In the Grand Valley of Colorado, you can step out of your office right into an outdoor oasis chock full of activities ranging from hiking and biking to climbing and skiing.
It is called the Grand Valley, but the mountains and rivers in the region are just as magnificent. Add it all together, and you have the perfect playground for a wide variety of outdoor recreation in Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade.
“We really have world-class everything around here. Biking, climbing, hiking, skiing, rafting. All of that is available right here where we are,” says Ryan Dutch, outdoor program coordinator at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. “We’re in this little pocket between the mountains and the desert, with the Colorado River running through the middle of it.”
As a result, there are outdoor recreation options in every direction, and most of them are only a short drive away. In fact, some are literally right outside the back door.
“There is a lot of very immediate access to outdoor recreation,” says John Howe, a 30-year resident of the area and a board member with the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association. “All these different activities are close to where you live and work. The access is just spectacular.”
Rock (Climb) and Roll (Down the River)
With mountains all around, it is easy to spot one of the most popular pastimes in the Grand Valley. Dutch says rock climbing has become a “big draw” in the region, with some “amazing” places to climb. Highlights (with an emphasis on high) include the sandstone cliffs and spires of Colorado National Monument just outside Grand Junction.
Nearby is Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Montrose, which has the tallest vertical wall in Colorado at a height of 2,250 feet.
Another outdoor attraction is the Colorado River, as it flows directly through downtown Grand Junction. Not only does this provide rafting and other water activities all the way to Moab, Utah, nearly 100 miles to the southwest, but closer to Grand Junction there are 24 miles of paved paths that run along the river for waking, biking or rollerblading.
To the east, water enthusiasts also can find plenty to do in the Grand Mesa National Forest, which contains numerous lakes and thousands of miles of tributaries for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding.
Soar into a Winter Wonderland
During the winter, the Grand Mesa offers three networks of trails for cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.
Along the northern edge of Grand Mesa, the 1,600-acre Powderhorn Mountain Resort receives an average of 250 inches of snow each year, attracting downhill skiers and snowboarders. And many of the region’s most famous ski towns are not far away, including Telluride, Crested Butte, Aspen and Vail.
A Mountainous Ride
With so many mountains in the region, it is inevitable that mountain biking would be popular. There are approximately 230 miles of trails in the immediate Grand Junction area, ranging from calm beginner routes to technical tracks that will challenge an expert.
“Mountain biking has been steadily growing in the Grand Valley for years,” Howe says. “We have a number of trailheads that are close to Grand Junction that provide a wide range of experiences for mountain biking.”
Lunch and Ride
Pack a brown bag! The Lunch Loops Trail System is so close to downtown Grand Junction (less than 5 miles) that you can get in some pedal time on your lunch break. But newbies beware: The system is best for experienced riders.
Greater options can be found approximately 12 miles northwest of Grand Junction near Fruita. Beginners will enjoy the peaceful beauty of the 18 Road Trails, while advanced cyclists can take on the climbs, switchbacks and downhill runs of the Kokopelli Trail.
And then there is the new Palisade Plunge Trail, which connects the top of the Grand Mesa (altitude 10,700 feet) to the town of Palisade (4,700 feet) 32 miles away. Despite its name, there are some up-and-down segments along the trail.
“It’s definitely a challenging, back-country type of experience,” Howe says. It has been estimated that Palisade Plunge will create an annual economic impact of more than $5 million to the region’s economy, becoming yet another grand outdoor attraction.
“This is becoming very much an outdoor mecca,” Dutch says. “Over the next 10 years, the outdoor industry is really going to drive this economy. It’s definitely on the upswing here.”