When most people think of Colorado they think of Denver and the Rocky Mountains. Skiers and snowboarders might think of Vail or Breckenridge. But I recently discovered a whole other side to Colorado…the western side!! A three day stay in Grand Junction Colorado is the perfect opportunity for hiking, wine tasting and dinosaur exploration. And who doesn’t love a little dinosaur exploration?!?
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Colorado National Monument
Your first stop should be the Colorado National Monument. There are hiking and camping options within the boundaries and a 23-mile drive on Rim Rock Drive. Depending on your available time you can adjust your itinerary. If you only have a couple hours you can do the 23-mile drive and stop a couple times to see Independence Monument and the sweeping views of the Grand Junction area. If you have several hours you can do the drive but make more stops along the way. You can do a couple of short hikes from the visitor center, explore the plants native to the region and see more of the rock formations.
If you have a whole day to dedicate there are a number of Colorado National Monument hikes and climbing options for you to choose. From climbing 450-foot Independence Monument, to an easy hike through Devil’s Kitchen (the hike is easier than the name implies!), or a number of more moderate and difficult hikes, there are a lot of options for everyone.
Travel Tip: If you’re not a fan of steep drop-offs, I recommend entering from the west entrance at Fruita. This direction allows you to drive Rim Rock Drive on the inside so you’re not quite so close to the edge!
Dinosaur Journey Museum (Fruita)
If you’re visiting Grand Junction Colorado with kids the Dinosaur Journey Museum is a must-visit. Although full disclaimer, I also enjoyed it as an adult! Walk through the history of the dinosaurs, experience an earthquake and see a lab in action through the viewing window.
Travel Tip: This is a perfect indoor activity for a hot summer afternoon!
Fruit + Wine Byway (Palisade)
Plan to spend a half day driving the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway. Depending on the season when you go you’ll have more or less stops based on what is currently being harvested. The great thing about the Byway is it can really be tailored to the age and interests of your family. If everybody is over 21, there are some great local wineries where you can stop for tasing. If you have younger family members you might want to stop at an alpaca farm and take an alpaca out for a walk through the peach orchards. The peach and lavender are an excellent choice for all ages. If you have extra time plan a stop at the Tilman Bishop State Wildlife Area for wildlife viewing.
Travel Tip: Peach season begins in August so if you’re able to make a trip then you’ll be treated to lots of yummy peach goodness! If you’re interested in visiting the alpaca farm through a literary travel lens, you can see how to travel through the pages of a book here.
Grand Mesa National Forest
Plan to spend a day exploring the world’s largest flat-top mountain, Grand Mesa. If you’re short on time I’d recommend planning a drive on the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway with a few stops along the way. If you have a full day you can explore the Byway and add in a hike or two, and even some fishing! In the winter you can add skiing to your itinerary at Powderhorn Ski Area. A couple stops I recommend not skipping are the Land’s End Observatory and the Land -O-Lakes Overlook. The Observatory is a ranger observatory on the rim of Grand Mesa in Colorado. From the top there are absolutely gorgeous panoramic views of the greater Grand Junction area. Take note that about half the drive to the Observatory is on a dirt road. The Overlook gives you just a small glimpse at the more than 300 lakes.
Travel Tip: It is really hot in the Grand Junction area during the summer. The temperature will drop 20 degrees when you head up to Grand Mesa so save this adventure for your hottest day. From Grand Junction, take I-70 east to exit 49, CO Highway 330. Turn right and drive for several miles until you get to Mesa. This map will also help.