Grand Valley: This corner of Colorado is quickly becoming a must-visit spot

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Palisade, Colorado (CNN) — Colorado’s iconic spots have been around almost forever, and we know their names by heart: Vail, Aspen and Breckenridge, along with Denver, a city that has exploded over the past decade, to name a few.

For something new, the traveler should head further west in the state, where the emerging yet relatively unknown region known as the Grand Valley has become Colorado’s next must-visit destination.

Located on the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, four hours west of Denver (which is on the eastern side of the Rockies, or the Front Range), the valley contains three distinct cities: Palisade, Grand Junction, and Fruita.

All three destinations offer much to experience individually and collectively, including fruit and wine regions, river activities, and access to a unique combination of mountain and desert terrain for hiking, biking, and scenic drives.

Come along as we break down and explore this up-and-coming area of ​​Colorado.

Palisade: Fruit, Wine and Agricultural Tours

Horse-drawn carriage rides through the rose-lined streets of the Palisade, past farm stands and wine tasting rooms bursting with color. The landscape is a memorable combination of peach orchards, vineyards and, depending on which way you look, mountain peaks and desert valley cliffs.

James Sanders, a longtime peach farmer, waves to his neighbors sitting on his front porch as he pulls his yellow and blue forklift from nearby fields to high piles of local fruit at the entrance to his farm market, the Palisade Peach Shack. for the town.

Moments later, he reappears, this time on a tractor, pulling a trailer of smiling guests into his peach orchard for a U-pick tour.

It’s another day of summer in Palisade, a fruit and grape growing community of 3,000 people where visitors come to escape city life and enjoy local food, farms and wine.

Peaches are a staple crop in Colorado's Grand Valley.  It is also a wine growing region.

Peaches are a staple crop in Colorado’s Grand Valley. It is also a wine growing region.

Julia Cavalleri/Tropical Disco Media

“There’s something about this place,” Sanders said. “Putting your feet up on the porch, getting into a glass of wine, having greasy hands after eating a peach, knowing that all the farmers and locals are really nice people and easy to talk to. … That’s the life we’re in. Stay here. is.”

Palisade’s appreciation began in the late 1800s when its early farmers planted the area’s first peach trees. Today, the Palisade Peach is Colorado’s most famous crop, featured in nationally available products such as Breckenridge Brewery’s Palisade Peach Wheat Beer and immortalized.

Apples, apricots, plums, lavender and numerous vegetables also now grow in abundance. This year, Palisade’s Sunday farmers market took third place on USA Today’s 2022 Best Farmers Market Readers’ Choice list, even though it was the smallest market nominee.

Motorists and bikers alike can explore the bounties of the palisade through this Fruit and wine bywaywhich passes through the gardens and vineyards of the city.

Summer is the main season for production, with peaches in July, August and September. Stop by Peach Shack, Talbot Farms, Clark Family Orchards or McLean Farms for peaches and other locally grown produce, Field to Fork or Blaine Farm Store.

The harvest can also be enjoyed at Palisade’s restaurants, including the refined cuisine of Péche, weekend burger nights at Maison La Belle Vie, cocktails at Fidel’s, freshly made breads and sandwiches and sweet treats at Slice O Life Bakery. at Palisade Pies.

Restoration Vineyards is a family-owned operation on East Orchard Mesa above the Colorado River in Palisade.

Restoration Vineyards is a family-owned operation on East Orchard Mesa above the Colorado River in Palisade.

Kathleen Favier

Colorado’s wine country is the ‘new Sonoma’

Last year, Food & Wine magazine anointed Colorado’s Western Slope as “the new Sonoma,” with Palisade’s aforementioned orchards and nearly 30 wineries at the center of the comparison.

As you can imagine, it caused quite a stir among local residents, who have seen the region transition from a collection of “pioneer hobby growers” to a new wave of winemaking professionals.

“Twenty or thirty years ago, when they started making wine here in Palisade, it was farmers who grew fruit and maybe had a small plot of grapes,” said Joe Flynn, winemaker at Plum Creek Winery, who is launching his own brand. Peripheral Sellers, this fall. “They were more hobby growers, but they put Palisade on the map as a small wine-growing region, albeit without much fanfare.”

“But as Palisade has evolved, we’ve been taken more seriously,” Flynn said. “More people came and realized that the wine here was just as good—if not better—than the wine grown in our west, and the Palisade truly offered a unique terrain and growing region that attracted people from out of state. Come in, where the pioneers came from.” Pick up what was left behind, improve what they’ve created for us, and be a part of this upcoming scene.”

Hop on board with Pali Tours for an open-air, “safari-style” wine tasting tour, cruise between wineries with the always-on-call Palisade Pedicab (also great as a scenic taxi service to happy hour/dinner from your accommodation) or Fruit & Wine Rent a bike from Rapid Creek Cycles in downtown Palisade to explore at your own pace using the byway map.

Stops include Restoration Vineyards, Sauvage Spectrum, Colteris and Carlson Vineyards.

The Colorado River flows through the palisade.

The Colorado River flows through the palisade.

Julia Cavalleri/Tropical Disco Media

Grand Junction and Fruita

About 20 minutes southwest of Palisade is Grand Junction, Grand Valley’s largest city.

Understanding the name Grand Junction requires some historical perspective. To the delight of rafters and river rats, the Gunnison River flows into the famous Colorado River in this valley.

