12 Top-Rated Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Junction, CO
The section of Colorado that sits west of the continental divide is known as the Western Slope. It covers about a third of the state of Colorado and is home to some of the most raw, rugged, and varied scenery in the country. Grand Junction is one of the capitals of the Western Slope and is packed with fantastic, exciting, and absolutely beautiful things to do.
To start, Grand Junction is the home of the Colorado National Monument — a rust-colored canyon known for its rock formations, hiking trails, and epic views out over the Grand Valley. This alone is one of the best things to do in Colorado. Grand Junction is also home to the Grand Mesa National Forest, Dominguez Canyon, a section of the Colorado River, and plenty of state parks and mountain biking tracks.
But Grand Junction is also packed with history. It is the biggest city in Mesa County and was originally home to the Ute Native Americans. In 1881, the area was inundated with settlers, and soon a townsite followed. It is named Grand Junction because it sits at the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado Rivers. You can see evidence of the centuries of history of Grand Junction in both its historic downtown and its collection of museums.
But far and away, the best places to visit in Grand Junction are all in the great outdoors. Discover remarkable scenery, thousands of years of history, architecture, camping, and hiking, right here in the capital of Colorado's Western Slope. Plan your visit with our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in Grand Junction, Colorado.
- 1. Drive to the Colorado National Monument
- 2. Explore Historic Downtown
- 3. Visit the Museums of Western Colorado
- 4. Catch a Show at The Avalon
- 5. Discover Grand Mesa
- 6. Hike Dominguez Canyon
- 7. Run with Wild Horses
- 8. Explore the James M. Robb - Colorado River State Park
- 9. Get Your Thrills at the Motor Speedway
- 10. Get Soaked at Jet Boat Colorado
- 11. Camp in the Surrounding Hills
- 12. Wander the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens
- Map of Attractions & Things to Do in Grand Junction, CO
1. Drive to the Colorado National Monument
If you're a fan of Wild West scenery, then a stop at the Colorado National Monument is an absolute must when visiting Grand Junction. Just outside the city, this testament to the western Colorado landscape rises out of the desert like a red-hued mirage.
The crimson-colored canyon opens up to towering monoliths, sheer-walled canyons, and a snaking Rim Rock Drive that leads all the way to the top. This unit of the National Park System spans 31 square miles and is one of the highest concentrations of the magnificent red rocks for which Colorado is known.
The best way to get acquainted with the monument is to drive the Rim Rock Drive, with its hairpin turns and switchbacks that carve all the way up to the top of the plateau. Several pullouts offer spectacular viewpoints from which to gaze down at the expansive canyon or out over the striped sandstone spires.
A great area for camping, hiking, and mountain biking, the trails systems within the monument are among the best in the state. The monument area also features 13 backcountry trails that range in elevation from 4,700 feet to more than 7,000 feet. If you want a great introduction to Grand Junction, the Colorado National Monument is certainly it.
2. Explore Historic Downtown
Downtown Grand Junction is the beating heart of the city — from its historic roots to the modern-day flair. Main Street is flanked by historic buildings that today house the city's shopping, dining, and art galleries.
The Main Street you see today was constructed that way in the 1960s, when the area was transformed into a pedestrian-friendly shopping park. In fact, the design has been extended from Main Street to Seventh Street and Colorado Avenue, to form a regional entertainment and arts center.
Speaking of arts, Grand Junction hosts what is known as First Fridays. On the first Friday of the month, local galleries open their doors for visitors to stroll in and out to create a social vibe. The scene spills into the streets, with social meetups being held at restaurants along the way.
During the warmer months, the air of downtown Grand Junction is typically alive with live music, especially in the evenings. It is one of the best places to get to know the city of Grand Junction.
3. Visit the Museums of Western Colorado
You can learn all about the history of Western Colorado right here in Grand Junction. The city is home to the collection of Museums of Western Colorado, which comprises one of the largest museum complexes between Salt Lake City and Denver. The museums include the Cross Orchards Historic Site, the Dinosaur Journey Museum, and the Museum of the West.
