"Take a hike" isn't a blow-off in Grand Junction, but sage advice for a healthy, pleasurable activity. From high Colorado mountain meadows to sandstone canyons, easy strolls to rugged treks, options satisfy every ability, interest and season.
Day 1: Grand Mesa
To the city's east, Grand Mesa rises a mile above the Colorado River Valley. More than 300 lakes dot one of the world's largest flattop mountains, which becomes a wildflower carpeted landscape in mid-summer. Elevations of more than 10,000 feet and shady aspen and spruce groves provide a comfortable escape from summer heat. Behind the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, the easy Discovery Trail provides an informative introduction for all visitors. Surrounding the parking lot, a demonstration Wildflower Garden identifies much of the flora you'll see while hiking. A half-mile paved path at Land-O-Lakes treats walkers to Colorado lake and mesa views. Families can checkout Mesa Lake Shoreline Trail, a kid-friendly 1.5-mile loop.
Many hikers rate Crag Crest Trail their favorite Grand Mesa trek. The 10-mile circular trip winds through Colorado alpine forests to a ridge-top path with panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains, the Book Cliffs and even Utah's La Sal Mountains. With both east and west trailheads you can tailor the hike to your group's ability and time; ascent is more gradual from the west. Complete the entire loop, shuttle between the two trailheads or hike your desired distance and return via the same route.
Snowpack often remains on the mesa until late June — sunscreen and bug spray are a must during summer. The golden glow of aspen makes Grand Mesa an especially appealing autumn destination. Trail guides and maps are available at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center.
Day 2: Book Cliffs
The Book Cliffs frame Grand Junction on the north. Mount Garfield, the highest point along the cliffs, challenges lungs and legs with a 2,000-ft. elevation gain on the two-mile summit trail. Views of the verdant Palisade vineyards and orchards are in stark contrast to Colorado's barren sandstone cliffs.
The Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range provides the unique possibility of observing wild mustangs on the open range. Spotting a herd is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but chances increase along the Main Canyon Trail in winter and spring. From Coal Canyon Trailhead follow Main Canyon Trail along a stream between massive canyon walls. A side-trip up Spring Creek Trail leads through strangely weathered rock columns known as hoodoos. Be sure to walk quietly and alertly, never chasing or harassing the horses. Access to the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Range requires a high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicle and should not be attempted in wet weather.
Day 3: McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area
High desert wilderness lures hardy adventurers to this dramatic National Conservation Area. Rattlesnake Canyon contains the second largest concentration of natural arches in the country. Access to the Upper Trailhead requires a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle and should not be attempted in wet weather. A short .3-mile hike reaches the first arch and Lower Arches Trail, a mildly strenuous five-mile roundtrip route that allows views of additional Colorado canyon rim arches. The five-mile Pollock Bench Trail also accesses Rattlesnake Arches but makes for a long day.
There are additional McInnis Canyons trails from moderate to difficult. Explore the slickrock, spires and giant alcoves of Pollock, Mee, Devils, Jones, and Knowles Canyons. Colorado National Monument adjoins McInnis Canyons to the east and provides additional hiking trails. Maps and brochures for the Book Cliffs and McInnis Canyons areas are available at the Grand Junction BLM Field Office, 2815 H Road, 970-244-3000.
Heed the advice: "Take a hike," but please don't "get lost."