Summer is right around the corner, so get out and discover Grand Junction, Colorado. Check out these 21 GJ adventures that you can’t experience anywhere else.
If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you definitely need to add the Colorado National Monument to your bucket list. The stunning landscape is part of the Colorado Plateau and provides views that really put the Earth’s geological history into perspective – kind of blows your mind! View the massive rock formations and stone monoliths, while you're motoring along the historic 23-mile Rim Rock Drive. Be sure to look out for wildlife! Mule deer, bighorn sheep, and red-tailed hawks all call these canyon walls home. With over 40 miles of hiking trails through numerous canyons, some plunging 500 feet, there is hiking for everyone, from short out and backs to all-day treks. After your visit, you will understand why it’s often referred to as the national park you’ve never heard of! Colorado National Monument is part of the National Park Service (NPS), so have your park pass ready or buy one at the entrance gate.
2. Take on the Palisade Plunge
If your idea of a good time involves ripping downhill through alpine forests, then the Palisade Plunge is for you! The Plunge, scheduled to open summer 2021, will be one of the longest downhill-only trails in the country. This brand-new trail will run from the top of the Grand Mesa, the world’s largest flat-top mountain, for 32 miles with a 6,000-foot descent arriving at the Colorado River. Mix it up by jumping on the Powderhorn Connector to ride into Powderhorn Mountain (ski) Resort and shred the downhill trails, while taking advantage of easy lift access to keep the good times rolling.
Walk among fields of lavender with the mountains as your backdrop at Colorado's only lavender festival. The annual Lavender Festival takes place less than 13 miles from Downtown Grand Junction. Tour lavender fields or attend workshops on growing the fragrant flower. There is no shortage of lavender-infused treats to snack on, and you can shop from a variety of local vendors and artisans. This unique festival is scheduled June 25 – 27, 2021 so make plans now. Grand Junction has a beautiful lavender farm as well, so be sure to visit Belli Fiori while you are here. Highlands Distillery is on the same beautiful property, so it’s a very unique experience where two contrasting products end up marrying in the most delightful way.
If you haven’t tried a mouth-watering Palisade Peach, this is the year to do so. Located in the crux of the Colorado River and the Book Cliffs, the Grand Valley’s temperate climate creates the perfect conditions for growing unrivaled large, sweet, and juicy peaches. For a full Palisade Peach experience, check out the Palisade Peach Festival. The festival, August 19 – 21, 2021, boasts plenty of fresh peaches, produce, activities, music, and more.
Spanning from Colorado to Utah, the Book Cliffs are the longest continuous cliff face on Earth. Hiking in Grand Junction’s beautiful backdrop provides a different perspective than what you see in other parts of Colorado. Mount Garfield is one of the most iconic hikes in the Book Cliffs. This challenging climb covers over 2,000 feet of elevation gain in just under two miles. That is steep! This demanding hike is well worth the views, and you may even see wild horses grazing in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse area on your hike. If you’re wanting to accomplish this feat, try to reach the summit at sunrise for a dazzling perspective. We promise, it is worth setting an alarm for.
Take your gravel grinding to the next level by journeying the Grand Junction-Moab Trail this year. Make your plans now, because the 155-mile hut-to-hut trip is only rideable two months of the year, May and October when conditions are ideal. Huts are reserved months in advance, and are stocked with food, water, and cooking equipment. The trail passes through stunning sites of the west, offering views of Unaweep Canyon, Paradox Valley, and more.
Grand Mesa rises 6,000 feet above Grand Junction, reaching an elevation of over 10,000 feet. Covering over 500-square miles, The Grand Mesa is the largest flat-top mountain in the world. More than 300 lakes sparkle across its flat summit. Whether you prefer camping, hiking, fishing, or mountain biking, the Grand Mesa has an abundance of trails to explore all year long. For a short but rewarding hike to a lake with vibrant emerald waters teeming with large trout, check out Lost Lake Trail.
8. See One of the Most Exclusive Car Collections in the Country
You don’t need to be a petrol-head to appreciate the beauty of this collection. Take a scenic drive to Gateway Canyons Resort through Unaweep Canyon. After 40 miles of beautiful scenery, you’ll arrive at the Gateway Auto Museum. This museum has cars and motorcycles dating back to the early 1900s, all in mint condition, are American made, and still operate! Wander around and take your time to appreciate each vehicle. We’ve heard that even Jay Leno is envious of this collection. We call it life-size jewelry.
9. Step in Prehistoric Footprints
The Grand Junction area has a rich history with Dinosaurs. First, visit Dinosaur Journey Museum to get caught up on the amazing discoveries of this area. After checking out the fossils, skeletons, and working paleontology lab, it’s time to get up close and personal with the real thing. Explore Dinosaur Hill and Riggs Hill where bones of some of the largest dinosaurs ever discovered were found by Elmer Riggs himself. Next, check out the Fruita Paleo Area and Trail Through Time where you can see real dino bones still buried in the earth.
An easy day trip from Grand Junction, is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. This canyon shows off some of the steepest, narrowest canyons in the world. It earned the name, Black Canyon, because parts of the gorge only receives a few minutes of sunlight each day. The Gunnison River is surrounded by imposing cliffs and craggy spires. The national park has plenty of vigorous kayaking, beautiful hiking, and unmatched climbing, so you have plenty of options to satisfy your adventurous spirit.
