Grand Mesa Scenic BywayType: Picnic/Scenic/Recreational
Miles From Grand Junction: Approx. 134
Access: Passenger Car Friendly
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The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway travels over the largest flat top mountain in the world. There are numerous recreational opportunities including but not limited to hiking, fishing, four wheeling and wildlife viewing. The mountain is home to deer, elk, bear, wild turkeys, moose and many other species of wildlife.
The Grand Mesa Scenic Byway is a popular thoroughfare for families and individuals alike that want to escape the lower valley heat of the summer as well as vacationers that might not have ever experienced the beauty of the mountains. During the fall the area is a popular destination for hunters and during the winter months snowmobiling and cross country skiing.
I started this trip out by heading east on I-70 out of Grand Junction until I came to Plateau Creek. At this point I turned right towards the town of Mesa and followed the creek as it winds its way through the canyon.
Stay on the main road as it twists and turns and climbs its way higher towards the mountain. The town of Mesa is a tiny little place with only a couple public buildings which include a small “General Store” and a restaurant.
From Mesa the road begins a long steady climb as it works its way towards the Powder Horn Ski resort. This portion of the road is long and steep. As you drive along the road it’s hard to tell how steep it is because it is such a gradual climb, but between Mesa and Powder Horn you climb at least halfway up the mountain.
Just below the crest of the mountain you will come to Mesa Lakes Resort which is a nice little place to stop and visit. Not only are there easily accessible lakes for fishing but they offer lodging and a multitude of other outdoor activities.
Once past Mesa Lakes the road travels up and along the rim of the mesa where I eventually levels out and passes through some of the blackest and darkest pine forest I’ve seen. Once on top there are numerous hiking trails and opportunities for great wildlife viewing. Also on the top is the road to Lands End. You can’t cruise over the mesa without taking a side trip to the Lands End Observatory. You can’t miss the road, it is a well graveled route that is well marked and suitable for near any vehicle.
At this point I turned onto the lands end road as it travelled out to the “end” of the mesa. There are plenty of opportunities for recreation along this route as well including fishing, hiking, horseback riding and sightseeing. The road twists and dips through meadows, gullies and thick forests. As you travel on you will pass the Raber Cow Camp historic site on your right. The cabins there were used by the cowboys in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as camps while they herded their cattle. This particular site is one of the few that survived the US Forest Services efforts to “Clean up” the land and get rid of the dangerous structures. There is a neat little trail you can follow though the camp that has information signs posted along the way that tells the history of the area.
Once you reach the Lands End Observatory you will not be disappointed. It is called Lands End for a reason. The views are astounding as you stand along the small rock wall they built. To the south you can see the Uncompahgre Plateau with Escalante Canyon to the left and Dominguez Canyon to the right of it. As you scroll around you can see the Colorado National Monument and the Bookcliffs to your left along with the entire Grand Valley in the middle. There is a small cabin like building near the edge that has been used for many purposes. Last time I was there it was a very nice visitors center that carried many cool nick knacks and things. This last time it was boarded up and inaccessible.
If you’re heading back to Grand Junction from Lands End you can take the Lands End Road down to US-50. This route would probably shave some time and miles off your trip but the road is pretty steep and narrow in places. It has been years since I’ve been on it but I seen a couple family sedans pull over the crest as I was there.
I opted to head back the way I came and to the Scenic Byway. Once back on the main road it immediately begins to descend towards the valley floor. As you drop over the edge you will pass by Island Lake on your right and the official Grand Mesa Visitors center will be on your left across the road from the lake.
Once past the visitors center the roads drops fairly quickly as it leaves the coolness of the mountain, passes though Cedaredge and comes out just east of Delta. Once you reach Highway 92, turn right and head towards Delta then take another right onto Highway 50 back to Grand Junction.