If you expect fall in Grand Junction to feel like it does in other states – or even elsewhere in Colorado – you’d be mistaken. Hope you aren’t attached to chilly temperatures, cloudy skies or rainy weather! The average high is 67 - 70 degrees in October with very little rain if any at all. So, grab your binoculars, your camera and your road maps and head to Grand Junction for perfectly temperate fall scenic drives!
Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, Grand Mesa National Forest
Distance: 63 miles
Time: 2 hours (allowing for stops and photos)
Arguably one of the highlights in autumn sightseeing in Colorado is the Grand Mesa. At 10,500 feet above sea level, the Grand Mesa affords incredible views of mind-blowing geologic masterpieces like the Book Cliffs and the Sneffels Mountain Range. Leaves are starting to peak right now and will last at various elevations through October 10. Don’t fret if you miss that window - there is still much to feast your eyes on. Grand Junction’s elevation is 4,583 feet, so colorful foliage in town is generally peaking mid through late October.
Grand Mesa, the largest flat top mountain in the world, has over 300 lakes. This guarantees you no crowds, so take your pick and gaze at the crisp blue sky reflected in the tranquil alpine waters. The byway leads you to the aptly-named town of Skyway (elevation 10,500 feet) and the popular Grand Mesa Lakes. Enjoy wine-tasting (within moderation for safe driving) or strolling in the orchards in the picturesque town of Cedaredge on the southern side of Grand Mesa. You can pick up a brochure of the historic highlights of the byway at the Cedaredge Visitor Center and, you can also gorge on crispy, tart apples during Applefest, October 1 - 3, 2021. The northern entrance to the byway is the small town of Mesa, where you can pick up snacks and picnic items at the Mesa Bloom Market, packed with locally sourced goods. The highlight of this scenic drive is Land’s End Overlook, perched on the edge of Grand Mesa at 6,000 feet and offering views that are noteworthy – even in a state blessed with an abundance of incredible vistas. This road closes during the winter months, so don’t put off your plans.
Colorado River Scenic Drive: James M. Robb State Park
Distance: Roughly 40 miles, depending on route
Time: 2 hours – full-day
Known as “the string of pearls,” there are five parks within the James M. Robb – Colorado River State Park, all draped along the namesake Colorado River. Starting at the Island Acres section near Grand Junction, the park continues all the way to Fruita. While the trails that connect the sections are beautiful, driving between the sections is not nearly as scenic. However, doing a driving tour within each section offers some beautiful riverfront scenery that’s even better with a short walk to viewpoints or along nature trails. You’ll want to consult park maps to plan your route as it is easy to take an inadvertent detour on any number of dead-end roads within the park – though you probably won’t regret it, since you’re sightseeing. Depending on whether your interests include bird-watching, fishing or riverside picnics and photography, this scenic drive can take two hours, or you can turn it into a leisurely full-day, multi-activity trip. Take your bike, as the path is a leisurely ride, making it perfect to take in all the sites.
Driving Tour of Colorado Wine Country
Distance: Roughly 20 miles, depending on route
Time: 2 hours – full-day
The warmth of sunshine, cloudless skies, bucolic landscapes of rolling hills draped in fruit orchards and vineyards - these are the sights that make a scenic drive through the vineyards of the Grand Junction area so appealing. The landscapes at this elevation are a striking contrast to the Mesa, but its scenic appeal can’t be denied. Authentic country farms, rows of vineyards framing the landscape, peach trees waving in the fall breeze and numerous opportunities to explore, shop and even eat at the region’s famed vineyards - an entire day is easily spent adventuring. Dozens of vineyards surround Grand Junction, and many boast charming restaurants, so choose a few that interest you and create your own route!
The Pinnacle of Grand Junction Scenic Drives: Rim Rock Drive, Colorado National Monument
Distance: 23 miles
Time: 1-2 hours
Colorado National Monument is often called the mini Grand Canyon. Couple that with the fact that there are no crowds to hinder your experience, and you can look forward to a peaceful day of hiking from your car or hiking on foot. Rim Rock Drive’s 23 miles of majestic views is known as one of the grandest scenic drives in the American West. There are 19 signed viewpoints, with parking, along the route and 14 hiking trails (some as short as a half-mile). At the top is the Saddlehorn Visitor Center, which provides the history of the area, interactive learning exhibits for kids and adults, and a gift shop. If you zip through the 23-mile Rim Rock Drive and make a few stops, you can do this easily in two hours. However, we recommend spending at least half a day in this unique natural wonder. Be sure to stop at Upper Ute Canyon View pull-off (it’s on the right side as you drive up Rim Rock Drive from the Grand Junction East Entrance), walk to the left of the “mummy,” and yell! We guarantee you will be surprised and delighted.
If the historic endeavor that is Rim Rock Drive (it was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s, often with simple hand tools) appeals to you, you’ll be even more impressed by the monumental forces of erosion that took two million years to create the geological masterpieces you see along this scenic drive. The astounding cliffs, intricate spires and red rock formations that make the monument famous have been two million years in the making.
While the Monument offers little in the way of the colorful foliage that appeal to most people who set out on fall scenic drives, autumn is debatably the best season for visiting Grand Junction’s Colorado National Monument. The daytime temperatures are very pleasant for hiking and a picnic. Plus, the cooler temperatures make for crisp air which provide clear night skies for your galaxy viewing at night.
Grand Junction, Colorado Lodging Option
With 38 affordable hotels and numerous vacation homes in Grand Junction, restaurants who use the local produce to inspire their seasonal menus, wineries, Downtown boutique shopping and outdoor recreation, now is the time to make plans before fall passes you by.
KW focus: Scenic Drives Near Grand Junction