Southwestern Colorado

A Local’s Guide to Hidden Gems

Intro

For the past 15 years, I’ve called Delta, Colorado, my home, and I’ve had the privilege of exploring some of the most enchanting places in Southwestern Colorado. Join me as I take you on a journey through the region, sharing my insider’s perspective on the best destinations and activities to enjoy in this breathtaking part of the world. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a newcomer, these destinations offer something unique for every season.

This article will be continuously updated to include more Hidden Gems and even itineraries and routes to help you get the most of your adventures in Southwestern Colorado. So bookmark this page for later reference.

Table of Contents:

1. Grand Mesa: A Year-Round Wonderland

2. Escalante: Where Ancient Beauty Meets Off-Road Thrills

3. Delta to Aspen Scenic Drive: A Journey Through Mountain Majesty

4. Uncompahgre Plateau: A Backcountry Adventure in Southwestern Colorado

5. Telluride: A Year-Round Retreat in the San Juan Mountains

6. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway: A Majestic Loop Through the San Juan Mountains

7. Black Canyon Heritage Park: An Oasis of Natural Beauty

8. Blue Mesa Reservoir: Southwestern Colorado’s Sapphire Gem

9. Ridgway Reservoir: Water Sports and Camping in Southwestern Colorado

10. Ouray: A Haven of Adventure and Scenic Wonders​

11. Gunnison: The Western Experience in Southwestern Colorado​

12. Grand Junction: Beyond the Southwest

Bonus: Our Colorado Adventure Videos

#1. Grand Mesa: A Year-Round Wonderland

As a Delta local, I can’t help but begin with my all-time favorite, the Grand Mesa. This colossal flat-top mountain is the crown jewel of Southwestern Colorado, and it offers a little something for everyone, no matter the season.

Winter Wonderland:
In the winter, Grand Mesa transforms into a snowy paradise. Imagine vast fields of pristine snow, perfect for building snowmen, sledding, and snowball fights. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll find skiing and snowboarding opportunities that rival any world-class resort. Grand Mesa in winter is a wonderland of fun and adventure.

Spring Awakening:
As the season changes, the landscape comes alive with lush greenery. Spring is the perfect time for hiking and exploring the area. The trails are pristine, and the wildflowers are in full bloom, painting a vibrant landscape.

Summer Delights:
Summer is the season for camping, fishing, and outdoor adventures. Grand Mesa’s pristine lakes and meadows invite you to pitch a tent and enjoy the great outdoors. Whether you’re casting a line into one of the many fishing spots or hiking through enchanting forests, this place is a haven for nature lovers.

Fall’s Colorful Display:
Come autumn, Grand Mesa lives up to Colorado’s “Colorful State” nickname. The foliage transforms into a stunning display of vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows. It’s the best place to witness the leaves changing and capture postcard-perfect photographs.

Pro-Tip: For those who enjoy off-roading, consider exploring the dirt roads and paths – the Old Grand Mesa road is a good one to try ;).

#2: Escalante: Where Ancient Beauty Meets Off-Road Thrills

Nestled in the heart of Southwestern Colorado, Escalante is a place of captivating contrasts, where the remnants of ancient Native American civilizations coexist with off-road trails that promise an adventure like no other. As a longtime resident of Delta, I’ve had the privilege of uncovering the secrets of this unique region, and Escalante remains a cherished destination for its exceptional historical significance and the thrill of off-road exploration.

Native American Legacy:
Escalante holds a special place in the history of the Southwest, with its deep connections to Native American cultures. Here, you’ll find traces of the past etched into the red rock canyons and mesas. Petroglyphs and ancient ruins provide a glimpse into the lives of those who once thrived in this rugged landscape. Take a moment to connect with the spirit of the land and contemplate the enduring legacy of its first inhabitants.

Off-Road Extravaganza:
But Escalante isn’t just a journey through time; it’s also an off-road enthusiast’s dream. The region boasts an extensive network of off-road trails that wind through the desert, showcasing some of the most spectacular and otherworldly scenery in Colorado. From high plateaus to deep canyons, you’ll find diverse terrain that challenges and rewards adventurers of all skill levels. Off-roading in Escalante is an experience like no other, offering breathtaking vistas, thrilling descents, and an opportunity to connect with the natural world in an exhilarating way.

