With a cluster of top-notch wineries, a vibrant downtown and stunning natural wonders, including the Grand Mesa, Colorado River and the red-rock Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction has it all. An added bonus to vacationers in Grand Junction are the number of easy day trips to other top attractions, each within about a two-hour drive.
Gorgeous gorge: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park
A cleft so narrow it creates long, inky shadows that inspired the canyon's name -- The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is one of Colorado's newest national parks. It's just 1.5 hours south from Grand Junction. At the park's gateway town of Montrose, stop off for a hearty breakfast at Cafe 110. And before you leave town, stop at Daily Bread, where they prepare picnic fare for road trips. Fully provisioned, head out across Vernal Mesa into the park. At the Visitor Center, get your bearings and pick up a map. Then drive the six-mile scenic park road along the park's South Rim, winding through Gambel oak. Of ten scenic stops along the road, highlights are Pulpit Rock, where you'll see 1,800-foot rock spires, and Painted Wall, with its sheer drop to the Gunnison River. Scan the skies for golden eagles and peregrine falcon (peregrine nest here into July). When you reach High Point, spread out your picnic, sit back, and enjoy the heady scent of pinyon pine and a panorama of the West Elk Mountains and Grand Mesa. If you can tear yourself away from the spectacle, there's a short nature trail nearby.
This striking desert city and its surrounding region are just a short two-hour, scenic drive across the Colorado-Utah border. As you head west on I-70 and then south along State Road 128 (the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway), you'll pass intricately carved red rock and thousand-foot-deep gorges 250 million years in the making. As you enter Moab, a small valley town bordered by soaring sandstone cliffs, make your way to Main Street for lunch at the Slickrock Cafe or the Moab Brewery. Take a walk around the bustling tourist district and then head to one of the local outfitters for mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing or river rafting -- or just grab your camera and go for a drive. Only minutes away, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park showcase a variety of desert vistas, from mesas and canyons awash in contrasting colors to vast open spaces dotted with arches and delicately balanced rocks. As you explore the Moab area, make a point to seek out the intrigue of this rugged, red-hued landscape: dinosaur track sites, petrified fossils and ancient rock art.
Soak in the fun at Glenwood Springs
If you like the water, you've gotta love a day at Glenwood Springs, on I-70 east of Grand Junction. Besides its famed hot springs, the town boasts two rivers — the Colorado and the Roaring Fork. First stop: Rosi's Little Bavaria for fluffy blueberry pancakes. Now that you're carbo-loaded, hit the Glenwood Canyon Recreation Path (pick up the trail at Two Rivers Park). This smooth, paved 16-mile trail runs along the Colorado River and is ideal for biking or rollerblading. Ready to get above it all? Head for Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park and jump on the Iron Mountain Tramway for a short, scenic ride to the park's observation deck, where you'll look down on both rivers from 7,100-foot Exclamation Point. And if you can handle a few dozen stairs, join the way-cool guided tour into Fairy Caves. After that workout, you'll be eager for a bite at Fin's Grill (try the seafood). But don't leave town without a rejuvenating soak at The Hot Springs Lodge & Pool, one of the largest natural hot springs pools in the country.