Miles of hiking and biking trails, stunning scenery, and an array of wineries and museums make the Grand Valley a popular destination for visitors and locals alike. The mountains and valleys near Grand Junction offer secluded spots to enjoy nature or find adventure — the choice is yours. Remote enough to give you a feel for the Wild West, yet conveniently located near Interstate 70, the Grand Valley offers outdoor enthusiasts, families, foodies and everyone else plenty of options for a great vacation in Western Colorado.
Among the area’s most recognizable attractions is its wealth of vineyards. Back in the early 20th century, the region was booming with wineries until Prohibition put an end to it. Local vintners didn’t return until the 1970s. Now there are several dozen wineries in and around Grand Junction and Palisade. The Grand Valley’s vineyards produce as much as 80 percent of Colorado’s total wine.
The best way to enjoy the Grand Valley’s wineries is by touring the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway, a 30-mile-long stretch of rural roads that begins in the picturesque town of Palisade and winds through the wine-growing areas of East Orange Mesa. The byway is perfect for both four- and two-wheeled vehicles and is a popular route for bicyclists. This is the highest density of wineries in the state, and all businesses are family-owned, ensuring visitors get the personal treatment from the owners. Vineyard and orchard tours are also available along the trail.
Not all throughways in the Grand Valley involve grapes, however. The area is renowned for its hiking trails Hiking Trails, thanks to the remote landscapes, plentiful wildlife and geological wonders. Dozens of trails are easily reached from Grand Junction, including the nearby Colorado National Monument and Grand Mesa National Forest.
In the national forest, the Crag Crest National Recreation Trail’s popularity among hikers attests to its austere beauty. A 10-mile loop that traverses stands of spruce and fir trees, meadows, and ridges, Crag Crest is a tough but rewarding introduction to the area’s wild side. Like other trails in Western Colorado, you can expect to see plenty of critters such as birds, porcupines and more. Deer and elk are plentiful in the mornings and evenings, and lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of native foxes.
Near the tiny Grand Valley village of Mesa, you will find plenty of stunning views from shorter trails – the Mesa Lake Shore and Lost Lake trails are local favorites – while closer to Grand Junction, you will find no shortage of hiking opportunities at Colorado National Monument. For a first hike, consider the Ute Canyon Trail, another 10-miler that passes gorgeous red sandstone cliffs reminiscent of its more famous neighbor in Moab, Arches National Park.
Colorado National Monument is a draw for hikers, though the park’s more air conditioning-inclined visitors are in luck, too. A journey along Rim Rock Drive is considered a main attraction here and has a long and storied history of its own: during New Deal era, unemployed men were tasked with building a road that traversed some of the park’s most breathtaking vistas. Looking down from the trail’s upper reaches, you can begin to appreciate the awesome power erosion has had on the landscape, creating slot canyons and red rock spires that are quintessentially Southwestern.
Look to Colorado National Monument and beyond for great biking trails as well. The most famous among them is the Kokopelli Trail in nearby Fruita. The trail stretches 142 miles from Fruita to Moab, Utah, and includes great camping opportunities – not to mention some of the most memorable stargazing opportunities you’ll find on land. Other trails in the Grand Junction vicinity include the Tabeguache and Edge Loop trails.
The Grand Valley’s landscape is rugged and remote indeed. Yet it has always maintained a few hardy residents – and not all of them humans, either. At the Dinosaur Journey Museum, located in the heart of Fruita, you will find interactive exhibits that tell what Jurassic life in the Grand Valley was like. Western Colorado is rich in fossils, and this museum tells the stories behind them.
Exhibits include a sandbox where little paleontologists can make their own dinosaur tracks, and displays of some of the strangest ancient creatures that ever walked the planet. Wondering where you can find one of the largest known triceratops skulls? The Dinosaur Journey Museum is your place. For more adventurous visitors, the museum offers half-day site tours, rafting trips through geologically spectacular Ruby Canyon, and daylong fossil digs.
For those interested in learning about the more recent history of western Colorado, the Museum of the West is a great place to start looking. This downtown Grand Junction museum tells the story of human occupation from the time of the Ancestral Puebloans (Anasazi) through today. Some of the Ancestral Puebloans’ meticulously decorated ceramics are on display, alongside a 19th century stagecoach that testifies to the early settlers’ determination to make a home here.
Other notable exhibitions include a large collection of old firearms and a replica uranium mine that illustrates how booms and busts affected life in the Grand Valley. A historic apple orchard dating back to Grand Junction’s early days includes remnants of its old barn and fruitpacking operations. Period-appropriate guides take families on tours throughout the farm.
For those looking to stay within Grand Junction, there are plenty of activities for the entire family. Spin City opened in September 2013 and features a new skating rink, laser tag, and one of the largest bowling alleys between Denver and Salt Lake City. Other nearby kid-centric outlets include the Grand Junction Climbing Center, Bananas Fun Park, and the Kidzplex Fun & Fitness Center.
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