So, you’re planning a day trip from Grand Junction? We’ve got everything you need to know before you get here. If you are visiting Colorado, you may also want to read our article on a Day Trip to Gunnison
Day Trip From Grand Junction
The perfect day trip from Grand Junction encompasses the people, the food, the history and the natural beauty of Western Colorado. I recently had a layover in Grand Junction and rented a car with the crew. After talking to a few locals on the best way to kill 20 hours, we came up with this Grand Junction day trip. Here’s what we saw and learned:
Grand Junction History
Grand Junction has a very unique and interesting modern and ancient history. Millions of years ago, it was on the edge of an inland ocean and shallow grasslands which allowed for dinosaurs to be preserved as fossils. Notably, Grand Junction was the site of the first Brachiosaurus find and is internationally recognized by paleontologists as an area rich in fossils. If you love dinosaurs, check out the Dinosaur Hiking Trails as well as the Dinosaur Journey Museum.
The first people known to live in the area go back about 13 thousand years. By the early 1800’s Western explorers came to the area well before Colorado became a state in 1876. Soon after, in the early 1880’s, an Indian uprising ended with the removal of the Ute Indians to reservations in Utah which paved the way for western settlers. It didn’t take too long for the valley to become irrigated by what was then called the Grand River, later renamed the Colorado.
Today, the namesake “grand junction” refers to the confluence of the Gunnison (check out our post A Day in Gunnison, Colorado) and Colorado Rivers. This unique setting has given the city the nickname “River City.” Of course, the Colorado River is most famous for carving out the Grand Canyon further downstream but before it makes it there, it helped make this valley the center of Colorado’s Wine Country today.
Colorado Monument Park
The Colorado Monument Park is a must see part of your day trip from Grand Junction. A 1-hour drive non-stop through the park will bring you winding up, down and through the hills west of Grand Junction. The visitors center and the monument are both on the north end of the road but I highly recommend the entire loop.
Driving the Park
Even a simple drive through the park is beautiful. Winding roads, tunnels and scenic overlooks let you enjoy much of the park from the comfort of your air conditioning and XM radio. Below is one of the several tunnels burrowed through the rock and a picture of one of many overlooks you can enjoy from your car.
Hiking the Park
While the drive alone is worth taking the trip, the park has much more to offer. The park has several hiking trails that are central to the park’s recreational opportunities. If I had more time, I would have definitely made time to explore the beautiful landscape. The smell of the juniper in the fresh mountain breeze was amazing. Hiking through it would have been lovely.
The park has short and long trails for the day-tripper and serious hiker alike. Most of the longer trails start on the rim of the canyon and are easily accessed by the main park road. The trailhead above winds down the side of the canyon (shown below) and then through the lush bottom and out to the main valley and city.
Scenic Views of the Park
It seemed like everywhere you stop in Monument Park there are scenic views. Many areas are set aside for cars to park where you can get out and enjoy the scenery. Most of them are very accessible and you can explore the area on foot. This is one of the lookouts on the south end of the park. The scale of the gorge is awesome and the paved walkways and railings give you a sense of security as you walk right up to the edge to enjoy these scenic views.
My favorite lookout was easily Artists Point. The landscape was beautiful. Vibrant greens spotted the red rocks through the entire gorge. It was a breathtaking view. If you only have time to stop in one place along this route, make sure it is this one.
North of Artists Point you will find Independence Monument, the namesake of the park. It is definitely worth a stop as well. The spile was formed by erosion and what is left is the large pencil shaped tower in the valley.
Plants at the Park
There is still more to the experience of this park than the beautiful drive and breathtaking views. Here’s a small sample of the life that finds a way to survive in this high desert:
Prickly Pear Cactus
While these plants are wonderful, maybe my favorite plant is one that was brought to the area much later…
Well, I didn’t know Grand Junction was known as “Colorado’s Wine Country!” This little tidbit is going to change my plans next time I’m here on vacation. Please, for all of us, make this part of your day trip from Grand Junction! There are over 20 different wineries through the valley that take advantage of the good irrigation, bountiful sunny days and cool nights of the high valley terrain to grow the perfect grape for wine.
On our drive back from visiting Colorado Monument Park, we stumbled upon Two Rivers Winery and Chateau. The smells inside the tasting room and the chateau were amazing. It reminded me of Northern California’s wine country. The vineyards were set against the backdrop of Grand Mesa to the east and Colorado Monument Park to the west. Both bursting with color. The fresh mountain air and the smell of wine made me want to hope I’d never leave.
Shopping, Arts, and Food
To add a little culture to your day trip from Grand Junction, go toward the South end of the city. You will find a downtown area which is full of shopping, arts, food, patio’s and gardens. Make sure to at least stop by for a long lunch break. Main Street winds through the outdoor mall making large spaces for patios and gardens throughout the downtown area. Happy customers fill their stomachs with craft beer and gourmet food while is seems the corners are all filled with art from the Art On The Corner program.
What I’m Planning On My Next Day Trip From Grand Junction
Flying from Denver, we cross over Grand Mesa all the time. It is an enormous flat top mountain on the eastern side of the valley. It seems that we fly just a few thousand feet over its tall walls and then descend into the valley where Grand Junction and the airport are. Geologically, Grand Mesa is the largest flat-top mountain in the world standing more than 10,000 feet above sea level. It is famous for its outdoor recreation including fishing, hiking, and biking in its high alpine landscape.
The Colorado River wanders northwest through town and eventually ends up in Lake Powel before traversing the Grand Canyon and emptying into the ocean in Mexico. The whole river, in its entirety, must be one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. Enjoy it while it flows through Grand Junction by taking a leisurely floating wine tour with Palisade River Trips. Or, if you prefer, get more adventurous and enjoy some high alpine whitewater rafting with local guides.
Between Grand Mesa, Colorado Monument Park, and the riverfront trails, there is much to be explored by foot. If you are interested in doing some hiking, check out this article from Visit Grand Junction: 12 Incredible Hikes In Grand Junction.
I loved my day in Grand Junction. It was a very cute small town with a very good eye toward tourism. I’m planning a weekend getaway with my wife. We would stay at one of the vineyards at night, visit the parks and hike during the day and find some time to get back downtown.
Before I go, I need to share what a beautiful place Grand Junction was. There was so much more I wanted to write and show you. I’m just going to share several of my favorite pictures of the city and area below.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like our articles on some other day trips including:
- Great Falls, Montana
- Portland, Maine
- Greenville, South Carolina
- Amarillo, Texas
- Dickinson, North Dakota
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Allentown, Pennsylvania
- Charleston, West Virginia