Hidden Treasures:
As you explore the off-road trails, you’ll encounter hidden gems and secluded pockets of beauty that are a world away from the everyday. Whether it’s the towering spires of the San Rafael Swell or the serenity of the Dry Mesa Dinosaur Quarry, Escalante has surprises waiting around every corner. Discover unique rock formations, pristine desert landscapes, and the kind of solitude that leaves a lasting imprint on the soul.

Pro Tip:
Before embarking on your off-road adventure in Escalante, make sure your vehicle is well-prepared for the journey. Check trail conditions, have a map or GPS device handy, and consider traveling with others for safety and enjoyment.

Escalante is a place where ancient beauty meets the thrill of off-road exploration. Whether you’re drawn to the area’s Native American heritage or seeking an adrenaline-pumping adventure, this hidden gem in Southwestern Colorado promises a journey filled with awe, wonder, and unforgettable memories. So, pack your sense of adventure and embark on a remarkable expedition through the captivating landscapes of Escalante.

#3: Delta to Aspen Scenic Drive: A Journey Through Mountain Majesty

As residents of Delta, we’re privileged to call Southwestern Colorado home, and one of the most enchanting journeys in our region is the drive from Delta to Aspen. This scenic route takes you through picturesque landscapes, hidden gems, and mountain beauty that will leave you in awe.

Somerset:
Our adventure begins as we leave Delta and head towards Aspen via Paonia, Somerset, and Red Creek Falls. The first stop on our journey is the charming mountainside village of Somerset. Nestled among rugged peaks and overlooking meandering rivers, Somerset offers a glimpse into the area’s rich mining history. The town’s picturesque setting is an invitation to explore its past and present, with the promise of breathtaking vistas around every corner.

Red Creek Falls:
Continuing our drive, the next gem we encounter is the serene and unspoiled wonder known as Red Creek Falls. This natural marvel provides the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and immerse yourself in the beauty of nature. The falls cascade gracefully amidst the majestic Colorado landscape, offering a tranquil oasis for visitors seeking solace in the great outdoors. Consider taking a leisurely hike, snapping some photos, or enjoying a peaceful picnic by the falls.

As we journey from Delta to Aspen, these hidden treasures and scenic wonders are just a glimpse of the breathtaking beauty that Southwestern Colorado has to offer. So, pack your bags, hit the road, and prepare to be captivated by the mountain majesty that defines our remarkable region.

#4: Uncompahgre Plateau: A Backcountry Adventure in Southwestern Colorado

The vast Uncompahgre Plateau is a hidden gem waiting to be explored by those who seek a backcountry adventure. Here, the rugged terrain and unspoiled wilderness create an escape into the heart of nature.

Hiking Haven:
The Uncompahgre Plateau is crisscrossed with a network of hiking trails, ranging from easy walks to challenging backcountry treks. As you hike through pine and aspen forests, keep an eye out for wildlife, including mule deer and a variety of bird species. The plateau is a birder’s paradise, with its diverse avian population.

Off-Roading Oasis:
For those with a taste for off-roading, the Uncompahgre Plateau offers numerous dirt roads and trails, making it an ideal destination for 4×4 enthusiasts. Whether you prefer a leisurely drive along scenic routes or tackling more challenging trails, the plateau caters to all levels of off-road adventurers.

Camping Beneath the Stars:
Camping is a prime way to immerse yourself in the Uncompahgre Plateau’s natural beauty. Numerous campsites dot the area, and you’ll find yourself surrounded by the sights and sounds of the great outdoors. Gaze at the star-studded night sky and experience the tranquility of the wilderness.

Local Insight:
Be sure to check for any seasonal road closures or restrictions, as some trails may not be accessible during certain times of the year. Additionally, respect the “Leave No Trace” principles to help preserve the plateau’s pristine environment for future generations.

green plants surround brown cliffs during daytime

#5. Telluride: A Year-Round Retreat in the San Juan Mountains

Nestled in the San Juan Mountains:
A short drive from Delta, Telluride is a jewel of Southwestern Colorado, ensconced in the stunning San Juan Mountains. Whether you’re an outdoor enthusiast or a lover of the arts, this charming town has something to offer year-round.