At the time the area was founded, the Colorado River went by a different name: the Grand River. (It was officially changed to the Colorado River in 1921). Hence the names, Grand Junction — the confluence of the Grand and Gunnison rivers — and Grand Valley.

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You can see the confluence of rivers on a bike via the Riverfront Trail. Hop on at Las Colonias Park and the cruise ends at Connected Lakes, downstream. Want a closer look? Jump on the river by renting a paddleboard or raft from Grand Junction Adventures at Las Colonias Park.

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Then, visit Main Street and the surrounding downtown area to browse the abundance of locally owned shops, including a major antique collector (A Robin’s Nest). outdoor-oriented thrift shops (Gear Junction); Breweries (Ramblewine); and dining (The Hog and the Hen for charcuterie and fresh market sandwiches, Bin 707 for seasonal Colorado cuisine, and Devil’s Kitchen for steaks and rooftop views, to name a few).

If you want to dress the part, stop by the Grand Junction Western Wear or Boot Barn for cowboy hats, boots and suits.

At night, check out what’s happening at area music venues, such as the Mesa Theater, Avalon Theater, or Las Colonias Amphitheater. The latter is located on the Colorado River and often draws major national acts (including Snoop Dogg and 311 this year).

A mountain biker rides the Kokopelli Trail System near Fruita, Colorado.

A mountain biker rides the Kokopelli Trail System near Fruita, Colorado.

Dave Grossman/Confluence Image/E+/Getty Images

At the far west end of the valley, just 19 miles (30.5 kilometers) from the Utah border, you’ll find Fruita, a small town with a big reputation for its world-class mountain biking, including the Zippyty Loop in North Fruita. the desert Hikers should head to the Devil’s Canyon trail system to wander its cliffs, canyons and streams.

Families will love Dinosaur Journey at Fruita, which features more than 15,000 fossil specimens, interactive exhibits, and a paleontology lab. The museum also offers half- and full-day excursions with professional paleontologists, where children get to dig for bones in a working quarry. You can find other dinosaur sites nearby, such as the Dinosaur Diamond Scenic Byway and the family-friendly Dinosaur Hill Hike.

Where the mountains meet the desert

In addition to the confluence of rivers, the “Grand Junction” moniker also alludes to another natural confluence, which is great news for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore a variety of terrain.

Located on the northeastern corner of the Colorado Plateau, Grand Valley is where the Rocky Mountains meet the desert valleys of the southwest, offering the adventurer easy access to wildly different landscapes through hiking, biking, and scenic drives. An outdoor enthusiast might be in a red-rock canyon in the morning, a pine forest trail after lunch, and on a river in the afternoon.

The divide is between Grand Junction and Fruita Colorado National MonumentIts high desert landscape is dotted with red rock canyons, high buttes and juniper trees.
Near Grand Junction is a red rock canyon in the Colorado National Monument.

Near Grand Junction is a red rock canyon in the Colorado National Monument.

jsnewtonian/Adobe Stock

Begin your journey at the East Gate of Grand Junction and take Rim Rock Drive west, stopping along the way at trails such as Devil’s Kitchen, Ute Canyon, and the Independence Monument viewpoint.

You’ll find sweeping views of the Grand Valley as you exit the West Gate of Fruita. Then, do as the locals do and top it off with a beer and Grand Valley’s best pizza at Hot Tomato in downtown Fruita.

For a drastic change of scenery, head to Grand Mesa National Forest via Interstate 70. The entrance, along the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, is an hour’s drive from Fruita (and closer to Grand Junction and Palisade).

This high-alpine mountain recreation area, east of Grand Valley, is home to dense pine forests, aspen groves and more than 300 lakes. It is considered the largest flattop mountain in the world and has numerous campgrounds, cabins, and hiking and biking trails.

For an iconic Grand Mesa experience, tackle the Crag Crest Trail and enjoy its scenic views; To see a string of backcountry lakes, take the short but sweet Land O’ Lakes Trail; And spend the night in a mountain cabin at Alexander Lake Lodge or Mesa Lakes Lodge, where you can rent canoes, kayaks or fishing gear.

On those long summer days, cool off on the Colorado River and float your way through Palisade, Grand Junction or Fruita with a rafting, tubing or paddleboarding trip from Paddleboard Adventure Company or Centennial Canoe. End your day with a drink at The Sneak Line in Palisade to swap stories with other river-goers.

For accommodations with personality, the Wine Valley Inn in Palisade is a good choice.

For accommodations with personality, the Wine Valley Inn in Palisade is a good choice.

Will McGough/Wake & Wonder Media

Where to stay and how to get there

Main Street in Grand Junction offers a selection of chain hotels for points collectors (including two Marriott properties), and similar, familiar accommodations can be found in Fruita.

But if you’re looking for local accommodations with personality, Palisade is the place.

For wine country bed and breakfast vibes, stay with Dave and Michelle at the historic, antique-filled Wine Valley Inn (adults only) or enjoy a resort experience at the Wine Country Inn just down the road.

For bikers and outdoor adventurers, the choice is easy: the Spoke & Wine Motel, where locals gather every Monday for drinks. Want to camp? Grab a tent site or cabin at Palisade Basecamp, located next to the Colorado River.

To access the region, you’ll fly into Grand Junction Airport (GJT), which was crowned the Colorado Airport in 2021.

Despite its location in remote western Colorado, most people in America can only come to Grand Valley with one connection. There are direct flights from major hubs such as Denver, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Phoenix.

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