Grand Junction makes for a great getaway | VailDaily.com

Grand Junction makes for a great getaway

Katie Coakley
Special to the Daily

Situated at the far reaches of Colorado's western expanse, Grand Junction has been both a destination and a pit shop for me for years. However, it's no secret that the many charms and attractions of this, the largest city in western Colorado, were wasted on me.

Then, I spent more than a hot minute in the city and let's just say Grand Junction has more to offer than Chick-fil-A and a fill-up on the way to Moab, Utah. From less travel time to stellar wine and cuisine, a visit to Grand Junction is a great alternative to everyone's favorite desert.

more adventure time

In terms of distance and driving, Grand Junction just makes sense. In less than two and a half hours, you can be hopping on your mountain bike and setting off on the Kokopelli Trail. Stretching 142 miles from Loma, all the way to Moab, this classic trail is an epic combination of singletrack, doubletrack, sand and tarmac in addition to technical climbs, rugged descents and graded terrain. You don't have to travel the entire distance, but in the time it would take to reach Moab by car, you could have a pretty sweet ride under your belt.

With slickrock, technical features and stellar singletrack that rivals Moab's, Grand Junction's Lunch Loops are another option to get the heart pumping on two wheels. Head to The Ribbon for super long and fast rock sections that unroll before your wheels or to Free Lunch's technical lines for a bit of a challenge, but there are also short and sweet trails that will allow you to stitch together your own perfect ride.

Looking for a bit of leaf peeping? Check out the Audubon section of the Riverfront Trail. This 1.5 miles of paved trail takes riders under a canopy of trees by the Colorado River that are bound to be in a full, golden blaze. It's perfect for families or those who want a more low-key ride.

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Fall in love with Nature

Until I spent some time in Grand Junction, I had never visited the Colorado National Monument. True story: I thought there was a plaque or a statue dedicated to the state up there, so I never bothered to visit. Rookie mistake.

Driving up Rim Rock Drive, the 23-mile route that takes bikers and cars up to the Uncompahgre Plateau, snakes by canyons and through brilliant red rock vistas. Every turn seems to provide another viewpoint and opportunity for awe — and that's just on the road. Though road and mountain biking are popular modes of exploring, hiking is one of the best ways to truly experience the naturally formed windows and arched spires that seem to grow from the canyon floor. The Canyon Rim Trail Hike is an easy wander that affords spectacular views of the Coke Ovens, Kissing Couple and Independence Monument. For more in-depth exploration, the Monument Canyon Trail is the most popular, but there are there are 13 backcountry trails that extend into the Monument, ranging in elevation from 4,700 to more than 7,000 feet.

For a truly memorable experience at the Monument, make a breakfast date. Arrive by 7:30 a.m. with your favorite breakfast (Cafe Sol has awesome an awesome breakfast menu including veggie, organic and gluten-free options) and stop at the Bookcliffs Overlook — from here you can enjoy the early morning calm and see how the sun plays around the cliffs. There are several wide areas on the retaining walls to perch or walk a few steps to a small seating area and enjoy the view.

Take some time to dine and wine

When the day's exploration and adventure is done, there's no need to break out the gas grill and ply your camping culinary skills. Grand Junction's culinary scene is exceptional, ranging from creative, upscale dining to satisfying comfort food at a local brewery. For modern American cuisine try 626 on Rood which features fresh fish crudo to local lamb chops; Bin 707 Food Bar offers an adventure on every plate, sourcing foods from Colorado and creating a story with every dish. For a more casual dinner, check out Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery: the classic pub food was the perfect end to a full-on day outside.

Every good meal deserves a tasty liquid accompaniment and Grand Junction has no trouble providing. In addition to the wineries located in town, like Two Rivers Winery & Chateau, Palisade is just a short drive from Grand Junction. This verdant area is home to more than 20 wineries plus several hard cideries, Peach Street Distillers and Palisade Brewing. Renting a cruiser bike is a popular way to sample, but be cognizant of just how many samples you try while riding — they add up.

Palisade might not be Napa or Sonoma, but Palisade wineries are producing some really enjoyable wines. Be sure to check out Colterris, which has an awesome tasting room and grab a pack of Canterris, the winery's canned red, white and rose. They're perfect for camping, adventuring or just cracking open on your deck to remind yourself of how awesome Grand Junction really is.