Six Spectacular Ways to Get Outdoors in Mesa County, Colorado

Powderhorn Mountain Resort is justly famous for powder.

Grand Junction, Colorado is one of those places that many people have heard of, thousands have passed by on I-70 and few have ever visited. I am a ski writer and recently I met one of my peers: a talented, very funny man from San Francisco. When he asked me where I live, I proudly told him, “Grand Junction, Colorado.” He frowned a bit and then let me and my hometown have it. “I’ve been there. There’s no there, there,” he proclaimed. To which I countered “Au contraire,” and hit him with this list.

Six Spectacular Ways to Get Outdoors in Grand Junction (and Mesa County), Colorado

1.            The Colorado National Monument. I’ll be the first to admit that the Colorado National Monument is a poorly named National park. Many people visiting the “Monument,” expect to find a statue or a memorial. Instead, they are surprised and awed when they discover over 32 square miles of red rock wilderness less than 10 minutes from Grand Junction’s historic downtown. Hiking trails, rock climbing, backcountry camping, an established campground and state-of-the-art visitor’s center are available. As at all national parks, the Junior Ranger program is an amazing way to introduce children under age 12 to the wonders of this landscape and to get them out on the trail.

The Tour of The Moon

But, what really puts Colorado National Monument on the map is the “Tour of the Moon,” an internationally famous, and bucket-list worthy, road bike route. Following Rim Rock Drive through the park, this ride was made famous in the 1980s when it was a stage of the Coors Classic professional cycling event.

2.            Mountain Biking. While the road biking in the Grand Junction area is deservedly famous, the mountain biking is even bigger and better. In the early 1990s, COPMOBA (the Colorado Plateau Mountain Biking Association) and the Bureau of Land Management built a mountain biking trail from Loma, Colorado to Moab, Utah. This trail is the famous Kokopelli Trail. Soon other trails were built from the Loma trailhead, including the famous Mary’s Loop. There are more BLM trails and camping north of nearby Fruita at the “18 Road” trailhead. Many local riders believe the most technical and challenging trails are actually in Grand Junction at the “Lunch Loop/Tabeguache” trailhead (where you can also find a pump track and big jumps).

Lunch Loop is located near the east entrance to the Colorado National Monument. With an extensive trail system, including the area’s only downhill specific trail, the Lunch Loop trail complex will expand during 2012 with the acquisition of the adjacent “Three Sisters” parcel. As part of this acquisition, COPMOBA has agreed to build more beginner and intermediate trails, opening up this incredible landscape to more bikers of all abilities.

3.            Hiking. In a county with more than 72% public lands, you can find any sort of hiking your heart may desire. The Colorado Riverfront Trail is a paved trail, open to hikers and bikers, along the north and south banks of the river. While the trail extends through the city, the most beautiful section is the wooded area known as the Audubon Trail. More vigorous hikes are found on the Colorado National Monument, the McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, including the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness west of Grand Junction, and the BLM’s Little Bookcliffs Wild Horse Range near Palisade on the east end of the Grand Valley.

Mesa County is also a rich paleontological area. The unique “Trail Through Time” along Interstate 70 west of Fruita, begins at a working quarry and has interpretive signs along its route pointing out fossils and providing information about discoveries. During the heat of the summer, the cool, high Grand Mesa offers miles of trail and a respite from the high desert below.

4.            The Colorado River. Colorado is an arid state, but it is also the source of the waters which power and irrigate much of the West. Fed by snowmelt, the Colorado River starts as a trickle high in Rocky Mountain National Park, slowing growing in strength and size as it flows downhill. By the time the river joins with the Gunnison at Grand Junction (now the name makes sense!) the Colorado is a big western river, perfect for floating, rafting and other water recreation. The river through Grand Junction is flat and peaceful, easy enough for non-guided rafting and kayaking. Just a bit further west however, the river takes a dramatic drop into stunning red rock scenery and becomes technical. Local outfitters offer guided single and multi-day trips on the river.

5.            Powderhorn Mountain Resort. I’ve heard this ski resort called “the crown jewel of Mesa County,” the “soul of skiing” and more, but what I call it is “fun.” Tucked against the northern flank of the Grand Mesa, Powderhorn has 1600 vertical feet and 1600 acres of skiing, with 600 acres of groomed trail. Famous for it’s deep powder and amazing gladed terrain, Powderhorn is quickly gaining a following outside of the local community. New owners took the reins in 2011 and have made significant upgrades. What they haven’t changed is the low-key, low-cost approach to skiing, which makes it a perfect destination for families and serious skiers who aren’t as interested in the après scene as the amazing snow and value. Located only 45 minutes from Grand Junction, Powderhorn is an easy drive. In the spring visitors can ski one day at Powderhorn and mountain bike or golf in the Grand Valley the next day, all while staying at the same hotel.

6.            The Grand Mesa. A high, alpine plateau, the Grand Mesa is said to be the world’s “largest flat top mountain.” Dotted with over 200 lakes spread across 500 square  miles, the Mesa offers fishing, boating, camping, hiking and biking in the summer with skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing in the winter. The cross-country skiing is especially fantastic. A local non-profit, the Grand Mesa Nordic Council grooms 54 kilometers of trail each winter, offering a sublime setting for vigorous winter fun.

My list hits the highlights for outdoor recreation in and around Grand Junction. Another list, less focused on sweaty adventure and more on civilized culture would mention Grand Junction’s award-winning, pedestrian friendly downtown with its famous “Art on the Corner” installations; wine-tasting, shopping and more in Colorado’s wine country; the amazing fresh produce and world-famous Palisade peaches; and theatre, music and more at Colorado Mesa University.

Living here, we enjoy all of these amenities. But what really gets us going is the great outdoors. Grab your boots, grab a bike and bring your skis. Year-round, Grand Junction and Mesa County have a lot going on. Get off the interstate and come play. You’ll find we’ve got a lot of “there” here.


This post was originally published at GotSaga on April 30, 2012. 

© 2012 – 2013, Kristen Lummis. All rights reserved. Any use or publication of content, including photos, requires express permission.


  1. says

    Colorado National Monument is on my list. Every time I go to GJ I’m reminded that it’s there and yet, I still haven’t made time to visit. Hopefully, soon.

    • says

      You’ll definitely have to visit. Actually I was up there this afternoon with my son. It’s sooo hot. So we visited the Ice Age exhibit at Dinosaur Valley in Fruita and then stopped by the Visitors’ Center at CNM! When it’s not so hot, the hiking and biking are amazing….good camping too! Let me know when you come through.