Fruita and Palisade are proud to share a collection of gravel routes that enhances the cycling heritage of the Grand Valley. A rich road and mountain bike history informs and guides gravel cyclists towards a reimagining of the Western Slope riding experience, including hotel to hotel touring and bikepacking.
Sequence Stratigraphy is a branch of geology that studies the layering of sediment to understand the passing of time. Cycling in Mesa County also has rich layers of history, with origins dating back to the late 1880s.
For generations, the communities of Fruita and Palisade
have hosted social rides, events, and touring experiences.
Well-known road rides include the Tour of the Moon that follows a stage of the famous Coors Classic race, while Fruita is home to the birth of the mountain bike destination town movement. Cycling has consistently contributed positively to the Grand Valley way of life.
Gravel bikes bring a fresh and exciting way for residents and visitors to explore Mesa County. From the remote corners of the North Fruita Desert, to the majestic Grand Mesa, cyclists will find awe-inspiring routes that mix in challenging surfaces, terrain, and distance options. There are plenty of ways to seek the adventure ride of choice.
Welcome to the Grand Valley adventure cycling experience in Mesa County. A well established cycling culture, along with stunning landscapes, and rich agricultural traditions combine to make the Fruita and Palisade gravel bike destination experience special. Whether it’s the mesmerizing colors of a sunset over the Book Cliffs or the sweet smell of peach blossoms, riding around the Grand Valley is a sensory experience in every direction.
At twenty-four miles apart, Fruita and Palisade offer distinctly different riding experiences. However, the curated routes in this guidebook utilize a network of rural farm roads and overland trails that include sections of rough technical double-track and smooth singletrack to connect them. We want to encourage residents and visitors to discover more of Mesa County on a gravel bike.
With direct access to 1,000,000+ acres of public land, Fruita and Palisade are excellent hubs to create your own gravel cycling experience on Colorado’s Western Slope.
As far back as 11,000 BC, Paleo-Indians inhabited Mesa County. Beginning at the end of the last ice age, semi-sedentary Fremont culture people began creating a network of footpath trails connecting areas of the Grand Valley where crops grew to hunting grounds. By the early 14th century, Ute Indians became the residents of the region, remaining so until the 1880s.
Early Spanish exploration of the Southwest introduced Europeans. After negotiating a treaty in 1750, two friars, Francisco Domínguez and Silvestre Velez de Escalante led an expedition into Mesa County. While not able to extend a trade route beyond the Grand Valley, between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Monterey California, the Friars gathered and documented valuable information on the terrain, trails, resources, and people in the region. Their route became part of the Old Spanish Trail into Utah, and down to Los Angeles, California.
By 1879, Ute tribes were increasingly pushed westward because of Manifest Destiny. A revolt resulted after the U.S. Indian Agent Nathan Meeker was killed for failing to uphold a treaty agreement and mistreatment. This led to their removal by the U.S. government. Farm and ranch road development began with arrival of permanent Anglo settlers and the railroad.
Farmers took notice of the fruit-bearing plants in the valley. The common belief became that the dry, sunny climate of the Western Slope makes it ideal for growing fruit. The first peach, cherry, plum, and apple trees were planted in 1883. A combination of improved irrigation infrastructure, an influx of miners into Colorado, and the arrival of the railroad laid the setting for an agricultural boom that endures today.
Traveling along the county roads connecting the farms and ranches of Mesa County, you’ll quickly notice a number and letter system. Roads north to south are numbers and define their distance from the Utah border. Those that go east to west are alphabetical with a letter being representative of a full mile. As an example, F 1/4 Road in Palisade shows that you’re a quarter mile north of F Road, and three-quarters of a mile from G Road.
Mesa County today is 3,341 square miles, with about 73% of it public land managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. Grand Mesa National Forest was created in 1905 to protect the area’s watersheds and provide recreation opportunities to the public. It spans 800,000 acres. The federal government also established other public lands, including Colorado National Monument (1911), and McInnis Canyons National Conservation Area (2000). Overland roads, like the Tabeguache Trail, scenic byways, and singletrack trails weave through it all.
Gravel riding is part of the century-old bicycle history of the Grand Valley. Cyclists like the Fruita Wheelman Club rode to Glenwood Springs on rough unpaved roads long before mountain and gravel bikes emerged.
Gravel cycling’s popularity meshes well with Mesa County’s off-road cycling heritage. It offers a re-imagined way to see and experience the Grand Valley. Fruita has nearly 134 miles of singletrack trails. People travel from all over the world to ride the 18 Road and Kokopelli Loop trail systems. Now, add hundreds of miles of unpaved BLM and Forest Service roads through 1.6 million acres of public land, and it’s not hard to see why the gravel bike fits in well with the ever evolving Grand Valley cycling scene.
