Napa, Sonoma, Bordeaux and Tuscany. The regions read like the starting position of the wine world. But in Colorado, there’s a lesser-known, still-growing wine country that’s ready to explore, especially if you’re into outdoor adventure as much as crushed grapes and think both belong on a vacation itinerary.
The final stretch of a four-hour drive from Denver winds through earthy red cliffs to the western slope, where you’ll find peach stalls and wineries, as well as a new riverside park, epic mountain bike rides, and scenic hikes. And for a one-of-a-kind stay, Hotel Maverick is a boutique hotel on the Colorado Mesa University campus, where eager hospitality students help run the show and build the menus.
Palisade, Grand Junction and Fruita together form the Grand Valley. The area is defined by Colorado’s greatest geographic hits: towering rock formations, the Rocky Mountains, and a wide stretch of the Colorado River. As winemakers prove, the warm days and cool nights yield great grapes here too.
Ahead, a wine trail for adventurers in the Grand Junction area that, like all good blends, is all about balance.
Where to stay:
The 60-room Hotel Maverick is a boutique hotel in Grand Junction, meaning students learn hospitality and culinary skills on the university-owned property managed by Charlestowne Hotels. Grab a table on the fourth-floor rooftop of Devil’s Kitchen and enjoy views of the red rock landscapes as you choose between a decadent platter of fried lobster and waffles or Colorado bison tamales.
Those coming to the Grand Junction area for a wine tour can book the “Gourmand Getaway” package that includes a charcuterie board, bottle of wine, three-course tasting dinner, plus an immersive tour and tasting at Talon Winery, which is owned by an experienced falconer .
Wineries to try:
Palisade is considered Colorado’s wine country, with a few dozen wineries offering laid-back tasting rooms and scenic views of the valley dotted with grape vines.
At Sauvage Spectrum, winemaker Patric Matysiewski has no interest in mimicking varieties grown in other regions; he makes fruity sparkling wines and pet-nats true to Colorado’s terroir. Grapes are grown in his Palisade vineyard, where volcanic rock gives a unique minerality.
On Peach Avenue, winemaker Ben Parsons transformed a former peach packing shed into a spacious tasting room for his Ordinary Fellow wines. Before his tenure in Western Colorado, he was the lead winemaker at The Infinite Monkey Theorem, where he convinced the masses to give canned wine a shot. Now Parsons grows Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes in a southwestern part of the state, where the occasional old pottery shards left over from an unexcavated Pueblo ruin turn up in the red earth vineyard. Leather and velvet sofas fill its spacious tasting room, which also has a vending machine stocked with local crafts and artwork. The food truck Le Snack is parked right outside, swinging seasonal snacks like peach and shishito kebabs.
Another must visit, Colterris has a front row view of the dramatic Roan Plateau and guests can ride horses through the vineyards as part of a unique wine tasting offering. The winery makes a “Coloradeaux” red blend, as well as Cabernet Sauvignons, Syrahs, Pinot Gris and more.
Adventures to look up:
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in this region, including the new Palisade Plunge, a wild ride from the Alps to the desert that descends 52 miles from the top of Grand Mesa National Forest to the valley floor in Palisade. Ten years in the making, the trail is designed for experienced mountain bikers who can confidently cruise along cliffs and handle a 6,000-foot descent.
For a more relaxed adventure, the newly opened Riverfront in Las Colonias Park is a great place to beat the high desert heat. Grand Junction Adventures has an outpost in the park and rents out stand-up paddleboards, rafts, kayaks, and inner tubes for leisurely floating down the river, which has a few ripples here and there breaking the calm waters.
Outside of Grand Junction, hikers can discover a collection of 35 natural arches hiding in Rattlesnake Canyon. It is one of Colorado’s best kept secrets and has the second largest concentration of arches after Utah’s Arches National Park.