Grand Junction, Colorado—an outdoor adventure hub near the Utah border—feels worlds away from Texas with its accessible red-rock canyons and towering flat-top mountain. But you can hop on a direct flight from Dallas and be gazing up at the Grand Mesa in just over two hours.
With 1.5 million acres of public lands, hundreds of miles of mountain biking trails, the Colorado and Gunnison rivers for rafting, the world’s largest flat-top mountain, and a “mini Grand Canyon” to explore, Mesa County is a nature lover’s paradise. While a visit to its county seat certainly warrants a longer visit, my 9-year-old and I attempted to see how much outdoor fun we could cram into a weekend.
My daughter, Poppy, and I arrived at Grand Junction Regional Airport on a Friday evening, ready for adventure. We were met by our Uber driver, Chuck, who took the 15-minute drive to our hotel as an opportunity to tell us how much we were going to love his adopted hometown.
Chuck was chuffed we were staying at Hotel Maverick, which partners with Colorado Mesa University to provide training opportunities for its hospitality students. He encouraged us to eat at the hotel restaurant, Devil’s Kitchen, for bison tamales and maple bacon donuts. He said we wouldn’t be disappointed in the food or the views from the rooftop patio.
Our entire weekend stay was delightful, so Chuck was spot on. From free popcorn in the cozy lobby to complimentary cruiser bikes, Hotel Maverick and the students who run it are a lot of fun. The best surprise was the King-size bunk bed in our room. Poppy couldn’t believe her good fortune—she immediately claimed the huge top bunk.
Grand Junction boasts more than 250 days of sunshine and the weekend we were there was no exception. We awoke with the sun and hotel guests were already busy loading bikes onto cars. Thankful that traveling west of Texas makes it easy to get an early start, we grabbed coffee and muffins from the hotel lobby café, Betty’s, and were on our way.
Six miles from Grand Junction, the rugged red rock landscape of Colorado National Monument awaits. We made it to the Visitor’s Center as it opened at 9 a.m. and headed straight through the back doors to the Canyon Rim Trail. This easy hike is only a mile roundtrip, so it was the perfect way to start the day. Poppy and I didn’t see another person on the trail, but we did hear a lone coyote.
One word of caution. While it’s easy to take a rideshare to the Colorado National Monument, it’s difficult to get a ride back. If you don’t have a car, pre-arrange your transportation with Sunshine Rides so you don’t get stuck.
After our little hike, we were ready to eat again. We headed to Highlands Distillery on Belli Fiori Lavender Farm. This 8-year-old family venture is a labor of love for Lisa and Dave Proietti and their son, Dylan. If you’re in town, stop by to meet them and give their wares a try. You can tour the farm to learn about the 1,500 varieties of lavender plants they grow, and shop in the store for lavender culinary, personal, and pet products. Then stay to enjoy a handcrafted cocktail in Dylan’s yurt bar and grab a mouth-watering prosciutto and mozzarella sandwich from Picnic, the onsite food truck.
After a relaxing hour or so on the farm, Poppy and I were getting a bit sleepy. But there’s no time to rest when you only have one day to explore. So we borrowed complimentary bikes, helmets, and locks from Hotel Maverick and headed down to the Colorado River.
After a nice ride along the water, we met the owner of Grand Junction Adventures, Elizabeth Fortushniak, for a stand-up paddleboard (SUP) lesson. SUP is one of the many sports Grand Junction Adventures offers, from mountain biking to rafting trips. If you plan to visit Grand Junction with kids, Elizabeth recommends trying the summer lazy river runs. This tubing adventure down a seasonal side chute of the Colorado River is a huge hit with her own boys.
Next, we rode our borrowed bikes back up to Main Street for some shopping (and sampling). Poppy bought a few sweets in the old-fashioned candy shop and we headed to the Candle Kitchen. Here she got to play candle scientist, smelling dozens of unique scents before deciding which ones to use in her own candle recipe. She decided on campfire and pink sugar, mixing them to perfection. Her candle made a great souvenir.
My favorite mementos were tasty treats from Enstrom Toffee. I loaded up on chocolate-covered toffee and toffee popcorn with almonds, cashews, and pecans. If you visit this local shop before noon, you can watch the candymakers craft the toffee from scratch.
For dinner, we went to Moody’s, a 1920s speakeasy-inspired lounge on Main Street. You’ll definitely want a reservation to dine here because it was packed on a Saturday night. Poppy recommends the bread service—she loved all the assorted breads and spreads. But save room for dessert at Gelato Junction. It’s a nice walk from the restaurant and gives you a chance to see more of the 100-plus sculptures that dot the tree-lined streets of Downtown Grand Junction.
Poppy and I slept well in our oversized bunk bed that night, but were sad to be leaving Grand Junction when we had only just arrived. We still wanted to check out the Book Cliffs—home to wild mustangs—and Rattlesnake Arches. If we’d had more time, we also could have squeezed in a day trip to Moab—only two hours away—to try Dan Mick’s Jeep Tours and take a river cruise at night. We can’t wait to go back.
Cover photo Heidi Gollub
Heidi Gollub enjoys working remotely and already misses the days when her kids could take virtual schooling on the road. An Austin local, she is always on the lookout for easy family getaways that require little-to-no prep work.