bar is a must. Kiln’s simple, chic interior provides travelers with a welcoming atmosphere to caffeinate before taking off on their next adventure.
Need to pick up some outdoor gear before hitting the road? Stop by Summit Canyon Mountaineering for all your outdoor needs. From kayaks to climbing gear, Summit Canyon has all the equipment for your outdoor adventure. Not sure what you need? The Summit Canyon staff are outdoor experts who can help you find the correct gear for the best experience possible.
How to Get There & Best Spots to Hit on the Way
For travelers eager to see spectacular views, quicker isn’t always better. Although Google Maps advises road trippers take I-70 W and then Highway 191 from Grand Junction to Moab, taking the “back way” is worth it. Rather than taking Highway 191, opt for Highway 128 along the Colorado River. While the winding roads require drivers to slow down, the stunning red rock walls make it worth the extra 15 minutes.
Want to hop out of the car and stretch your legs along the way? Check out a few fun pit stops below.
Colorado National Monument
Located just 10 minutes from Downtown Grand Junction, is one of the city’s most popular attractions, the Colorado National Monument. As part of the National Park System, this park’s towering red canyons may inspire you to stay the afternoon for a canyon hike or cliffside rock climbing excursion. It also makes for a great start to a National Park adventure. If you’re looking for a family-friendly activity, the Alcove Nature Hike is the way to go. This out-and-back trail is less than a mile long and relatively level, making it a great trek for kids.
One of Colorado’s best-kept secrets is Rattlesnake Canyon. This canyon holds the second-most concentration of natural arches in the world - Arches National Park in Utah being the first. The arches in Rattlesnake Canyon tower overhead as visitors hike through, providing views of unique geology across 123,400 acres of the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area. There are two routes to the arches, which are all clustered within a mile of each other. The longer route is called Pollock Bench and is a 15.5-mile round-trip hike. The shorter route is from the Upper Trailhead in Glade Park. It requires a 4-wheel drive vehicle or a mountain bike to access it – see below for additional information on this route.
The 13-mile drive on Black Ridge Access Road west of Colorado National Monument takes you to the Upper Trailhead, which makes for a much shorter hike. A four-wheel drive vehicle is mandatory, and high clearance or an ATV is required for the last two miles to navigate the rocky obstacle course. Some navigate the road easily with a mountain bike, so that is an option as well. The road is impassable when wet, so plan accordingly to make sure to not drive after rain or snow. You can rent a RZR with Adrenaline Driven Adventure Company; they also have guided trips, which is highly recommended. The first section of the trail is divided into the Upper Road and Lower Road, both are open from April 15 to February 15. Hikers without a four-wheel drive vehicle can park further out and either hike or mountain bike at whatever point they feel comfortable.
Located near the junction of SR-128 and I-70 is the ghost town of Cisco, Utah. While the town was once a service post along the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, its population began to decline after the demise of steam trains. Although Cisco no longer has many residents, it’s an interesting stop for art lovers. In 2015, artist Eileen Muza bought the town and turned it into an artists’ haven, creating unique pieces out of old buildings.
Which Parks to Hit
Arches National Park
Arches National park is a short drive from Grand Junction, a little under two hours. This American treasure is home to over 2,000 natural stone arches, making it a bucket list location for many travelers. One of the most visited sites at the park is Delicate Arch. This stone icon is widely recognized as a symbol of Utah. Be sure to plan ahead for timed-entry reservation requirements.
Bryce Canyon National Park
If you’re up for a longer drive, Bryce Canyon is worth a visit. Nearly five hours from Grand Junction, this national park is home to the largest concentration of hoodoos found anywhere on Earth. Hoodoos are tall rock spires that emerge from the bottom of arid basins. These rock formations can range anywhere from five to 100 feet tall.
Canyonlands National Park
Formed by the Colorado River and Utah’s Green River, Canyonlands National Park is known for its deep canyons, dramatic mesas, and primitive desert atmosphere. This park is about a two-hour drive from Grand Junction, and if you’re a fan of HBO’s Westworld, you’ll be excited to learn that portions of season one were filmed here.
Capitol Reef National Park
Almost three hours west of Grand Junction is the less visited Capitol Reef National Park. Capitol Reef may not be as popular as Utah’s other parks, but don’t let that deter you. The park’s sweeping landscapes are filled with towering cliffs and expansive vistas, making visitors feel as if they’ve landed on a foreign planet. Explorers interested in history will want to visit Capitol Reef’s ancient petroglyphs. These images carved into stone depict the lives of the Fremont people who lived in the area thousands of years ago.
Zion National Park
Nearly six hours from Grand Junction is Utah’s first national Park. Zion National Park was established in 1919 and is the most visited park in the state. While this park is the furthest away from Grand Junction, it’s worth the drive. Nested within the park is Zion Canyon. This massive red rock canyon is 15 miles long and over 2,000 feet deep, making it the park’s most prominent feature.
Rest and Refuel in Grand Junction
Visiting Utah’s five national parks is an iconic American road trip. Stopping in Grand Junction for a night or two, gives road trippers the chance to refuel and relax before they head out on their westward adventure. Most visitors end up coming back to Grand Junction once they realize how much there is to experience, including the 300 lakes on the Grand Mesa, Colorado National Monument, Rattlesnake Arches, rafting on the Colorado River, and the 115 sculptures in Downtown Grand Junction. For more information about visiting Grand Junction, check out our Official Grand Junction Visitor’s Guide.