Winter Wonderland:
During winter, Telluride transforms into a snow-draped wonderland. The town is renowned for its world-class skiing and snowboarding. With its pristine slopes and top-notch facilities, it’s a haven for winter sports enthusiasts. You’ll find slopes suitable for all levels, from beginners to advanced skiers and snowboarders. The cozy mountain village is perfect for après-ski relaxation with its quaint shops, restaurants, and vibrant après-ski scene. Don’t miss the breathtaking gondola ride that connects Telluride to Mountain Village, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.

Summer Splendor:
Summer in Telluride is equally enchanting. The vibrant wildflower meadows and clear blue skies provide a picturesque backdrop for hiking and mountain biking. The region boasts an extensive network of hiking trails that cater to all skill levels. Bridal Veil Falls, Colorado’s tallest free-falling waterfall, is a must-see natural wonder. For those seeking adventure, try paragliding or explore the pristine wilderness on horseback.

Festivals and Culture:
Telluride is known for its vibrant cultural scene. Throughout the year, it hosts a variety of festivals, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride Film Festival, and Telluride Yoga Festival. These events draw visitors from all over the world, making Telluride a hub of art, music, and wellness. The historic downtown is dotted with galleries, boutiques, and gourmet restaurants, creating a perfect blend of culture and leisure.

Local Insight:
To experience Telluride like a true local, take a leisurely stroll along Colorado Avenue, the town’s main street. You’ll encounter charming architecture and discover the unique character of this mountain town. Don’t forget to try the free gondola ride connecting Telluride to Mountain Village for panoramic views of the San Juan Mountains.

#6. San Juan Skyway Scenic Byway: A Majestic Loop Through the San Juan Mountains

Historic Towns and Mountain Passes:
Embark on a journey along the San Juan Skyway, a 236-mile loop that takes you through historic mining towns, breathtaking mountain passes, and picturesque landscapes. Silverton, Durango, and Molas Pass are just a few of the must-visit stops along the way.

Silverton:
This historic mining town, nestled in a high alpine valley, is a window into the past. The well-preserved Victorian-era architecture and narrow streets evoke the feeling of stepping back in time. Explore the town’s shops, restaurants, and museums, and don’t forget to ride the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a scenic adventure.

Durango:
Known for its Old West charm, Durango is a bustling town with a unique blend of modern amenities and historic significance. Hop aboard the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for a scenic ride through the San Juan Mountains. Durango also offers excellent dining and shopping opportunities, making it a perfect stop on your journey.

Molas Pass:
As you traverse the San Juan Skyway, you’ll reach Molas Pass, a breathtaking mountain pass surrounded by rugged peaks and pristine forests. Stop and take in the incredible panoramic views, which are especially stunning in the fall when the aspen leaves turn a brilliant gold.

highway leading to mountain

#7: Black Canyon Heritage Park: An Oasis of Natural Beauty

Just a stone’s throw from downtown Montrose lies the Black Canyon Heritage Park, a serene oasis for nature enthusiasts. This park invites you to explore the unique geology and flora of the area while providing a peaceful escape from the bustling world.

Guided Nature Walks:
The Black Canyon Heritage Park offers guided nature walks, where knowledgeable guides share insights about the park’s rich biodiversity, geology, and history. These walks are a fantastic way to connect with the natural world and deepen your appreciation of the region’s unique features.

Birdwatching Paradise:
Birdwatchers will find a haven in the park. The diverse range of habitats, including riparian areas, woodlands, and shrublands, make it an ideal spot to spot various bird species. Keep an eye out for the colorful Bullock’s oriole or the elusive American dipper as they go about their daily activities.

Picnic and Relaxation:
The park’s peaceful setting provides an ideal backdrop for a leisurely picnic. Pack a basket with your favorite snacks and enjoy a meal in the great outdoors. This is a wonderful way to unwind and savor the tranquility that the park offers.

Pro Tip: The park hosts various events and workshops, so be sure to check their schedule for any special programs that might align with your visit.

