Colorado’s Hidden Gem: Outdoor Recreation on Grand Mesa
When you want to get off the beaten track, find a special camping site, trail or fishing hole, come explore the Grand Mesa, a true hidden gem in Colorado. Explore the Scenic Byway and you’ll be certain to find a spot to call your own, full of great memories and a spirit of adventure. The Grand Mesa is vast, with 346,500 acres of alpine forests and over 300 lakes flanked with red rock canyons, aspens, evergreens and rolling oak brush covered hills.
For road cycling and bike touring, the 63 mile National Scenic Byway is a bucket list ride for bicycle touring and part of the acclaimed Colorado Cols high routes. Start your ride in Mesa and finish in the quaint town of Cedaredge for a hot soak and cold beer. During the summer months you can fill your water bottles at the Forest Service visitor center or at several of the campgrounds on top of Grand Mesa. Provisions and lodging are available in Mesa, Collbran, Cedaredge and at several lodges and campgrounds along the byway.
Camping & Fishing
Camping on Grand Mesa boasts numerous options. Get out the tent, the camper van or come for the character of cozy cabins at one of the many lodges in the area. Outfit your favorite fishing pole in the style you choose and cast for seven species of trout. The lakes on the Grand Mesa are fished in the warmer months and also are destinations for ice fishing.
At an elevation of 8,000 feet, Vega State Park’s high-mountain lake sits in a beautiful montane meadow on the northeast edge of Grand Mesa National Forest. Vega is great year round for birding, hiking among the changing aspen, fishing and cross-country skiing. Snowmobilers and off-highway vehicle riders can access hundreds of miles of trails in Grand Mesa National Forest from Vega Early Settlers campground, cabins or OHV lot.
Hiking, Mountain Biking and Trails
For trail enthusiasts, there’s something for all abilities on the Mesa. Hiking and trail running on the Crag Crest National Recreation Trail is a breathtaking experience . . . no really! At 10,500 ft elevation even the most fit adventurer will be stopping to take an breath and enjoy the jaw-dropping views along this 10 mile loop. For the softer side of hiking with equally spectacular views try the Land O’ Lakes Overlook, a gentle hike with views of 13 lakes and the valley floor below. Mountain bikers enjoy the rolling Flowing Park Loop and, for more downhill thrills, the Old Grand Mesa Shuttle Run. Powderhorn Mountain Resort also boast a new bike park. Pick up a copy of the Short Hikes Brochure at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center, U.S. Forest Service staff will be able to help you out.
Motorized Trails and OHV
The ATV trails of the Grand Mesa National Forest offer 150 miles of adventure in your ATV and 4WD vehicle. The trails travel through the forests filled with numerous lakes, meadows of thick, tall grass and wildflowers as well as dense strands of Aspen, Douglas fir and Englemann Spruce trees. Both easier rides for beginners, as well as advanced trails travel through the area just south of the towns of Mesa and Collbran. The more advanced trails boast deep mud holes, and steep, rocky hill climbs. However, since most of the trails are located on the flat-top mountains, the trails are not as strenuous as other Colorado trails. However, the trails are still filled with rock crawling, water crossings, hill climbs and leisurely meadow tours. Please Tread Lightly and follow the Motorized Travel Rules.
For rock climbers there’s a prominent, east-west landform capped by hard, volcanic basalt. The original basalt field may have had a surface area of up to 750 square miles, but due to extensive erosion, the present-day remnant is about 53 square miles. This remnant has a “Y-shaped” outline, with Crag Crest on the east forming the stem, and the Palisade and Flowing Park lobes forming the branches. Occasional large volcanic flow events deposited layers of basalt up to 70 feet thick, creating steep, featured walls with amazing rock quality. Check out the Lands End area or Palisade Lobe with the Beyond Civilization Wall, Paleosol Wall and Kaleidoscope Wall, with bolted and trad routes in the 5.8 to 5.11 range.
Winter recreation abounds on the Mesa. Downhill skiers head to Powderhorn Mountain Resort and XC and backcountry skiers and snowshoers have numerous routes and groomed options on the National Forest. Snowmobilers enjoy areas of the National Forest designated for winter use and motorized over the snow travel. Be aware of avalanche danger in the backcountry and travel with the appropriate safety equipment. Several of the lodges on Grand Mesa operate year round, serving as a perfect basecamp for winter recreation.
Any time of year you will want your camera. You can find natural beauty around every corner. Wildlife can be found from the least chipmunk to the majestic moose. Come explore Grand Mesa and you can always find something to frame for that special shot. In all your travels on Grand Mesa, please Leave No Trace and help us care for this special place.