Halfway between Denver and Salt Lake City in Grand Junction, Colorado lies one of the most beautiful outdoor playgrounds in the country. In a landscape surrounded by rivers, canyons, mesas and mountains to explore, there’s no shortage of activities to enjoy, including rafting the Colorado River, hiking Colorado National Monument, mountain biking in Fruita, camping and rock climbing. To sample some of the best outdoor adventures Grand Junction has to offer, here’s an adventure-packed, two-day itinerary:
For beginners, the tamer Class I and II rapids of the Ruby-Horsethief Canyon section of the Colorado River are a great way to enjoy time on the water. Perfect for a half-day float trip by canoe, kayak or self-guided raft, a meander down this section of the Colorado River will leave you relaxed and ready for an action-packed afternoon. Another great nearby rafting outfitter, Palisade Wine Country Float Trips can take you down the stretch of the Colorado River from Palisades to Corn Lake State Park on a three-hour, flat-water journey through Colorado’s Wine Country.
Grand Junction also boasts some of the most accessible class III and IV whitewater rapids in the West. Just 30 miles south of town you can ride the Westwater section of the Colorado River. It’s been compared to the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River rapids, just at a fraction of the cost and hassle. The scenery on this Colorado rafting trip plays second to none with peaks rising 1,200 feet above the river and wildlife roaming the surrounding slopes. For experienced rafters, Adventure Bound River Expedition offers full-day whitewater trips through the Westwater area.
If Colorado’s whitewater rapids left you thirsting for a little more adventure, then grab a mountain bike from family-owned Ruby Canyon Cycles and take a ride over to the Lunch Loop Bike Park, so named because Grand Junction locals jump on their mountain bikes at lunch-time and head here for a quick ride. The bike park is a fantastic place to learn the technical side of mountain biking, or for experts to warm-up with jumps, a slalom course and rolling hills.
For the experienced mountain biker looking for a challenge, head just west of Grand Junction to some of Colorado’s most technical trails. Before heading out of town stop at The Bike Shop for some local advice and then drive twenty minutes west on I-70 to experience the town of Fruita’s famous mountain biking trails. On the Horsethief trail, 99% of people get off and carry their bikes down the first 100 yards. It’s big drops and boulders until you get to what most of us would call a “rideable” trail. The 3.8 mile loop is as challenging as it is rewarding. It takes about 3 hours and is full of scenic overlooks and river views.
This is Colorado’s wine country. Twenty vineyards now call Grand Junction home, turning out Merlots, Cabernets, Chardonnays and other varietals. By evening, the tasting rooms have closed, but after your day of rafting and mountain biking, you’ll need more than a taste of wine to refuel. For fine local dining, 626 on Rood offers wines from Colorado and around the world to accompany modern American cuisine. Beer lovers will want to check out one of Grand Junction’s brew pubs. For award-winning craft beers and appetizer specials like “Brewschetta,” head to Kannah Creek Brewing Company. To hang out with the local mountain biking crowd, drop by Hot Tomato in Fruita, which serves up pizza, local craft beers and other treats.
Colorado National Monument deserves a whole day of exploration time, if your schedule allows. Choose from hiking, climbing or horseback riding on your day of play in the Colorado sun.
Hiking in Colorado National Monument is as impressive as any of the West’s more visited national parks, but without the crowds. Enjoy the red rock formations, expansive canyons and scenic views of the Bookcliffs as you climb between 4,700 and 7,000 feet above sea level. The Monument Canyon Trail winds past massive rock formations including Independence Tower and Kissing Couple. Or, choose the Liberty Cap trail, a steep decent down into the canyon where you’ll encounter natural arches.
If you find horseback riding more appealing than hiking, then you’ll agree this part of the country offers lots of great rides. Rimrock Adventures offers a “Wild Horse Sanctuary Ride” in the Little Bookcliff’s Wild Horse Preserve. The ride takes you through beautiful dusty trails in search of wild mustangs.
Rock climbing in Grand Junction makes for a great experience for novice or expert climbers. The sandstone cliffs and towers that rise from the canyon floors in Colorado National Monument rival world-famous climbs. Independence Monument is a 500-foot tower rising from the canyon floor. It is rated as one of the best beginner desert tower climbs anywhere. Each Independence Day climbers scale the tower and raise an American flag. Expert climbers should take on the Sentinel Spire and choose the five-pitch Medicine Man route.
Spend some time exploring Grand Junction’s charming downtown to swap adventure stories over a locally-brewed beer and grab some dinner. On Main Street, which is lined with charming local shops, restaurants and bars, Café Sol is a popular spot for delicious salads and sandwiches featuring lots of fresh, local ingredients. Brew pub lovers will want to check out Rockslide Brewery, which offers a variety of their own brews in addition to a hearty menu.
There’s so many things to do in Colorado’s Grand Junction it isn’t possible to get it all in just two days. Add more Colorado adventures to your itinerary and spend a few more days in this outdoors paradise.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy the outdoors in Grand Junction? Share your favorites on social media with the hashtag #ShareGJ.