The Cross Orchard Historic Site is a 4.3-acre space that was once part of a 243-acre fruit ranch that operated between the 1890s and 1920s. Today the site is on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as a recreation exhibit to showcase what life was like in Grand Junction in the early 20th century. Visitors can interact with interpreters dressed in costume who can tell them "firsthand" stories about daily life in the Grand Valley.
Also in Grand Junction, the Dinosaur Journey Museum is yet another place to visit to learn about the ancient history of Western Colorado. The museum tells the story of prehistoric life through real-life fossils, cast skeletons, and robotic recreations of dinosaurs. In fact, at the museum, you'll find one of the largest triceratops skulls in the world. You'll also find interactive displays, a laboratory where scientists study dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, a library, and play spaces where kids can "dig" for their own dinosaur bones.
Finally, Grand Junction is home to the Museum of the West, a regional history museum that walks visitors through a millennium of history. Learn about the ancestral pueblo that was once in the area, or take a glimpse at the Ute rock art. Visitors can also look at historic firearms that the cowboys and outlaws of the Wild West used, or sit in a recreated one-room schoolhouse.
Address: 462 Ute Avenue, Grand Junction, Colorado
4. Catch a Show at The Avalon
It's not all about the outdoors in Grand Junction — though you certainly can design a trip to Grand Junction entirely around the outdoors. That said, a trip to Historic Downtown is a must, as is a trip to the Avalon Theatre.
The theater was opened in 1923 and still remains one of the largest performing arts centers in Colorado — it can seat more than 1,000 people. Over the last 100 years, the theater has played host to greats like Al Jolson, John Philip Sousa, Pat Benatar, and many others. Today, in addition to musical performances, it hosts film series, dance, lectures, and private events.
Address: 645 Main Street, Grand Junction, Colorado
5. Discover Grand Mesa
The Colorado National Monument competes for the spotlight with Grand Mesa, Grand Junction's other most popular attraction. The Grand Mesa is the largest flat-topped mountain in the world, spanning 500 square miles and stretching between the Colorado River and Gunnison River.
The easiest way to explore the mesa is to drive the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway. Colorado actually has 26 scenic byways, believe it or not. The Grand Mesa scenic drive starts at exit 49 off I-70 and follows CO-65 through the Grand Mesa National Forest to Cedaredge.
The area has plenty of areas to explore on foot, as well — 400 miles of trails, to be exact. The mesa maxes out at an elevation of about 11,000 feet and within the national forest, visitors will find hundreds of lakes. If you're looking for outdoor adventure, you'll find many weeks' worth within the Grand Mesa National Forest and all along this magnificent mountain.
6. Hike Dominguez Canyon
Grand Junction is the home base from which many visitors explore the 66,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness. This is one of the largest, roadless BLM areas in the state and is part of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area — a whopping 200,000 acres of protected land.
Spanning thousands of years of history, visitors can learn so much about the area when exploring Dominguez Canyon. You'll even find petroglyphs that tell the story of Native Americans — particularly the Utes and Fremonts — that have inhabited the area for centuries. Marvel at the towering sandstone cliffs and plunging red rock of the canyon, and keep your eyes peeled for the eagles, deer, and wild turkeys that roam the sprawling landscape.
Part of the canyon includes the Old Spanish National Historic Trail, which highlights the route traveled by traders from 19th-century Mexico (New Mexico today) and California. This was the most direct route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles and featured some of the most stunning visuals, including mesas, snowcapped peaks, and rivers. It crossed through what is now New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, and California.
Today what makes Dominguez Canyon so unique is that it is home to a variety of ecosystems. Discover fir trees and pine forests, canyon systems, and a juniper desert. Within the protected area are miles upon miles of outdoor activities, from hiking and boating to fishing, camping, backpacking, roebuck riding, and snowshoeing.
7. Run with Wild Horses
Did you know that Colorado has some of the only wild horses in America? Eight miles Northeast of Grand Junction is the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, which spans more than 36,000 acres of canyons and plateaus. Visitors coming in for a hike or mountain bike trip can encounter these gorgeous creatures that freely roam the area.