Modern gravel bike characteristics borrow significantly from early mountain bikes. While a gravel bike resembles a road bike, much of its technology is adopted from mountain bikes. Examples include tubeless tires, wider rims, disc brakes, slack fork angles, and clutch derailleurs. This technology is what opens up ride options in the valley.
Gravel routes here are a mix of road and off-road surfaces that can go from one extreme to another. One moment you’re on tarmac, the next on rough jeep road. This field guide intentionally blurs the lines of what is considered a gravel ride. We encourage you to have an appetite for adventure.
The majority of the gravel is smooth, and difficult areas are maked on our route maps. Please be aware that you might have to walk small portions of a trail, or drop to a slow speed on a descent. Using technical riding skill to make it safley over rough terrain is called “underbiking.” It can be hard on your body and gear, but also rewarding. Please prioritize your safety.
Riding a gravel bike in the Grand Valley is about including and expanding beyond the well known road and mountain bike routes to see the region’s culture, history, and way of life in another manner. There is something in this guidebook for every cyclist to ride. Mesa County is the perfect setting to love what you ride, ride what you love. Whether you’ve arrived at gravel cycling from a road or mountain bike background makes no difference. Both are part of Colorado’s Western Slope bicycle culture.
We created the Grand Traverse North and South loops (maps pages 28 & 36) as an overnight, or a one way adventure ride.
Book a Shuttle:
You can book a shuttle to drop you off at a starting point, then ride back to the town of choice.
Contact: Palisade Bike and Shuttle 48 hours in advance. (970) 464-9266.
Ride as An Overnight:
If you want to ride them as an overnight, you have 2 options... you can drop your bags in Palisade then drive to the start in Fruita... or vise-versa. To sleep in Palisade we recommend The Homestead, Spoke & Vine Motel, or the Wine County Inn. We have talked to the owners, and they can keep your bags locked up in the bike room. To sleep in Fruita contact VisitFruita.com
The South Route is challenging and has more than one hike-a-bike section, plus rough technical gravel. This is an advanced rider route... do NOT take a beginner on this trail they will be crushed. The views are epic, and it is a fabulous long day adventure ride.
The North Route will bring you up close to the Book Cliffs with fast sections for gravel and flowing single and double track. This is an intermediate trail and one of my favorites in the book.
A view of the Tabaguache Road hill climb on the North Route. The next 15 miles are up hill.
Since the late 19th century, travelers to the Grand Valley have been welcomed by local ranches and farms to enjoy them via horseback rides, hayrides, and an assortment of other activities that reinforce the area’s agricultural heritage.
After becoming a top producing fruit growing region in the 1900s, agritourism developed in tandem as visitors arrived to pick their own fruit, try local wines, and educate themselves about local farming practices. This continues today, as many farms and ranches offer farm to table experiences, educational tours, and overnight accommodations.
The communities of the Grand Valley seek to preserve a unique blend of agriculture, outdoor recreation, and Western heritage. Cycling’s sustainable tourism potential can serve as a valuable complement to agritourism in the Western Slope.
A distinct flavor profile of the Grand Valley is the Palisade Peach, which is of the freestone peach variety. Climate and soil conditions come together to give these peaches unique qualities that make the mid August harvesting period a noteworthy time to plan a gravel bike trip.
Culinary talent and competitions from around the world seek out Palisade Peaches because of how easy it is to work with them to create food dishes, such as salsa and cobbler. Whether to eat or cook, the peach’s flesh easily separates from the pit, giving the fruit a range of options for consumption. What makes the Palisade Peach famous is its robust appearance. Its vibrant red and orange skin and bright golden tone make the Palisade Peach inviting. The juicy and sweet taste, with a side of tanginess, make this local food product a must try addition to any adventure through Mesa County.
Adding a Palisade Peach to your ride snack stockpile is nutritious and delicious. Peaches are high in fiber, low in calories, and provide Vitamins A and C. In addition, there are a number of benefits to throwing a peach into your bike bag. They support athletic performance and recovery.
Among all the fruits planted by early settlers, the grape holds the most economic significance. In 1890, Colorado Governor George A. Crawford planted 60 acres on Rapid Creek, considered the “sweet spot” of the Grand Valley American Viticultural Area. Farmers take advantage of 300+ days of sunshine and dryness to grow grapes of complex character. The “Fruit Belt of Mesa County” has adapted to the finest European grapes.
