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As a local, I have been almost everywhere in Colorado. My family and I recently took a vacation in our own backyard, in Grand Junction to hike the Colorado National Monument. One of the best things is that Grand Junction can be your basecamp for so many day trips
For this Spring, instead of bringing my family to the more crowded Utah National Parks, we decided to hike near Grand Junction for a week. Though we had the Monument in mind for our main activity, we made sure to check out other amazing day trips that we can go to that are near Grand Junction.
Before we proceed, make sure to check out our Grand Junction series on the blog:
Here are 9 amazing day trips that you can check out from Grand Junction:
Colorado National Monument
Visiting the Colorado National Monument should be the first thing on your list while in Grand Junction. We were amazed that these towering red spires, picturesque canyons, and rock arches are right in Western Colorado. Rim Rock Drive that winds through the monument is not for the faint of heart as it climbs the canyon walls to the top of the plateau.
We suggest a stop at the visitor center, photographs along the rim trail, and a short hike. If you want spectacular views of the canyon and have nerves of steel, we suggest the Canyon Rim Trail to Window Rock. For a short hike with kids, we suggest the safer and more interesting Alcove Nature Trail.
- Read more: Best Hikes with Kids at the Colorado National Monument
- Highlights: scenic drive, canyon views, hiking,
- Directions: Westbound on Highway I-70, Exit 31 (Horizon Drive), or Eastbound on Highway I-70 take Exit 19 (Fruita).
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 20 minutes (19 miles)
Hot Springs in Ouray
A visit to Grand Junction will not be complete without experiencing the famous hot springs in nearby Ouray. After a day of hiking in the red canyons on the Colorado National Monument, a great way to spend the next day is to enjoy the hot springs and serene view of the ice-capped mountains that Ouray.
Not surprisingly, Ouray is known as the Switzerland of Colorado because of these magnificent views. Aside from the hot springs, tourists visit Ouray to enjoy camping, horseback riding, biking, hiking, ice climbing, off-roading, and jeeping.
Some of the hot springs we recommend you try are Ouray Hot Springs Pool & Fitness Center, Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs, Box Canyon Lodge & Hot Springs, and The Historic Wiesbaden Hot Springs Spa & Lodgings.
- Highlights: hot springs, scenic drive, hiking, Ice-capped mountain view, ice climbing.
- Directions: Take US 50 south for 96 miles
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 1 hour 45 minutes (96 miles)
- Where to camp: KOA Ouray
Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park
Glenwood Springs is one of my favorite towns in Colorado and it a little over an hour from Grand Junction. You can ride the alpine coaster, hike a trail and soak in the hot springs all in one fabulous day. Glenwood Adventure Park is a mountain-top amusement park complete with a gondola ride to the entrance, award-winning thrill rides, and spectacular caves.
You don’t want to miss the Haunted Mine Drop, the Alpine Coaster or the Alpine Swing. There are so many things to do in this little town you may want to visit for more than one day.
- Highlights: thrill rides, fairy caves, hot springs, scenic drive, hiking, skiing
- Directions: Take Interstate 70 east for 86 miles
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 1 hour 20 minutes (86 miles)
- Report on the Blog: 17 Things to Do in Glenwood Springs
- Which Hot Springs to Choose? Glenwood Hot Springs or Iron Mountain
- Where to camp: The Best Camping near Glenwood Springs
Hiking on the Grand Mesa
The Grand Mesa is a huge mesa east of Grand Junction. A couple of hours’ drive will take you to the top of this spectacular flat and vast area that boasts 300 lakes!
If you’re looking for a peaceful and close-to-nature experience, drive by the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway along the Grand Mesa National Forest. You’ll get to the tiny town of Skyway. This little town is tucked inside the National Forest, this place will let you have a serene nature trip.
For a hike along the rim of the mesa, choose between ascending or descending hikes. We recommend trying Crag Crest Loop, Land O’ Lakes Trail, and Lost Lakes from Mesa Lakes Lodge. For below-the-rim hikes, try Indian Point from Kannah Creek, Kannah Creek, Coal Creek Basin, and Blue Lake.
- Highlights: Breathtaking views from a higher elevation, water recreation, stars are bigger and closer.
- Directions: Take CO-65 N
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 1 hr 16 min (55.6 mi)
- Report: Our blog about Colorado National Monument Hikes
- Where to camp: Grand Mesa RV Park
Dinosaur National Monument
This National Monument is named after the 1,500 bones that you can see in the quarry exhibit, but you will find so many more amazing things to do. In fact, we were surprised that the petroglyphs were more the highlight of our trip there.
Actually, Dinosaur National Monument is known for petroglyphs and pictographs, Josie Morris homestead, hiking trails, and recreation on the Green and Yampa Rivers. Plus, Dinosaur is one of the most dog-friendly places in the national parks system.
- Read More: Things to do in Dinosaur National Monument with Kids
- Highlights: Carnegie Dinosaur Quarry, petroglyphs and pictographs, Josie Morris homestead, hiking trails
- Directions: Take Colorado Highway 139 north
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 2 hours and 4 minutes (110 miles)
- Where to camp: Green River Campground
Rafting in Moab
We love the Moab area and rafting is on our bucket list. There’s no better way to enjoy the area than an exhilarating rafting adventure down the Colorado River. Not only will you have a wonderful time, but you’ll also get to see spectacular views that you can only see when you are in the river.
There are tours that you can book that will often take you from the hotel to the start point and back to the hotel after. Depending on the time of your booking, you may even get lunch included.
