Exploring Grand Mesa National Forest

Hikers, fishermen, hunters, and campers visit every year to enjoy Western Colorado's Grand Mesa National Forest, just 40 miles east of Grand Junction and a scenic 45-minute drive. The Mesa is the world’s largest flat-top mountain, bursting with over 300 lakes sprawled across 500 square miles of striking terrain.

 

Outdoor Paradise on the Grand Mesa

With mountain views on the horizon and the Grand Valley below, the Grand Mesa National Forest rises 6,000 feet above Grand Junction and 11,000 feet above sea level. Highway 65 cuts through the Grand Mesa National Forest displaying breathtaking views all around, known as the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. The Grand Mesa National Forest is teeming with life — moose, mule deer, elk, black bear, and marmot are among the many animals that call it home.

 

Enjoy Summer on the Grand Mesa

When the mercury rises in the Grand Valley, the Grand Mesa National Forest Is a great escape from the heat. Temperatures can be twenty degrees cooler than the valley below. The hottest it has ever been atop the Mesa is just 80 degrees. That doesn’t mean the sun isn’t strong; wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself at these altitudes.  

With 300 alpine lakes to choose from, summer is the ideal time to experience hiking and fishing on the Grand Mesa. The snow is mostly melted and the rainbow assortment of wildflowers are beautifully blooming. If you’re hiking during the evening or camping overnight, be prepared for nighttime temperatures to drop dramatically.

Another way to enjoy the beautiful terrain is downhill mountain biking at Powderhorn Mountain Resort. Jump aboard the Flat Top Flyer high-speed quad chairlift to be whisked to the top of the mountain, only to ride your two wheels back down. The Powderhorn Bike Park was built to compliment the natural terrain of the mountain and create an exhilarating experience. Powderhorn's bike park offers multiple trails that can challenge the most experienced rider and provide easy terrain for those looking to improve their skills.

 

Getting to the Grand Mesa National Forest 

The terrain changes quickly along the route as you head from the Grand Valley up to the Grand Mesa. The Mesa can be approached by driving eastward on I-70 or down US 50 out of Grand Junction. In the summer and fall, the venturesome driver can take US 50 to Lands End Road straight up the face of the mountain on a gravel road full of switchbacks. Stop at the many pull-offs to soak in the views and take photos of distant mountains, lakes, and colorful landscapes. Many enjoy the winding roads and cool mountain air on a motorcycle or in a convertible. 

For the rest of the year (or for less daring drivers), take Interstate 70 East to the Highway 65 exit towards Colbran. Turn off the AC and roll down the windows as you cruise Highway 65 and feel the temperatures drop. On the approach to the Grand Mesa from I-70 is Powderhorn Mountain Resort. In the summer, the slopes are deep green, making the resort look very different from when it’s blanketed in the winter snow. The resort hosts many fun summer events including mud runs, mountain man movie nights, and an outdoors fest.  

 

Things to do on the Grand Mesa

Grand Mesa National Forest provides a perfect outdoor setting for outdoor recreation including whatever your adventurous spirit demands: a hike, a day of fishing, a picturesque scenic drive, or a multi-night stay in a tent, cabin, or lodge.

Enjoying a Colorado hike with scenic views, mountain lakes, and untouched terrain is one of the most popular activities on the Grand Mesa. Stop at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center to pick up a map and get advice on the best trails to hike. Snow can linger into July at peak elevations and four-wheel drive is recommended on many of the gravel roads early in the summer season where moose is regularly spotted grazing in the meadows.

Anglers will find several species of trout, cutthroat, and other fish well-stocked in the lakes atop the Mesa. You can cast from the shores of the Mesa Lakes right by the main road or test your four-wheel drive and head deeper into the wilderness on forest roads to get some real peace. Learn more about Grand Mesa National Forest fishing.

For the serious hiker looking for a challenging and even daring hike, look no further than the Crag Crest Trail. This 10-mile loop goes up over a needle edge trail that gets as narrow as three feet wide with cliffs hundreds of feet tall on either side. You can hike the whole thing or just the upper or lower sections. Find more Grand Junction hiking trails.

 

Where to Stay on the Grand Mesa

Stop in the town of Mesa at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Motel. Order the chicken fried steak for a hearty, homemade meal on the mountain. 

If you’re laying down a tent for the night, Island Lake and Ward Lake campsites offer scenic lakeside camping and clean, convenient restrooms. Stop by the Grand Mesa Lodge for supplies or to rent a rustic cabin on the lake. The Lodge offers boat rentals, including canoes, rowboats, and fishing boats with trawlers. If you want to get out into the wilderness, you can set up a tent pretty much anywhere in the backcountry of Grand Mesa National Forest. 

Find more lodging in Grand Junction.

 

Visiting in Winter?

Learn about skiing at Powderhorn Mountain Resort.

Read more about Grand Mesa outdoor activities and 10 things you can only experience in Grand Junction.

Do you have a favorite outdoor experience on the Grand Mesa? Share your adventure on social media and tag it with #ShareGJ.