This past week, I had the opportunity to explore Grand Junction, Colorado. Living on the east coast, I love going out west. Everything is different, the climate, the culture, the landscape. And I especially love Colorado. Just over a year ago, the kids and I explored Steamboat Springs and Estes Park as part of our great big cross-country road trip.
I didn’t know much about Grand Junction before I arrived, but I quickly learned that there’s a lot to love about this small desert town. From hiking to fruit picking to brunching at a restaurant that has Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes on the menu, I could see why locals might want to keep Grand Junction a secret.
In four days, I got to see a lot of Grand Junction, but I wanted to see more. The morning I flew home, I went on a 30-mile bike ride with some incredible views of the Colorado National Monument. I only wished that my kids could have been with me. Next time for sure. I’m already ready to go back.
If you’re looking for someplace new to take the kids, especially outdoor-loving kids, add Grand Junction to your list. Take a look at 10 must-do’s to make the most of a visit to what I consider Colorado’s best-kept secret.
1. Go Hiking at Colorado National Monument. Because Colorado National Monument doesn’t have the “national park” designation, it sees fewer crowds, which is a win for you. The rock formations are incredible and views are just as amazing. For a short hike, try the Canyon Rim Trail or the Devils Kitchen Trail.
2. Get Your Dinosaur Fix. Colorado is well-known for its dinosaur fossils and kids will love exploring the Dinosaur Journey Museum in neighboring Fruita. At this hands-on museum, you’ll find plenty of interactive exhibits, paleontology displays, a sandbox for making dinosaur tracks and a “quarry site.”
3. Cycle the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway. Nearby Palisade is known for fruit stands (peaches are especially popular) along the Palisade Fruit & Wine Byway. Rent a bike from Rapid Creek Cycles to explore the town. Pop in Sprigs & Sprouts, a lavender farm, for free balsamic oil and vinegar tastings.
4. Go Whitewater Rafting. When the weather is warm, you’ll want to hit the rapids of the Colorado River for an afternoon of whitewater rafting. Or, go on a relaxing float trip downstream. Try Rimrock Adventures, which offers both guided rafting trips and self-guided raft rentals.
5. Get Your Passport Stamped. Because the Colorado National Monument is part of the National Park Service, you won’t want to miss out on getting your Passport to Your National Parks stamped at the Saddlehorn Visitor Center. There are two stamps, including one to celebrate this year’s centennial.
6. Eat Breakfast in Downtown Grand Junction. Sure, there are several hotels in Grand Junction that offer a free hot breakfast, but plan to eat at Dream Café (did I mention the Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes?) and Main Street Bagels, which offers seasonal treats, like Pumpkin Crunch Bagels, at least once.
7. Explore Grand Mesa. Grand Mesa is known as the largest flat-top mountain in the world, so be sure to take it in. There are great views of Grand Mesa from Palisade. More than just a mountain, there are miles and miles of byway through the national forest, as well as opportunities for camping, hiking and fishing.
8. Go Mountain Biking at Lunch Loop. If you like to mountain bike, check out the Lunch Loop bike trails. There you’ll find a variety of trails for all different levels, including Kids Meal, which is a great trail for beginners. All trails take an hour or less to complete.
9. Bike Along the Riverfront Trail. For paved trails, rent a bike in downtown Grand Junction from Brown Cycles to explore the Riverfront Trail. It’s 15 miles to Fruita where you’ll find plenty of places to stop for breakfast or lunch. The Monument View section of the trail is especially spectacular.
10. Take Your Dog to McInnis Canyons. Not every outdoor space is welcoming of pets, but McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area is decidedly dog-friendly, so plan to give Fido a workout if you bring your dog to Grand Junction. You’ll find trails, canyons, caves, all perfect for exploring with a furry friend.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Grand Junction Visitor & Convention Bureau. I was not paid for this article and all opinions expressed here are my own.