11. Summit the Best Granite Climbing Outside of Yosemite Valley
Photo Ken Redding
Unaweep Canyon is a miracle of nature. It is the only canyon in the world to have two streams flowing in opposite directions from the canyon. That’s not the only attribute that makes this canyon special though. The steep and massive granite walls that make up this canyon are covered in countless climbing routes. Unaweep has everything from bouldering to towering multi-pitch routes with none of the crowds you find at other world-class climbing destinations. See for yourself why Unaweep Canyon has the best granite climbing outside of Yosemite Valley.
12. Float the Colorado River
The section of the Colorado River that runs through Grand Junction is wider and calmer than it is in other sections. Instead of narrow channels of raging white water, this section is mellow and scenic. The calmer waters make it the perfect stretch of river for stand up paddle boarding. If you’ve never paddle boarded before, take a lesson with Grand Junction Stand Up Paddle, which offers rentals at multiple convenient locations through the Grand Junction area. They can meet you at the river and tailor a lesson to your skill level, from beginner to advanced paddler.
13. Conquer an over 100-Year-Old Tradition
Photo: Colorado National Monument
John Otto is a local legend around these parts. In the early 1900s, he worked tirelessly to designate Colorado National Monument. He wrote hundreds of letters to Congress, built trails by hand, and raised money to support his efforts. In 1911, President Howard Taft signed the act creating Colorado National Monument as part of the National Park Service. To celebrate, John climbed a 450-foot tower in the middle of the Monument on July 4th, 1911 and planted an American flag at the top. He continued to climb every year what became known as Independence Monument. This tradition lives on today. Every year, the Mesa County Search and Rescue team climbs Independence on July 4 to plant the flag. You too can follow in Otto’s footsteps and summit this giant rock pillar.
As western Colorado’s largest city, Grand Junction has a lively downtown overflowing with boutique shopping for one-of-a-kind finds, farm to table dining, popular entertainment, and so much more. Make it one of your goals to explore a new part of this very walkable and scenic downtown area, which is designated as a park. Whether it be eating at a new, seasonally-inspired restaurant, visiting the museum, or viewing over 100 sculptures along Art on the Corner, now is a perfect time. A few notable places to visit are the Museum of the West, Western Colorado Botanical Gardens, and Avalon Theatre.
15. See What Farm-to-Table Means in Grand Junction
The Grand Junction area is known for its booming agriculture industry which not only supplies the Western Slope but the rest of Colorado’s trendy restaurants as well. Apples, cherries, grapes, apricots, peaches, and countless vegetables thrive here. A Grand Junction farm-to-table restaurant gets its ingredients from a farm only a few miles down the road and when it comes to maximum freshness, it’s hard to beat that! Here’s a list of nine delectably divine farm-to-table restaurants that incorporate local produce to inspire unique cuisine and ambiance you won’t find anywhere else.
16. Jam Out at the Largest Party in the Western Slope
Every year country stars descend on Grand Junction for Country Jam. This giant party brings fans together from all over the country for three days of music, games, quality event food (yeah, we said that), and plenty of dancing. This year’s lineup includes country music stars: Toby Keith, Luke Combs, and Carrie Underwood. Be sure to grab your tickets now because they are going fast!
17. See Dreams Come True at JUCO
For the last 60 years, Grand Junction has hosted the Junior College World Baseball Championships, also known as JUCO. Teams from around the country meet in Grand Junction, May 29 – June 6, 2021, and battle not only for the title of JUCO champions but also for a shot in the MLB. The big-league scouts are in the stands looking for talent during this weekly tournament. Both Monroe's Francisco Justo, who played for the Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants 2019 pitcher, Keaton Winn, were scouted at the JUCO tournament.
Did you know the Powderhorn Mountain Resort is open all year long? When ski season comes to an end, the Powderhorn Bike Park opens for the summer. No matter your skill level, the resort features trails ranging from novice to difficult, so you’ll find trails to have a hoot-hollering good time on. Take a lesson for mountain biking if you're new to the sport or want to improve your technique. Powderhorn is a favorite for its short lift lines, family-friendly atmosphere, affordability, and amazing views.
The Grand Junction area is home to some amazing breweries and distilleries. Utilizing the area’s bounty results in fresh, thirst-quenching beverages that your palate will notice. Check out this list for 10 must-see craft beverage joints.
20. Make an Appearance at Colorado Mountain Winefest
Not only does the Grand Junction area have a thriving craft beverage scene, but it also plays host to Colorado Mountain Winefest, one of the biggest celebrations of wine in the country. Winefest takes place, September 18 – 19, 2021, in the beautiful Riverbend Park, right along the Colorado River with stunning views of Mount Garfield. Hundreds of wineries and vendors set up for tastings, wine-themed gifts, chef demonstrations, and wine pairings. Come early or stay late, to enjoy all the wine-inspired specials that area businesses take “grape” love in creating to enhance your visit, from specialty dishes to wine-themed activities. Winefest tickets sell out each year, so be sure to grab yours while there is still time!
21. Explore Grand Junction's Newest Park
Grand Junction has recently added a new park with plenty of things to do for you and your four-legged friend. Las Colonias Park is a huge playground where you can stand-up paddle board, float down the river, or simply relax under one of the shelters and dive into that book you’ve been wanting to read. Take a stroll down the riverfront trail, let your dog run in the brand new dog park, or head west to the amphitheater to catch a band playing some of your favorite tunes. There is no limit to the amount of fun you can have at this new park!
With these new ideas to inspire your bucket list, start planning your epic adventure to Grand Junction. With plenty of affordable lodging options (38 hotels in Grand Junction averaging between $75 - $125 per night), you can stay an extra day or two.
Check out pages 16 -23 of the Grand Junction Visitor Guide to find itineraries that will help you check off these Grand Junction experiences from your bucket list; you may even find some other adventures to keep your list going!