Choose between half-day tours or full-day ones. For families with little kids, we recommend the half-day tour as this usually entails classes 1 and 2 rafting and a little leisure swimming at the end. For the more adventurous type or those with older kids, try the full-day tours that can take up to 7 hours or more.
- Highlights: Choice between adventurous or relaxed experience on the river. Enjoy views that can only be seen from a vantage point from the river.
- Directions: Take I-70 W and US-191 S
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 1 hr 47 min (113 miles)
- Report: Our report about 19 Things To Do In Moab with Kids
- Where to camp: Act Campground, Ken’s Lake Campground
Rifle Falls State Park
This little state Park has a wonderful surprise besides the amazingly lush surroundings and 70 foot waterfalls. Caves! The limestone rock has worn away small caves that will be a fun surprise for kids and adults to explore.
This area is one of our favorite areas in all seasons. The cool mist from the waterfall is a refreshing time in the heat of the summer. In the winter the area is full of snow and the falls turn to icy wonderland. If you want to stay a little longer I suggest camping here, if you can snag a spot.
- Highlights: Waterfalls, caves, hiking, fishing, camping
- Directions: Take I-70 E for 60 miles to the main Rifle exit and Hw 13 North
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 1 hr (59 miles)
- Report: Our report about Why You will Love Rifle Falls State Park
- Where to camp: at Rifle Falls or from our report: Camping Near Rifle
Rock Hounding in Whitewater
What is referred to as Whitewater here is actually a few miles outside of the actual town of Whitewater. About 10 miles from Grand Junction, you’ll come across this field that has obviously been dug up already.
If you are like me who’s fascinated with geodes, you’ll enjoy digging here. In fact, Whitewater is one of the few places in Colorado where you can expect geodes. You may need to exert a bit of effort to dig up unbroken ones though. But it’s sure is worth it once you get your hand on one – or a handful!
- Highlights: Get to take home beautiful geodes if you’re lucky to dig up one.
- Directions: Take 29 Rd and US-50 E
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 15 min (9.8 miles)
- Where to camp: KOA Grand Junction
At Dominguez Escalante National Conservation Area (DENCA) in Colorado, you can enjoy free BLM camping, magnificent sunrise views, swimming in the creek, canyon hiking, and petroglyphs. This is a lesser-known area of Colorado and if you visit Dominguez Escalante at the right time you will feel like you found a secret place.
Dominguez-Escalante is an amazing place hidden in the Upper Colorado Plateau region only an hour from Grand Junction.
This is a place mostly only known to the locals for camping, hiking, and rock climbing and very little information is available online.
- Highlights: Petroglyphs, swimming in potholes
- Directions: Take US-50 E
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 28 min (25.8 miles)
- Report: Camping Adventures at Dominguez – Escalante Canyon, Colorado
- Where to camp: Camping guide to camp here
Canyonlands and Arches National Park in Moab
While you are in Grand Junction, you will be within 2 hours of the spectacular national parks of Utah. I highly recommend a trip over to Arches or Canyonlands National Park. In fact, I have already written about these parks here and here.
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park is a crowd-favorite when it comes to Moab’s parks. That’s why there’s no surprise that Arches National Park is considered one of America’s top National Parks.
For those with kids, let them have Island in the Sky and The Needles explorer packs in Canyonlands, they’ll surely enjoy their hike.
Because there are a few cities near this park, nights tend to be extra darker, making it a perfect site for stargazing.
Aside from Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, we also recommend checking out Dead Horse Point State Park and Manti-La Sal National Forest.
- Highlights: Stargazing, river activities
- Directions: Take 29 Rd and US-50 E
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 15 min (9.8 miles)
- Report: Explore Canyonlands National Park with Kids
- Where to camp: Willow Flat Campground, Squaw Flat Campground
Dinosaur Journey Museum
If you have little kids, we recommend you make time to visit the Dinosaur Journey Museum. If you’re into hiking like us, you’ll enjoy the scheduled Dino digs hike and the Rabbit Valley Trail Through Time.
Aside from that, the museum showcases Colorado’s famous robotic dinosaurs. Real fossils can be observed inside the museum where you can also dig into hands-on exhibits. There is also a working paleontology laboratory kids can look at as well as the simulated earthquake inside.
Allot 1-2 hours of your time when you plan your itinerary. The museum is about 5 miles from Colorado National Monument.
- Highlights: Robotic dinosaurs, hands-on exhibits
- Directions: Take US-50 E and I-70 W
- Drive time from Grand Junction: 19 min (13.0 miles)
- Report: 11 Campgrounds near Grand Junction
- Where to camp: Monument RV Resort, James R. Robb State Park
Final Thoughts on 9 Amazing Day Trips from Grand Junction
Locals and tourists alike love going to Grand Junction. Aside from it being close to the Colorado National Monument, there are tons of fun activities that you can try in or near the town itself.
If you plan to visit Grand Junction, we recommend booking your campgrounds or hotels early, especially if you plan to visit during Spring to Summer. If you don’t have an RV but want to try renting, we have some resources to help you.
Here are some more posts in our camping series to help you:
- Should you Rent an RV for your Vacation?
- 7 ways to rent a cheap RV
- How to pick the perfect campsite every time
- RV checklist and packing list
Hi, I’m Shauna – Welcome to Family Travel Fever. We are a large family, that was bitten by the travel bug! I take the kids by myself because I don’t mind flying or driving solo with my crew to discover the coolest places.
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