Grand Mesa is the largest mesa in the world and covers roughly 500 square miles. The mesa stretches 40 miles east of Grand Junction, Colorado, nestled between the Colorado and the Gunnison Rivers which helped to shape this high mountain retreat. Reaching heights of 11,000 feet, the mesa is a cool, green oasis high above the semi-arid and desert terrain of western Colorado. Thanks to the geologic wonders, 300 high altitude lakes and plenty of outdoor adventures, Grand Mesa is a fantastic place to visit during the summer months.
Formed as lava seeped through fissures in the earth 10 million years ago and formed a hard protective crust, the softer stone of the mesa was eaten away by the two rivers that flank it, leaving this gigantic formation behind. The Ute Indians referred to Grand Mesa as “Thunder Mountain;” an apt name since during the summer months, huge thunderstorms boil up over the mesa and spread to the surrounding valleys.
Most of the mesa falls within the Grand Mesa National Forest. Dotted with campgrounds and day-use areas, it offers plenty of places to pitch your tent. There are about 700 miles of designated hiking, all-terrain vehicle and horse trails within the National Forest providing a variety of exciting outdoor adventures. One of the best hiking opportunities is on the Crag Crest National Recreation Trail. The trail is 10.3 miles long and circles the rim of Crater Peak, elevation 11,327 feet. Since you’ll hike to the highest point on the mesa, you’ll have a heart-stopping panoramic view of the San Juan Mountains to the south, and the Bookcliffs and Roan Cliffs to the northwest, plus hundreds of miles of high desert terrain in the valleys below.
The Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway crosses the mesa on a 55-mile scenic trip — the view ranges from orchards to alpine meadows, lakes to fir forests. While parts of the top of the mesa are flat, other areas are very rugged, making the drive extraordinarily beautiful.
With more than 300 lakes and reservoirs, Grand Mesa is trout fishing heaven. From first-hand experience, this much standing water and temperate climate also makes the top of the mesa into mosquito heaven, so don’t forget the bug spray!
Spring, summer, winter and fall, the view atop Grand Mesa changes with the seasons, and each season offers something special. In spring, there are entire meadows of alpine wildflowers. In the fall, the aspens change color. Most years, the aspens burn like molten gold, but if you are very lucky, you might hit a year when the aspens turn multiple colors — gold, orange and burning red. During the summer months, the fertile valleys that flank the mesa grow a wide variety of fresh produce. Around almost every corner is a farmers market, where you can purchase scrumptious sun-ripened peaches, sweet-sweet-sweet corn, tomatoes and more. Thanks to a perfect combination of volcanic soil, sun and summer rain, the sides of Grand Mesa and nearby areas are home to some fantastic vineyards and wineries, so be sure to stop along the way to sample the fruits of the earth. During the winter months, there are plenty of cross-country skiing and snowmobiling opportunities. These include three groomed cross-country ski areas and the Sunlight to Powderhorn snowmobile trail (plus more than 100 miles of marked snowmobile trails).
While Grand Mesa is near the Aspen & Crystal River Valleys, and the towns of Crawford, Delta, Grand Junction & North Fork Valley, there are plenty of resorts, hotels, cabins and bed & breakfasts on top of the mesa where you can rest your weary head — Spruce Ridge Lodge, Grand Mesa Lodge, Cedaredge Lodge, G R Bar Ranch Cabins, and Stewart Homestead Cabin, to name just a few.