Within the BLM area are the Coal Canyon and Hoodoo Trails, which follow a dirt road for about three miles before splitting off. Coal Canyon Trail goes along the creek bottom behind Mount Garfield, while the Hoodoo Trail inclines to the ridge that is between Coal and Main canyons. Along these trails, you may be able to catch a glimpse of the more than 100 wild horses that call the area home.
Each horse band has anywhere from two to 10 horses and can include palominos, paints, blacks, bays, grays, blue, red roans, appaloosas, and others. You may also be able to see elk, bighorn sheep, snowshoe hares, mountain lions, bobcats, and bears.
8. Explore the James M. Robb - Colorado River State Park
Reaching from Fruita in the west to Island Acres in the east, the James M. Robb - Colorado River State Park is split into five sections, offering five very different experiences all in one park.
A 35-mile river trail system connects Island Acres to the Fruita section, including the three stops in between. Island Acres is known for its aquatic activities, like swimming and fishing. But it also has spots for camping, hiking, and picnicking.
The Corn Lake Section is also known for its fishing, but this is also the spot where boaters and rafters can launch into the Colorado River. The Colorado River Wildlife Area Section is one of the best places to view wildlife in the area. You can also fish and explore the riverfront trail. For pond fishing and river fishing, the Connected Lakes section is best. Finally, the Fruita Section is where many of the events are held, like the Riverfront Concert Series. It also has a boat launch, visitor center, camping, fishing, and swimming.
9. Get Your Thrills at the Motor Speedway
While Grand Junction is a capital for exploring Colorado's natural beauty, it also happens to be one of the best places in the world to catch some thrills at the Grand Junction Motor Speedway. This racetrack is perfect for families who want to get behind the wheels of speedy go-karts and chase a different kind of adrenaline rush.
The track is .9 miles and has plenty of options for adventure on both two and four wheels, whether in a car, go-kart, or motorcycle. In addition, the speedway has racing schools, private test sessions, and a calendar of race events. Local club championships are held from April through October.
Address: 3002 N I 70 Frontage Road, Grand Junction, Colorado
10. Get Soaked at Jet Boat Colorado
Speaking of thrills, you can keep them coming with a visit to Jet Boat Colorado, one of the most high-octane tours featured on the Colorado River. Thirty minutes from Grand Junction in De Beque, Colorado, visitors come aboard a New Zealand-style jet boat that zigs and zags along the rushing river with nothing but mountain and canyon views in either direction.
The Jet Boat Colorado river tours are not for the faint of heart. Expect spins, fishtails, power slides, and speed runs. You will, without a doubt, be getting wet on this thrilling adventure. (That said, for groups that prefer to stay dry, they can keep the itinerary tame and better suited for leisurely sightseeing.)
The season runs from May through August.
Address: 2237 Roan Creek Road Box 1080 Clifton, De Beque, Colorado
11. Camp in the Surrounding Hills
Grand Junction is the home base from which visitors love to explore the Colorado National Monument; the Grand Mesa National Forest; the desert; and all the hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails in between.
As you can imagine, being outside is a big part of life in Grand Junction, and camping is certainly a part of that list. Across Grand Junction's landscape, campers of all skill levels and interests will find sites that are fitting for their particular style of camping.
Whether it's camping with the most supreme views at Saddlehorn Campground within the Colorado National Monument, having easy access to the dirt biking trails within North Fruita Desert at 18 Mile Road, or maxing out with all the luxe amenities at Canyon View RV Resort or the Grand Junction KOA, camping is part of the full Grand Junction travel experience.
Read More: Best Campgrounds near Grand Junction
12. Wander the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens
The landscape surrounding Grand Junction is definitely beautiful, but lush and tropical it is not. Visitors to Grand Junction can step outside the desert and into the gardens from around the world with a visit to the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
The 15-acre site sits along the Colorado River and has several specialty gardens that visitors can explore. Stroll among historic roses in the Antique Rose Garden, marvel at the beautifully manicured Japanese garden, or step into a tropical rainforest and butterfly house to see tropical plants and orchids.
The butterfly house is one of the most popular areas within the botanical garden. Here, you'll find monarchs, glasswing butterflies, cabbage white butterflies, painted ladies, island marbles, Isabella tigers, and more.
Address: 655 Struthers Ave, Grand Junction, Colorado