Spring comes early to Grand Junction, a small city with a Wild West-flare located on the high deserts of Western Colorado. In fact, snow in the winter in Grand Junction is nil to minimal, meaning many outdoor activities are accessible year-round. About 50 kilometres away from the Utah border, Grand Junction has a semi-arid climate and is full of unique, spectacular red rock canyons, mountains, mesas and bluffs. If you’re ready to put the skis away, here are a few good reasons to take a trip south to get a jump on the spring season.
Shred it Up
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With hundreds of miles of riding trails close by, Grand Junction is becoming famous for its mountain biking. Unlike nearby Moab, at Grand Junction you can avoid the crowds. In-the-know riders say that this area offers the best of two worlds: the rock of the Utah desert and the elevation of the Rockies.
Start with the Lunch Loop trails, a local favorite, located just minutes from downtown Grand Junction. With over 32 kilometres of trails, there’s a ride suitable for every level on a network of single track, technical, ledge/bench and downhill trails. Elevations get up to 610 metres, so when you arrive at the top, be sure to take a moment of awe-filled silence to watch the sun reflecting off the red rock cliffs of the Grand Mesa across the valley.
For more great scenery mixed with fantastic riding, head to Kokopelli’s Trails, a system of stacked, single-track loops with lots of sheer cliffs and ridgeline riding (this is also the start of the 229 kilometre trail that goes from Loma to Moab).
It’s always a good idea to talk to a local about up-to-date trail conditions before you start out, so stop at one of the local bike shops, like Over the Edge Sports, where they freely share trail advice, have the best maps available, and hire out guides. For newbies, a guide like general manager George Gatseos can share important tips to make your ride easier, like “look where you want to go” and "momentum is your friend” (which Gatseos, by the way, says are good life lessons as well).
Hike the Red Rock Canyons
Grand Junction is surrounded by stellar hiking spots, and your first stop should be at the Colorado National Monument. Here you’ll find 11 red rock canyons and 20,000 acres of arched windows, majestic rock spires and towering national monoliths, with some of the formations dating back to the Precambrian era.
Hiking trails range from short half-hour hikes to full-day or overnight backpacking trips. For stunning canyon views, a must-do is the Canyon Rim Trail, a short hike that starts behind the Saddlehorn Visitor Centre and follows the cliff edge above the Wedding Canyon.
For a longer hike, try the Black Ridge Trail, the highest in the park, which gives you views to the west of the Utah Canyonlands, east to the Grand Valley and south to the San Juan Mountains. When you’re back in your vehicle, a tour around the famous Rim Rock drive is worth it—your chances of seeing bighorn sheep and soaring eagles are high.
For more great hikes, make the winding drive through the picturesque red rock rangeland of the Unaweep Canyon filled with scrub brush, tumbleweed, yellow rabbit brush and more bighorn sheep, to the small settlement of Gateway. You can’t miss the Palisade, a giant rectangular landmark formation which rises over 600 metres above the small community. You can scramble up to explore the ruins of an old cabin, but to reach the summit, you need climbing gear and experience.
For something easier, try the Dynamite Trail, a gently sloping 2.25-kilometre hike that starts at the mouth of the John Brown Canyon. Wildflowers, like the bright yellow bladderpod, start blooming here as early as March.
If you decide you want to overnight in the canyon, there’s the Gateway Canyon Resort, created by John Hendricks, founder of Discovery Channel, to blend perfectly with the backdrop of red canyon formations. As a guest you can join a guided tour, like the Juanita Arch Hike. You'll boat across the Dolores River before you start this 7.2 kilometre out-and-back trail which takes you along an old, early 1900s pack trail to a beautiful hidden arch. Unaweep Canyon was long home to Native American tribes, before homesteaders settled in 1884, when the canyon soon became home to gangs of cattle rustlers and gold miners. Ask your guide to fill you in on the local history.
Get Your Adrenaline Going On the Colorado River
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The mighty Colorado River, which runs just south of Grand Junction, is famous for whitewater rapids. Several rafting outfitters are available to take you through the Westwater Canyon, known for its 27-kilometre run of Class III and IV rapids that pass through cliffs that tower as high as 366 metres above the river. Calmer float trips and kayaks are also an option.
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Stand-up paddle boarding on the Colorado River is fun as well. Outfitters like GJ SUP Paddle Boarding Co. or Rimrock Adventures will teach you the basics, including paddle strokes, safety and river running. Going out with a guide can be a good idea, as they can direct you how to navigate small rapids and avoid bottoming out on rock shoals. The good news? Even if you fall in, the water is relatively warm.
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