Delta County is the perfect spot for a long weekend getaway. With spectacular mountain and desert scenery, world-class trout fishing, miles of biking and hiking trails, and lots of climbing, three days is just the right amount of time to get a taste of all there is to do. Thanks to a mild climate, the area is also farm and wine country, which means plenty of local food and drink to taste. Free of the faux glitz you find in some mountain resort areas, time seems to stands still in this tranquil pocket of Western Colorado.

Here is our 3-day itinerary for making the most of the friendly charms and wild adventures of Delta County.

First, Decide Where to Stay

Delta County is not so big that it takes hours to drive across, which makes any of its towns an ideal place to set up base camp. The county has plenty of overnight options for every budget and taste, all conveniently located near natural attractions, outdoor adventures, and farms and wineries.

Settle into a chain hotel or B&B, or head east to family-run motels in Cedaredge, Hotchkiss, and Paonia. There are also more unique lodgings, including the Smith Fork Ranch by Needle Rock and Leroux Creek Inn & Vineyards, in Hotchkiss, the Agape Farm and Retreat and the Bross Hotel (built in 1906) in Paonia, and Creekside Cabin in Eckert.

Once you’ve decided on your base camp, let’s get to the adventures.

Day 1: Black Canyon, Needle Rock, and Paonia

Take back roads to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park.

Jim Good

After driving into Delta, start your three-day holiday on Main Street by grabbing a fresh-brewed coffee at Moca Joe’s or ordering a sit-down breakfast at Wild Flower Bistro. Afterward, drop by the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce for insider tips and maps (it’s only a few blocks away from either spot), and then hit the highway east to Crawford. Follow back roads to the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park for a morning photography session. You might even have the place to yourself.

The Black Canyon is an iconic American wonder. The North Rim of the continent’s deepest and narrowest canyon offers breathtaking views from a five-mile gravel road that twists past six overlooks. The Narrows View peers into the narrowest part of the canyon with the Gunnison River roaring through a 40-foot gap between towering cliffs. From the North Rim Ranger Station, take the North Vista Trail for 1.5 miles (three miles round trip) to a wow-worthy overlook at Exclamation Point. Continue driving down G74 Road to the end, where you can hike the 0.6-mile Chasm View Trail for even more stunning views.

Lunch awaits back in Crawford, an 1883 village spilled across a hillside. Choose between Old Mad Dog Cafe, once owned by British rocker Joe Cocker, and Diamond Joe Cafe and Saloon. Work off lunch by hiking up Youngs Peak above Crawford or heading east a few miles to Needle Rock. The formation, the solidified plug of an ancient volcano, is a local landmark that towers 800 feet above Smith Fork Valley.

Spend the afternoon about 15 miles north of Crawford in Paonia, a quaint town that’s simply one of Colorado’s coolest mountain areas. Dubbed a Colorado Creative District, the town is home to artists, athletes, vintners, and fruit growers. The area is famed for its organic farms, diverse orchards, wineries, and farm-to-table restaurants. Grab a cone from Ollie’s Ice Cream Shop and wander along Grand Avenue’s two-block downtown.

Give yourself time to stop by North America’s highest vineyards and wineries—most offer free tastings in summer and fall. Stop at Black Bridge Winery on the valley floor and taste its earthy Pinot Noir. Then, head north to take in three more wineries. Follow a gravel road to Stone Cottage Cellars for a fine Merlot, and them make your way to Skyhawk Winery for a pinot noir or Merlot harvested, pressed, and aged in the North Fork Valley. After sampling Skyhawk’s wines, drive to Azura Cellars for 180-degree mountain views and tasty wines including a popular Pinot Gris.

Grab dinner at The Living Farm Café, with inspired local foods, or the Remedy Cafe, which serves a wide variety of paninis, including a Cubano and a Green Chile GrilledCheese version.

Day 2: Escalante Canyon, Outdoor Adventures, and a Historic Theater

Escalante Canyon in the Dominguez-Escalante NCA is home to Native American petroglyphs and excellent rock climbing.

BLM / Bob Wick

Spend your second day exploring Delta County’s desert country. First, stop at a local café for morning fuel. In addition to Wild Flower, you can hit up Starvin’ Arvin’s, Butch’s Cafe, or Java Hut in Delta. You could also try Creekside Café in Cedaredge, or drop into Paonia to visit The Diner, Living Farm Cafe, and Backcountry Bistro.