#8: Blue Mesa Reservoir: Southwestern Colorado’s Sapphire Gem

Year-Round Watersports:
Now, let’s introduce you to a hidden sapphire of Southwestern Colorado – Blue Mesa Reservoir. This magnificent body of water is Colorado’s largest and offers year-round adventures. In the summer, it’s an aquatic playground for boating, fishing, and swimming. Anglers will particularly relish the opportunity to hook trophy-sized fish, as the reservoir is renowned for its record-breaking catches. The serene waters of Blue Mesa make it an ideal spot for kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and leisurely boat tours.

Winter Wonders:
When winter blankets the region in snow, Blue Mesa Reservoir transforms into a wonderland for ice fishing and cross-country skiing. Ice fishing enthusiasts will discover a frozen paradise, with opportunities to catch trout and other cold-water species. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing across the pristine snow-covered landscapes offer a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of daily life.

Scenic Surroundings:
The area surrounding Blue Mesa Reservoir is a nature lover’s dream. Hiking trails crisscross the landscape, providing opportunities to witness the diverse wildlife and breathtaking scenery. Keep your camera handy, as you may encounter mule deer, elk, bald eagles, and a myriad of other creatures that call this place home. The nearby Curecanti National Recreation Area offers even more opportunities for exploration, featuring deep canyons carved by the Gunnison River and a collection of impressive reservoirs.

Marina Magic:
The Elk Creek Marina, located on the reservoir’s northern shore, is a hub for water enthusiasts. The marina provides boat rentals, fishing supplies, and an informative visitor center. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just want to spend a day on the water, the marina offers convenient access to the reservoir’s delights.

Pro Tip: To experience the full beauty of Blue Mesa Reservoir, take a scenic drive along the Mesa Top Loop, a 31-mile route that offers panoramic views of the reservoir, lush forests, and the stunning Curecanti Needle.

calm body of water surrounded by trees with the distance of mountains

#9: Ridgway Reservoir: Water Sports and Camping in Southwestern Colorado

Lake Adventures:
Ridgway Reservoir, located just a short distance from the charming town of Ridgway, is a recreational paradise. This serene body of water beckons boaters, anglers, and campers alike. Surrounded by the stunning beauty of the San Juan Mountains, it’s an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Boating Bliss:
Whether you prefer a leisurely paddle in a kayak or an exhilarating ride on a powerboat, Ridgway Reservoir accommodates all types of watercraft. Enjoy the serene beauty of the lake as you soak in the peaceful atmosphere.

Fishing Fanatics:
The reservoir is well-stocked with a variety of fish, including rainbow and brown trout, kokanee salmon, and yellow perch. Anglers can try their luck from the shoreline or cast a line from a boat.

Camping Beneath the Stars:
With numerous campsites available, you can immerse yourself in the natural surroundings and enjoy a night beneath the star-studded sky. The scent of campfires and the sounds of nature create a serene camping experience.

Local Insight:
If you’re an early riser, don’t miss the chance to capture the stunning sunrise over the reservoir. It’s a magical moment that sets the tone for a day filled with outdoor adventures.

body of water near mountain during daytime

#10: Ouray: A Haven of Adventure and Scenic Wonders

Ouray, a captivating town in Southwestern Colorado known for its exhilarating adventures and awe-inspiring natural beauty. Ouray is a year-round destination that beckons visitors from all corners of the world, and it’s particularly renowned for its dramatic waterfall and world-class ice climbing opportunities.

Waterfall Wonder:
One of the standout attractions in Ouray is the magnificent Ouray Ice Park, home to the famous Ouray Ice Festival. But even if you’re not an ice climbing enthusiast, the park’s towering frozen waterfalls are a sight to behold. As winter blankets the landscape, these falls transform into frozen sculptures, creating a breathtaking scene that captivates the imagination. The combination of natural beauty and human ingenuity in the form of ice climbing routes draws thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike. Whether you’re an experienced climber or simply wish to admire the skill and courage of those who scale the frozen walls, the Ouray Ice Park offers a unique and unforgettable experience.

