When our daughter Sophia announced she was interested in going to college at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, we had to google it. I’ve been to Colorado dozens of times to ski in the Rockies or for work assignments in Denver, but we had not heard of Grand Junction before. Well, what an awesome town. We realized we can visit Grand Junction for gorgeous outdoors, a lively downtown and some pretty spectacular eats.
Like many college towns across America, Grand Junction has attracted a fun mix of students and faculty from all over. Along with those people come ideas, creativity and innovation that bring a town more life and excitement. Grand Junction is definitely not a hotbed of pulsing nightlife (beyond the college kids!), but that is exactly why it is so charming and alluring. The town provides a great combination of both worlds – outdoors adventure and creative lifestyle.
That’s why you should consider a reason to visit Grand Junction, Colorado. We’ve already been back several times!
Visit Grand Junction for the Views, Stay for the Lifestyle
Until we went to tour the campus at Colorado Mesa University, we had no idea what we would find in Grand Junction. We were happily surprised on our first visit, and were immediately taken with its beauty. The town sits on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains, on the western edge of Colorado just 38 miles from the Utah border. Moab and its other-worldly rock formations is just 113 miles away, and Arches National Park is just a 1 hour 40 minutes drive. Denver is a 4 hour drive to the east of Grand Junction. The ski resorts at Aspen are less than 2 hours away.
The town itself sits in a valley surrounded by mesas of rock colored in oranges, reds, yellows and tans. At sunrise and sunset, these formations take on a beautiful range of colors that can take your breath away. Combine this will the green of trees (yellow and orange in the fall) and you have a pretty colorful landscape.
Some Factoids About Grand Junction
When you plan to visit Grand Junction, you should know a few things that make this place special:
- Grand Junction got its name because it is located at the junction of the Colorado River (which used to be called the Grand River) and the Gunnison River. Thus, Grand Junction – get it? Interestingly related, some say one of the reasons the Grand Canyon is called that is because the Grand River (now the Colorado River) etched its way through it.
- Petroglyphs and cave drawings indicate the area was originally settled by the indigenous Ute and Fremont Tribes. European settlers did not inhabit this land until the late 1800s.
- The Grand Junction area is one of Colorado’s largest producers of fresh fruit and vegetables, include the Palisade Peaches they are famous for growing. During the summer there are peach stands everywhere. We can vouch for their delicious flavor – Georgia has nothing on these folks.
- Grand Junction is in Colorado’s Wine Country, and there are more than 20 wineries dotting the Western Slope landscape. We can’t wait to go wine tasting on our next visit!
Colorado National Monument
One of the main draws of the area is Colorado National Monument. Its beauty is breathtaking, and it contains roughly 20,000 acres of cliffs, caverns and canyonlands. Just 6 miles from downtown Grand Junction, Colorado National Monument offers visitors stunning vistas – even from the car. In fact, you can drive the 23-mile roadway from the west to east entrances and see spectacular formations and views.
We actually recommend you drive from west to east. Although it took us longer to reach the west entrance from downtown, the payoff was almost immediate once we entered the Monument. There was less traffic going in this direction, and hardly any other people at the stops on this end. Since most of the other visitors had started at the eastern entrance, we had much of the place to ourselves. The photos without other people in the way were epic!
Trail maps are available to download or grab as printed copies. We experienced only brief moments of no mobile connection, so tracking ourselves online worked fine for us. The guide showed us where to stop and why, and we must have pulled off the road at least a dozen times. We oooo’d and aaaahh’d all along the way.
Highlights of Colorado National Monument
As you explore the Monument, you can hike, bike, drive and even camp overnight. Make sure to stop for a gander at these points among many different view opportunities:
Independence Monument – Easily the signature formation of Colorado National Monument. This rocky spire rises 450 feet from the canyon floor and is a popular climbing destination. Monument founder John Otto first climbed to its top on July 4, 1911 and planted an American flag. A flag still sits there today, and we saw people climbing to the top. (Made my hands all sweaty just to think about it!)
