Grand Mesa National Forest
Camping, Hiking, Fishing, Biking, Skiing: The 63 miles of the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway takes you 6,000 feet up into breathtaking scenes of endless forests and more than 300 lakes. You will travel through four ecological zones on this single drive “from desert sandstone canyon to the evergreen-rich forests.”
Grand Mesa is the largest flattop mountain in the world. Visitor’s Centers along the way has information for fishing, boating, biking, camping and skiing as well as interpretive exhibits and public restrooms.
Land o’ Lakes Area – Grand Mesa Visitor Center Island Lake: You’ll find 18 lakes, all within walking distance of each other. They can be viewed at the Land o’ Lakes overlook just above Island Lake. In the summer, you’ll find excellent fishing and boating and by winter, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Land’s End Area – Historic Ranger Observatory: You will be able to see from Utah to central Colorado from this point. You’ll also view the Land’s End Archeological Excavation, which revealed 8,000 years of human occupation.
Mesa Lakes Area – Powderhorn Resort: The Mesa Lakes are on the north side of Grand Mesa. An extensive trail system provides outdoor recreation opportunities year round. Griffith Lake Area, just east of Mesa Lakes, offers back country fishing and camping and the Mesa Creek Ski Area is still used today by winter sledders and boarders. Just 45 minutes from Palisade, you’ll also find Powderhorn Resort, a family-oriented ski resort.
Plateau Valley Area – Mesa, Collbran and Vega State Park: At the north end of the byway you’ll see desert sandstone canyons carved by Plateau Creek. Vega State Park offers fishing, boating and fully equipped RV camping.
To get there, take I-70 east toward Denver. Take Exit 49, which is Highway 65. The highway will wind through the Grand Mesa taking visitors through Cederedge. Turn right on Highway 92 to drive to Delta and then take Highway 50 back to Grand Junction and I-70. The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway is a 55-mile trip ranging from the Orchards of the valley floor to alpine meadows and lakes nestled in spruce and fir forests. The Grand Mesa Visitor Center at Cobbett Lake is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during summer months. For more information, call the Grand Mesa Visitor Center at (970) 856-4153 or visit the National Scenic Byways Program.
There is one campground, Cobbett Campground, and five single-day areas: Ward Way, Glacier Springs, Valley View, Mesa Lakes and Wild Rose. Camping is permitted outside of designated campgrounds.
Although there is 700 miles of designated trails within the forest for all forest users, hikers will get a real treat with the Crag Crest Trail, just off the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. The trail is a 10.3-mile loop with a 360-degree panoramic view that spans from the Bookcliffs near Palisade, Colorado to the San Juan Mountain range.
Cross Country Skiing, Snowshoeing: This beautiful winter wonderland atop this flattop mountain lends itself to winter sports. The Grand Mesa Nordic Council underwrites the cross-country trail grooming so there are no fees for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, but there are donation boxes at the trail head.
The Grand Mesa has three trail systems that are primarily for the self-sufficient recreationist as there are no warming lodges, rental equipment or ski lessons, although there are lessons through the Grand Mesa Gliders.
To get there, take I-70 east toward Denver. Take Exit 49, which is Highway 65. About 20 miles on Highway 65. The Skyway Trail parking area is at Mile Marker 32 on Highway 65. The trail has five loop trails that vary from just under two miles to about six and are combindable into routes of various lengths with views of the Bookcliffs. The County Line Trails have a separate parking pulling at Mile Market 30, but there is a 1.5-mile connector trail between the two. County Line is an easier trail system and provides spectacular southward views toward the San Juan Mountains. At Mile Marker 25, you’ll find Ward Creek with its extensive trail system and bigger elevation variance. These challenging trails can be as long or short as the skier wants.
Snowmobiling: Typically, the east side of the highway is designated for skiers and the west side for snowmobilers with more than 100 miles of marked snowmobile trails. Snowmobile tours are offered at the Grand Mesa Lodge along the 800 square miles on the mesa top with its groomed trails, open meadows, hidden valleys or steep slopes. You can find the Grand Mesa Lodge 34 miles south of I-70 on Exit 49 near Mile Marker 28, or call (800) 551-6372.