Ice Climbing Mecca:
For ice climbing enthusiasts, Ouray is a mecca. The town’s unique geography and consistently cold temperatures create perfect conditions for ice formation. Every winter, climbers from around the world flock to Ouray to test their skills on the challenging ice routes, and the annual Ouray Ice Festival is a testament to the town’s status as a premier ice climbing destination. Even if you’re new to the sport, there are opportunities for guided climbs and ice climbing lessons, ensuring that everyone can experience the thrill of ascending these icy giants.

The captivating beauty of Ouray’s waterfall and the adrenaline-pumping adventures of ice climbing make this Southwestern Colorado town a must-visit destination. So, whether you’re a seasoned ice climber or simply seeking the wonder of nature, Ouray offers a world of experiences that will leave you with unforgettable memories of Southwestern Colorado’s mountain majesty.

person in orange jacket and blue pants standing on rocky hill during daytime

#11: Gunnison: The Western Experience in Southwestern Colorado

Our exploration of Southwestern Colorado leads us to Gunnison, a place that captures the essence of the American West. The Gunnison National Forest, with its vast wilderness and outdoor recreation opportunities, is a highlight for nature lovers and adventurers.

Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days:
Plan your visit to coincide with the Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days, a celebration of western heritage and rodeo. Experience thrilling rodeo events, parades, and live music, immersing yourself in the culture of the Old West.

Outdoor Paradise:
Gunnison National Forest provides a wealth of outdoor activities. Whether you enjoy hiking, camping, or fishing, the forest offers a pristine backdrop for all of your adventures. Explore alpine lakes, dense forests, and the imposing peaks of the Elk Mountains.

Gunnison’s Charm:
The town of Gunnison offers a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Stroll along its streets, and you’ll encounter local shops, restaurants, and charming boutiques. Don’t forget to sample local delicacies and savor the flavors of the region.

Local Insight:
To experience the true allure of Gunnison, venture into the Gunnison Basin and the surrounding wilderness. Here, you’ll find secluded trails and pristine lakes that offer a peaceful escape from the everyday hustle and bustle.

green trees and mountains near lake during daytime

#12: Grand Junction: Beyond the Southwest

While it technically may not be located within Southwestern Colorado, Grand Junction is a city well worth exploring, offering its own unique charm and attractions. It’s conveniently accessible from the region and provides a wonderful addition to your Colorado adventure.

Colorado’s Wine Country:
Grand Junction is the heart of Colorado’s Wine Country, making it a paradise for wine enthusiasts. You can embark on wine tours, visit local vineyards, and enjoy tastings of the region’s exceptional wines. The area is especially known for its flavorful Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, and Syrahs.

Colorado National Monument:
Just a short drive from Grand Junction, you’ll find the awe-inspiring Colorado National Monument. This treasure of towering red rock formations, canyons, and mesas provides a stunning backdrop for hiking, scenic drives, and photography. The monument is especially breathtaking at sunrise and sunset when the rocks glow with fiery hues.

Local Delights:
Explore the vibrant downtown area of Grand Junction, where you’ll find a variety of boutiques, art galleries, and delectable restaurants. The town’s atmosphere is characterized by a blend of laid-back Colorado style and a flourishing arts scene.

Pro Tip: Be sure to visit Palisade, a small town near Grand Junction famous for its peach orchards and wineries. It’s the perfect spot for a relaxed day of peach picking and wine tasting.

brown rocky mountain under white sky during daytime

Conclusion: Southwestern Colorado’s Timeless Beauty

Southwestern Colorado is a region that weaves a tapestry of diverse landscapes and year-round attractions. Whether you’re exploring the enchanting Grand Mesa, savoring the charm of Telluride, embarking on a scenic drive to Aspen, or seeking adventure on the Uncompahgre Plateau, this region has something special to offer in every season. Embrace the hidden gems of Southwestern Colorado and let its natural beauty captivate your heart, one adventure at a time.

Our journey through this magnificent part of the world has been a thrilling exploration of both natural wonders and cultural treasures. I hope you’ll be inspired to pack your bags and embark on your own Southwestern Colorado adventure, whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a newcomer to this extraordinary region. May your journey be filled with unforgettable experiences and treasured memories, as you, too, become captivated by the timeless beauty of Southwestern Colorado.

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