The Western Slope of Colorado gives visitors a much different mountain bike experience than that of the more central Rockies. Pine trees and granite give way to juniper and sandstone. The elevation is still noticeable but with loads more oxygen than in higher up mountain towns. When central Colorado sees colder temperatures and snow, the trails near Palisade are often still dry. The Western Slope also makes for a great escape for those eager to ride when trails throughout Colorado are thawing out.
If I were to recommend a Palisade mountain biking itinerary, it would start with a ride on Palisade Rim. After all, it would feel a little out of order to start your day with wine and then ride, but it’s your vacation, not mine.
The Palisade Rim trail is an advanced (black diamond rated) trail that’s about 9-miles in length with 1,200 feet of climbing, give or take. As noted above, the riding options in Palisade are limited to this ride, so if you’re in search of something more mellow, I’d try the trails at 18 Road or the Kokopelli trails in Fruita, before returning to Palisade for the day. But, if you’re up for some technical climbing and descending over chunky rock, Palisade Rim is a really, really good ride.
The Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) plans to start construction on the Palisade Plunge this summer. The Palisade Plunge will be a 32-mile trail that connects the top of the Grand Mesa (10,700′) to Palisade (4,700′) by trail with 6,000ft of descending on backcountry singletrack. There is no anticipated completion date yet, but when it’s done, it’s going to be sweet.
There is a trailhead on the Colorado River with access to the water. Across the street, the Palisade Rim trail gains elevation quickly from the road up to the top of the mesa. You’ll be much better off pedaling to the trailhead from your room for a good warm up, rather than trying to get your heart rate up with the steep climb up front.
Rock work makes for fun lines up and down the front side of the Palisade Rim as you ascend to the top of the mesa. Make sure you’ve got some power in your legs for boulder moves and tricky ascents.
Since the mesa is naturally steep up the sides, and flat around the top, most of the climbing on Palisade Rim is over pretty quickly. Once you reach the Y-split up top, it’s recommended to tackle the ride counter-clockwise.
There are a few more tough sections of climbing, but the trail starts to roll and flow. Around the middle point of the ride, the singletrack becomes very tight and there is some exposure. Take it easy if you need, more breakaway views and fast fun are ahead.
The Palisade Rim trail is so good, it’s hard to stop and take it all in at times, but the views will lasso you in regardless.
At around four-and-a-half miles in, the trail turns back around. There are more golden hour vistas, fun rock lines, sandstone ledges, and loose-over-hard pack trail to keep you on your toes.
For an equally great experience, hit Palisade Rim during golden hour, or an hour before sunset. The Grand Valley will be lit up in warm light.
There are pinches and boulder moves the whole way back down to the trailhead. If you’re a confident technical rider, it will be paradise. If you’re not, be patient with it for the day, and set aside some time to try and session and clear challenges.
Though it might be tough, keep your eyes on the trail on the way back down.
I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. After the ride, put the bike up for a second and rinse off in the river. The water is freezing, yet refreshing.
If you are looking for a different trail than Palisade Rim, the views in Loma off of the Kokopelli trails aren’t too bad either. They are mostly intermediate singletracks with some beginner and advanced options thrown into the mix.
For the most beginner-friendly terrain in the Grand Valley, head to 18 Road in Fruita. There are trails for every skill level. All of them are fun.
The Palisade vibe
For my recent trip to Palisade I stayed at a newly renovated boutique motel called the Spoke and Vine. The Spoke and Vine had opened a few weeks prior and the owners were putting the finishing touches on the building.
The rooms are quaint and simple, freshly painted and vibrant. The owners walk around and smile and chat with visitors. Inside the front office, they have artisan coffee and granola and other snacks you can grab when you’re fresh off of a road trip. The Spoke and Vine motel has new-age motel vibes and convenience without the old-school motel grunge.
Lined up outside the front office, they have a fleet of townie bikes that you can check out and pedal to the nearby wineries and a dedicated bike shed to lock up your mountain bike.
There’s a draw to staying in Palisade that Fruita and Grand Junction don’t quite have, even though there are more trails to ride just west of Palisade. Camping on BLM land or at 18 Road north of Fruita and next to the trails is always a great option, but sometimes you just want a shower right after a ride and don’t want to listen to cars ramble down the washboard road all hours of the night.
An Air BnB or hotel in Grand Junction is fine too, but it’s still going to require driving to a trailhead and back to your room later.
Having done both many times before, this time I chose to stay in a place where I could get to great trails, restaurants, and wine or whiskey, without getting back in the car. The town of Palisade also has more of a vacation feel to it than both Grand Junction and Fruita. It’s noticeable when you’re in town on a Tuesday and other tourists poke into wine tasting rooms next to you.
Palisade offers a variety of local lodging accommodations including the Victorian style vineyard hotel, the Wine Country Inn, locally owned bed & breakfasts, and the newly opened Palisade Basecamp and RV Resort.
Palisade is surrounded by the Bookcliffs, the mountainous mesas that are on the north side of town and stretch between eastern Utah and western Colorado. Beneath the Bookcliffs are countless acres of vineyards that carpet the land in green.
Moderate temperatures, the soil, and the right amount of sun make the Grand Valley an exceptional spot to grow grapes and make wine.
Whether you’re back from Palisade Rim or another trail in the area, it only makes sense to hit a brewery or distillery, and of course a winery in Palisade.
Yep, there are fruit and wine routes in Palisade. The Palisade Chamber of Commerce maps out a few of the best ways to sample local produce (ahem, peaches) and wine. It’s the best way to recover after a ride.
There are enough wineries to keep you busy for a week, and all of them do things a little differently.
Mountain bikers can stop off in Palisade’s full service bike shop, Rapid Creek Cycles, for trail maps, guides, and area information. The shop rents, repairs, and sells mountain bikes, plus they most stock parts and accessories you might need during your trip.
There are a few different restaurant and dining options in town. The Palisade Cafe 11.0 has locally-sourced, farm-to-table food with reasonable prices.
I stopped at the 357 Bar and Grill during my trip. It’s a local, blue-collar bar at its finest. I had a beer, and an enormous plate of perfectly cooked fried chicken, loaded mashed potatoes, a roll, and a bowl of corn for under $20. Locals caught up with each other over a beer and vented about their work day. I reveled in leftover adrenaline and serotonin from Palisade Rim and thought about the next time I could visit.
Get more information about visiting Palisade, CO at visitpalisade.com.