Coke Ovens – The beginning of several hiking trails through Monument Valley. Coke Ovens is distinctive for multiple smokestack shaped rock formations that tower up into the sky. Park the car in the lot and walk the short and easy trail to the lookout point for optimum views.
Artists Point – Named because artists often stop here to create plein aire paintings of the incredible views. Vistas of the entire valley and formations are visible from this resting point, with safe overlooks easily accessible.
Book Cliffs Viewpoint – Sheltered stop with expansive views and easy walking trails. Definitely recommend a stop here because there are easy stairs and steps leading on to the mesa and overlooking the canyon. Great photo opps here.
Cold Shivers Point – Just like it sounds. It was hard to believe how cold and windy it is at this spot, which is worth the view of the canyon and trees below. Bring your parka. (Or your paragliding equipment!)
Colorado National Monument is simply a must-see. But there are plenty more strong reasons why travelers like to visit Grand Junction.
Things to See When You Visit Grand Junction
When you visit Grand Junction, be prepared to explore the gorgeous outdoors. The range of weather can be remarkable from the valley floor to the tops of the nearby mountains. Make sure you bring something warm even though you don’t think you need it. (We were glad we brought our coats!)
There are so many things to enjoy about the Colorado terrain surrounding Grand Junction. A broad range of activities is offered for every kind of interest and ability.
Hiking Trails – Miles and miles of options from the casual walk to the strenuous climb.
Biking – Trails for all levels of riders, from easy to difficult, mountain to road.
River Activities – Kayaks, rafting, SUP and more – on the Colorado River!
Wineries – Dozens of options within short driving distance, or take an organized tour if you plan on getting a little buzzed.
Downtown – Main Street is so quaint, quirky and fun. Full of shops, restaurants, galleries, public art and other cool stuff.
Place to Eat in Grand Junction
We were shocked to find such a range of culinary treats in Grand Junction. Here are a some of our favorites:
Bin 707 – OK, this is world-class dining that could be located in a major city with culinary cred. We were blown away by our meal here, and were sad we did not have time to return to sample other menu items. Bummer that they don’t currently take reservations, but we are here to say it is worth the wait in line for a table. Great wines, great bar, great service and amazing dishes.
We started with the Elk Tartare, not something we would EVER order but it was out-of-this-world delicious. Thanks to the server who insisted we try it! Another standout was the Seared Salmon with Root Vegi Rösti, Pea Puree, Mushroom and Sweet Onion. Also amazing was the Lamb Tenderloin with Root Veggies, Cherry Tomato, Fennel and Horseradish.
The Hog and The Hen – Sweet old-fashioned market and deli with a distinctively modern twist. We loved this place on Main Street downtown, and enjoyed the most delicious sandwiches for lunch. Like the Heifer for example: Roast Beef, Jus, Blue Chizz, Spicy Balsamic Onion Jam, Creamy Horseradish, Crispy Onions, Crunch Roll. Or the Year of the Rooster: Pulled Chicken, Crispy Wontons, Thai Chili Peanut Sauce, Sriracha Lime Crema, Spring Mix, Mandarin Oranges, Thin Ciabatta.
The shopping in this cute spot is also epic. Leave time to wander around for gifts and cool things to bring home.
Rockslide Restaurant & Brewery – Decent college town food and excellent microbrews crafted onsite. We loved the burgers here, but also delicious are the Burnt Ends BBQ Mac & Cheese and the Korean Pork Tacos.
Where to Stay in Grand Junction
We’re still discovering cool places to stay in Grand Junction. Among our favorites is the Hotel Maverick, which is on the Colorado Mesa University Campus. Regardless of whether you have a kid in college here or not, this boutique hotel is arguably the nicest in town. Rates are reasonable, the restaurant is seriously good, and the outdoor patio is perfect for cocktails at any time of day (weather permitting).
Because Sophia is living on campus, this was an easy walk for us to see her daily. It’s also near downtown and very easy to navigate from here to points of interest.
We’ll update this post as we discover more fun places to recommend!