My first introduction to riding in Grand Junction was during my first mountain bike race many, many years ago. Coming from a road racing background, I had been coerced to try mountain biking by the University of Colorado Mountain Bike Team because they desperately needed women to race for them. They told me I was allowed to walk my bike down all the hills as long as I finished the race. I confidently pumped my tires up to 50 psi and proceeded to bumble along the rocky trails of the Lunch Loops, alternating between being completely terrified or walking my bike up and down the many ledges and rocks that littered the trail.
I’ve since realized that the Lunch Loops trails are some of the most technical trails on the collegiate circuit and I still return to them regularly to brush up on my technical skills in the spring, eek out a few more days of warm fall riding when the mountains have received their first dose of snow, and to scare myself silly on trails aptly named ‘Lemon Squeezer’ and ‘Widow Maker.’
Lunch Loop Trails
The main parking lot for the Lunch Loops is the Tabeguache Trailhead off of Monument Road. Pulling in, it’s easy to understand why many will ride these trails with elbow- and kneepads. While there are many trails that don’t require protective equipment, having light protection will go a long way towards having the confidence to tackle some of the bigger lines in the area. Sheer, rocky canyon walls tower overhead and the red sandstone monoliths of Colorado National Monument lie just ahead forming the northeastern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau. Without any shade, prime time on these trails is during the cooler shoulder seasons of spring and fall and early in the morning or at dusk during the heat of the summer. Winter riding is possible some years.
After just a couple of hours of playing on these trails, it becomes apparent why some of the best technical riders come from the Grand Junction area. While there are plenty of miles of trail accessible to most mountain bikers with basic bike handing skills, it’s the A-lines of the same trails that will challenge any rider of any skill level.
Unlike much of the riding in Colorado, these trails are rocky and rough with exposure that has serious consequences for mistakes. Most rides start by climbing through the wash up the Tabeguache Trail. After a stiff climb, the Miramont Trail branches off and provides the mellowest riding in the area. Still, suspension is your friend on these trails as they traverse high mesas with sweeping vistas of the Monument. A step up in difficulty is the Eagle’s Wing, which loops around the backside of the area.
While riding these trails is all fun and good, it’s the one-way trails that make this area unique. If I had to choose one trail to ride every day with the sole purpose of improving my technical skills, Holy Cross would be it. There is nothing steep on this trail and there are no places that require a rider to become fully airborne, but the constant barrage of tricky rock moves has sent me into a flurry of frustration on bad days and yelling with victory on others. Each person’s ride down the rocky twists and turns is different as ‘bigger’ lines dot the sides of the trail with drops and rocks.
And then there’s Lemon Squeezer. As part of that first collegiate race, I was mortified as the trail dropped away from me into sandy pits between large boulders covered in spectators egging riders on. As a fairly inexperienced mountain biker, I was convinced that it would be impossible for a mortal to stay upright riding the trail until someone came blowing by me, riding through the narrow choke of the trail to the cheers of the peanut gallery. I stared on in disbelief at the time, and still look at the trail with consternation, wondering if my skills will ever allow me to squeeze my bike and body through the unlikely trail.
Since that first race, several other trails have been built in the area, catering both to the free rider and the cross country rider.
Extra Credit Trails
The Ribbon Trail
For ambitious riders, the Ribbon Trail should be high on the Bucket List, possibly higher than many of the trails in nearby Fruita. Starting at the top of Little Park Road and accessible with only a small amount of road riding from the top of the Lunch Loop Trail system, the Ribbon follows a giant slab of slickrock back down to Andy’s Trail in the Lunch Loops. The riding is truly unique and the views of the mesas and the surrounding area make a camera a worthy piece of equipment to carry.
The Gunny Loop
Located on the other side of Little Park Road from Lunch Loops, the Gunny Loop adds several more miles of trail to the trail system. Slightly less ‘chunky and funky’ than Lunch Loops proper, the loop serves up longer stretches of smooth singletrack than is found on the other side of the road. The best way to ride the loop is to climb to the top of Lunch Loops, follow Little Park Road upward for less than half a mile and ride the Gunny Trail north to where it intersects Little Park Road again and continues on to the bottom of Holy Cross and back to the Tabeguache trailhead.
Grand Junction is a city that has, on the surface, no obvious bike culture. An oil town, the roads are busy, bike paths are rare, and large trucks dominate. But dig a little deeper and it quickly becomes apparent that there is a vibrant community of mountain bikers constantly pushing the limits of trail building in an environment that seems ideally designed for trails running along mesas with challenging lines, both up and down, along the rocky landscape. A different breed of rider flourishes here as a blend of endurance riders, BMX specialists, slopestyle tricksters, and freeriders all leave their imprint on the landscape.
While most mountain bikers looking for a spring or fall escape flock to Fruita, eight miles down the road, the Lunch Loops in Grand Junction provides more thrills per mile of trail than any other trails in Colorado.
Be sure to check out more destinations to get some dirt on your tires
Eszter Horanyi lives and mountain bikes in Crested Butte, CO. She has dabbled in road racing, cyclocross racing, and cross country mountain bike racing, but has gravitated towards ultra endurance and multi day self supported racing in the more recent past. She firmly believes that nothing tops a good ride with good friends on good trails, thus she spends her life in search of all of the above. All articles by Eszter.