After breakfast, drive west from Delta to Escalante Canyon Road. The dirt track bumps across a mesa before dropping to a bridge over the Gunnison River. The road continues up cliff-lined Escalante Canyon in the heart of the Dominguez-Escalante National Conservation Area, passing historic homesteads like a stone cabin at Walker Homestead and the Captain Smith Cabin built in 1911. The deep canyon is also home to Native American petroglyphs, some of the best rock climbing on the Western Slope, and Escalante Potholes Recreation Site. Drive a dozen miles up the canyon to a road junction at Escalante Forks, turn around, and head back to Delta for lunch at Daveto’s for Italian cuisine or Fiesta Vallarta, the town’s best Mexican restaurant.

The afternoon is for outdoor adventure, and a raft or canoe trip is just the ticket on a hot day. The 15-mile section of the Gunnison from Escalante Canyon Bridge to the takeout at Bridgeport is perfect for novice boaters, with water slipping gently through a dramatic canyon. Check with Gunnison River Expeditions for a guided river trip.

If mountain biking is your thing, head to the Escalante Rim Loop west of Delta. The loop, ideal for beginner and intermediate bikers, follows scenic 4×4 roads above rocky canyons. Expert bikers should check out the famed Sidewinder Trail, Delta County’s premier bike trail, clocking in around 23 miles. Pedal the full distance for a heart-pounding afternoon, or do a shorter trail segment.

Anglers can sample Delta County’s gold-medal trout fishing in the Gunnison River by hiking a mile down the Chukar Trail into Gunnison Gorge. The dashing river is fabled for trophy-sized trout and prolific insect hatches. If you don’t want to hike, stop by Confluence Lake in Delta to hook trout, catfish, and bass, or visit Sweitzer Lake State Park, a perfect catch-and-release fishery for kids.

Celebrate the day’s adventures with locally-brewed beer at Needle Rock Brewing Company in Delta. The lively pub offers fine fare, including elk burgers, onion rings, and sweet potato fries. After dinner, stroll along Main Street and admire the murals that give Delta the nickname “City of Murals,” and then stop at the 750-seat Egyptian Theater. The movie house, which opened in 1928, is a National Historic Landmark. Be sure to admire the Egyptian-themed décor and paintings before the curtain rises.

Day 3: Pioneer Town, Grand Mesa, and Land’s End

Keep your eyes peeled for black bears and moose near the lakes in the Grand Mesa National Forest.


After breakfast, a marvelous day awaits on top of Delta County. Grand Mesa, dubbed the highest flat-topped mountain in the world, fills the county’s northern horizon. With an average elevation of 10,000 feet and summer highs in the 70s, Grand Mesa is a cool oasis above the hot valleys.

Drive north on Grand Mesa Scenic Byway and stop at Pioneer Town in Cedaredge for a look back at frontier life in early Colorado. Stroll along the boardwalk on Main Street to imagine Delta County in the 1880s. Stop by the Coalby Store, where pioneers picked up farm supplies, and then head to the Lizard Head Saloon for a swig of firewater. There’s also a 1906 jail, town marshal’s office, and three silos from the old Bar-1 ranch. After delving into the town’s history, take a lunch break at RJ’s Steakhouse or Lost Mesa Grill.

Continue up the meandering highway to rolling Grand Mesa, a wooded upland of 300 lakes. First stop is Grand Mesa Visitor Center by Cobbett Lake. The friendly staff members answer questions and run interpretive programs in summer. When you’re ready to get out and explore, there are several trails that edge past lakes and traverse high ridges, including the 1.7-mile Baron Lake Trail and the 10.3-mile Crag Crest Trail, which is a loop and is considered Mesa’s best hike.

Fishermen cast for trout at hot fishing holes like Island Lake, Ward Lake, Eggleston Lake, and Baron Lake. Don’t forget binoculars to spot black bear, moose, and marmot along lakeshores and marshes. Grand Mesa also offers some of Colorado’s best fall foliage with spectacular displays of aspen gold in late September.

The perfect ending to your Delta County getaway is a drive out to Land’s End on the western edge of Grand Mesa. The gravel road ends at Land’s End Observatory, a log building erected in the 1930s. The world falls away below the lofty overlook with distant views south to Mount Sneffels, while the pointed La Sal Mountains in Utah rise to the west. The setting sun illuminates mesas, canyons, and cliffs and burnishes clouds with shafts of orange and rose light. After sunset, finish the day by driving 6,000 feet down the gravel Land’s End Road to U.S. 50 and make your way home.

Written by Stewart Green for RootsRated Media in partnership with Delta County Colorado.

Featured image provided by BLM

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