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Full disclosure… I’m not a mountain biker. I used to be when I lived in the mountains of Colorado. Everybody bikes and skis and hikes. It’s the way of life there.
Mountain biking is also becoming the way of life in Grand Junction in the Grand Valley on Colorado’s western slope. Though Moab, Utah has long claimed to be the mountain bike mecca of the West, Grand Junction is fast catching up.
It used to be that after the ski areas close in April and May when mountain trails are too muddy to ride, everyone flocks to the dry red rocks of Moab to rev up their biking skills.
But anyone having to drive through Grand Junction to get to Moab soon learns they don’t have to drive the extra two hours to get to great trails. They all are right there.
“Moab has had classic mountain biking for a long time,” said Adde Sharp, a public lands advocate with Eagle Valley Land Trust and avid biker whose family has a home in Grand Junction. “But people have discovered how great it is here [GJ]. It’s a wave that’s growing and expanding.”
History of Mountain Biking
Though the two towns ushered in the new sport at about the same time—Moab after the uranium mines closed in the mid-80s with the first Canyonlands Fat Tire Festival, and Grand Junction in 1989 with the opening of the 138-mile Kokopelli Trail—Moab earned the title of “mecca” first.
Why, I wonder?
“It’s pretty simple.” said Landon Monholland with Over The Edge Sports in Fruita in the Grand Valley. “Moab was an accident. It’s stunningly gorgeous and littered with old mining roads that early mountain bikers found interesting to ride.
The Slickrock trail was a motorcycle trail that was like nothing else on earth. Everyone was going there.”
And that became issue number one. Motorcycles, ATVs and UTVs are still crawling around the rolling expanse of slickrock hills in Moab. We saw noisy caravans of them everywhere.
Not in Grand Junction. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on mountain bike trails around Grand Junction and the rest of the valley.
Now, there’s even pushback on allowing e-bikes on the trails, though that will probably be a gradual acceptance for certain trails.
In addition, the trails in the Grand Valley are “purpose-built.” They have been specifically designed with mountain biking in mind.
“Our store founders and a bunch of other locals decided that we could build something Moab didn’t have — Singletrack,” Monholland said. “Bikers like to ride narrow trails.” In 1989, the group founded the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA).
Its mission is to build, maintain and advocate for sustainable singletrack trails in the Colorado Plateau region of western Colorado. “Between our guys and the COPMOBA folks, entire trail systems were born,” he said.
“It was like Egyptians out there building trails,” said Kent Sharp, CEO of SE Group, a Colorado-based international consulting firm in the mountain resort industry and father of Adde Sharp.
“The purpose-built trails are thoughtfully laid out with the right turning radius and flow, appropriate grade for climbing and cool overlooks, like a foot from sheer drops,” he said with a grin.
“There’s lots of variety throughout the valley,” said Adde. “Gravel roads, paved road riding, and mountain biking—you need a quiver of bikes.”
She and her dad go out riding every day after work in early spring when Grand Junction comes alive. “The whole town is embracing bike culture.
The Kokopelli Trail, created by COPMOBA, runs from Grand Junction to Moab. Every spring, the organization sponsors the Kokopelli Trail Guided Bike Tour as a fundraiser in mid-May. The ride is also dubbed Tour de Bloom because of the flowering desert the trail crosses.
Lunch Loops is perhaps the most popular trail system for biking and hiking, named by locals who ride it during lunchtime since it’s so close to town.
It features mostly intermediate and difficult trails with two—Free Lunch and Pucker-Up—designated for one-way downhill mountain biking only and no hiking.
Colorado National Monument Rim Rock Road runs 23 miles through the monument paralleling the cliff’s edge above town. Once you’ve climbed the 2,300 feet, the paved road is flat with spectacular views of deep canyons, spiral red-rock formations and wildlife, and there’s very little car traffic.
By the way, the difference between a National Park and a National Monument is that Congress identifies the parks; presidents name national monuments. There are 129 national monuments in the U.S.
The Riverfront Trail is a flat 30-mile paved path connecting the towns of Fruita, Grand Junction and Palisade. It’s an easy ride passing through wetlands, cattail marshes and cottonwood trees at the junction of the Colorado and Gunnison Rivers.
Downtown Grand Junction is charming and walkable from end to end. From antiques to apparel and books to bike shops, it’s got everything visitors want for browsing and shopping. Parking is free after four p.m. and on holidays, so you can enjoy strolling and then staying for dinner.
Dining in Grand Junction
Sitting in the agriculturally rich Grand Valley, Grand Junction’s restaurants source many of their ingredients from local farms.
Taco Party features unconventional tacos creatively made with local ingredients that change with the seasons. We ordered for takeout, but their eat-in space is clean and sleek.
Pablo’s Pizza on Main Street offers scratch-made pizzas, including gluten-free and cauliflower crust.
Cafe Sol is open for breakfast and lunch 8-3 every day. Watch your meal being prepared in the open kitchen, then enjoy on the patio or indoor dining room.
Breweries and Distilleries
Palisade is Colorado’s Wine Country, but Grand Junction has its share of the other spirits. There’s Highlands Distillery, Monumental Beer Works, Ramblebine Brewing, and Handlebar Taphouse, mentioned above.
If grapes rather than hops is your choice, there is one winery in Grand Junction—Two Rivers Winery & Chateau, and it’s a beauty.
Spread out in the Redlands neighborhood, it features a living-room tasting room and chateau-style Bed & Breakfast.
For more to see, do and ride in Grand Junction, go to www.visitgrandjunction.com/
Book This Trip
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Author bio: Colorado native Claudia Carbone is an award-winning journalist, author and longtime contributor to GoWorldTravel.com. She also writes for London Sunday Telegraph, Colorado Expression magazine, RealFoodTraveler.com, MTNTown Magazine, Denver Post and other publications. Visit her travel blog Sleepin Around on GoWorldTravel.