Want to Live and Work in the Perfect Playground? Check Out This Colorado Region.
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.”
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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.
Enjoy 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.”
Take a Hike (Through Amazing Scenery!)
Hiking is especially popular, and there are several must-try hikes that are excellent for newcomers. Matt Bell, business development manager at the Grand Junction Economic Partnership and an outdoor enthusiast, shares six places he encourages new arrivals to “take a hike.”
RATTLESNAKE ARCHES: This unique rock formation and the hikes around it are not only one of Bell’s personal favorites but a hidden gem. Much like Moab’s famed rock formations, Rattlesnake Arches are naturally formed sandstone arches that are beautiful to look at and photograph. Located within McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area, this hike offers breathtaking views without the drive and the crowds. “Not a lot of people know about it because it’s a little bit off the map,” Bell says. “But it’s a really special place.”
Bell notes that it’s important no matter where you plan on hiking to be aware of your surroundings, especially for wildlife, check the weather (Colorado’s weather is notoriously unpredictable), and bring a backpack including layers of clothing, sunscreen, water and snacks.
MOUNT GARFIELD: Though the trail is only 2 miles, the elevation gain on the Mount Garfield hike is 2,000 feet – an intense summit that’s rewarded by spectacular panoramic views of the valley. “It’s a really challenging uphill hike and great conditioning to get you prepared to hike a 14er (a mountain whose peak exceeds 14,000 feet) – it’s a similar challenge,” Bell says. “You can’t beat the views because you can see everything in the valley all the way out to Palisade.”
BANGS CANYON TRAILHEAD & MICA MINE TRAIL: Leading to a historic mica and quartz mine within the Bangs Canyon Special Recreation Management Area, the Mica Mine Trail is one of several trails within the area and one of the most popular places to hike. It’s a 2.6-mile out-and-back trail that offers different recreational activities like mountain biking and rock climbing. In the springtime, snow runoff creates creeks, pools and waterfalls and feeds area cottonwood groves.
SERPENT’S TRAIL: Located within the Colorado National Monument, the historic Serpent’s Trail hike offers numerous switchbacks, interesting geological formations and spectacular views. The trail is roughly 4 miles round trip with almost 800 feet of climbing, so it is sure to get your heart pumping. “Serpent’s Trail is one of my favorite hikes – you get a lot of vertical elevation real quick, but it’s a wonderful view over the Grand Valley the entire way,” Bell says.
PALISADE RIM: This 4-mile lower loop trail offers a sweeping scenic view of vineyards and orchards from 1,000 feet above Palisade. “The hike is along cliffs and has steep trails; you’re looking over the river and you can choose how far along the loop you want to go,” Bell says. “It’s very unique in the valley because you can go off the trail and see petroglyphs.”
DEVIL’S CANYON: Located just across the Colorado River from Fruita, the Devil’s Canyon Trailhead offers hiking and horseback riding through a landscape of deep canyons and intricate cliffs. There’s a network of trails with varying distances to choose from, including those that follow a meandering creek and farther into the canyon, a waterfall.
A Grand Junction company provides the perfect getaway for “glamping” – a form of camping that offers accommodations and amenities more luxurious than traditional camping. Camp Eddy, which opened in 2022, is located in Las Colonias Park on the banks of the Colorado River in Grand Junction. Guests can choose between renting fully equipped tiny homes or remodeled vintage airstreams for their stay. And if you bring your own motorhomes, Camp Eddy offers full-hookup RV sites. There is an on-site dog park, and bicycle rides are also organized for quick trips into downtown Grand Junction.
– Writer Rebecca Treon contributed to this article.
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