Due to Prohibition in 1916 the majority of the original grape vines were removed because of the gonernments ban on alcohol. A local historian recalls Prohibition as the advent of the peach industry. In 1968, the first modern winery in Colorado was built by Dr. Gerald Ivancie and winemaker Warren Winiarski, helping reintroduce grapes to the Grand Valley by the 1970s.
Federal investment, and Colorado State University research in the led to the Four Corners Project. It examined the feasibility of grapes being a catalyst crop for agricultural economic development in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico. This work spawned much of today’s wine industry in the U.S. southwest.
The resurgent success of Grand Valley grapes is a testament of the economic benefits derived from agricultural heritage tourism. When the Colorado Limited Winery Act of 1977 was passed, it established the means for many small, family owned, businesses to use locally grown fruit to produce wine at a reduced tax license for self-distribution. It also created up to five remote sales and tasting rooms, plus one on the manufacturing premises, from which to sell Colorado wine directly to consumers. It is why there are a number of premier wineries and distilleries to visit when gravel riding in and around Palisade.
The creative urge to discover and explore is what informs a truly notable gravel ride. Individuals who possess curiosity, a desire to learn, an appreciation for adventure, and the knack for problem solving are always comfortable in the saddle. One such personality is Morgan Murri, founder of Desert Gravel in Fruita, Colorado.
Morgan has invested himself into the Grand Valley since the late 1990s, moving here permanently in 2019. He’s long considered himself a desert rat, due to a deep respect for the desert landscape. It’s been the perfect venue to test his own cycling skills and challenge his endurance acumen.
Like many mountain and road bikers, Morgan discovered the gravel trend and found it ideal for tackling endurance challenges in the desert. The curiosity to explore the local roads led to him to create Desert Gravel, a sustainable minded endurance event company focused on providing beautiful and mentally challenging routes for riders seeking remote adventures in the North Fruita Desert.
Morgan believes there’s value in sharing the desert gravel experience. Positive outcomes include enhancing economic vitality, and encouraging others to love and protect the sensitivity of the desert environment. Awareness for what is out there helps promote the importance of the Leave No Trace philosophy critical to long term success with the event series.
A distinguishing feature of the gravel adventure experience in the Grand Valley is its paleontological history. Since the late 19th century, paleontologists have traveled to Mesa County to study the evidence of life in the layers of fossilized rocks. Unpaved desert roads wind you through a landscape setting dating back 225 million years.
The roads of Mesa County roll through the Morrison Formation, a layer of rock that is 156.3 to 146.8 million years old. Dinosaur discoveries have been made within the youngest layers, including Allosaurus. Apatosaurus, Camarasaurus, Ceratosaurus, and the well recognizable Stegosaurus. More than 4,000 bones have been found in Rabbit Valley outside Fruita.
In 1900, the paleontologist Elmer Riggs was lured to the Grand Valley by correspondence with a local contact about ranchers collecting fossils in the area. Riggs made two significant discoveries within weeks of one another, when his team unearthed the remains of two sauropods, Brachiosaurus altithorax (deep-chest arm-lizard) and Apatosaurus. The latter was the largest known dinosaur for 70 years. It took them six weeks to dig up the specimen.
Sauropods: are characterized by long necks and tails
• Most common dinosaur
found in the Grand Valley
• Average size is 65’ long
• Remains of 80’ skeleton
have been found.
• Herbivore who ate dense
vegetation such as conifers
Stegosaurus: Declared Colorado’s state fossil in 1982
• Recognized by a series of
plates on its back and tail,
• Spikes at the end of its tail
used for defense
• Possessed shorter front
legs and longer hind limbs
• Herbivore who prefered
The Book Cliffs
An awe-inspiring physical feature in Mesa County riding is the Book Cliffs range. Stretching for 200 miles across the Colorado-Utah border, you’ll be mesmerized by their beauty. Potential wildlife encounters include bears, birds of prey, deer, elk, and even mountain lions. Rare plants, such as the Colorado hook-less cactus and Grand Valley Beardtongue, grow along the roadside. Geologic forces forged this gravel adventure friendly landscape. Layers of deposited rock, sculpted by wind and water erosion, created this stunning backdrop of steep cliffs and mesas.
The Book Cliffs hold immense cultural significance. Traces of Native American presence are found on the sandstone cliffs and canyons today. Rock drawings, petroglyphs/pictographs, dating back 8,000 years are etched throughout the region. Native American lore says these drawings are of “Star People” and represent distant ancestors who brought humans and knowledge to Earth.