Sitting on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, Delta County is a spectacular region boasting the best that Colorado’s geography has to offer: deep canyons, high peaks, and easy access to the Grand Mesa, one of the world’s largest flat-top mountains. No surprise, then, that it has outdoor adventure, from climbing to mountain biking and everything in between. But that’s only a part of the appeal of Delta County, whose six towns offer a wealth of ways to enjoy the region, from lively festivals to down-home restaurants.

Just ask local Ann Barker, an artist, community activist, and event planner who has lived in Delta for more than 13 years. Like many locals, Barker attributes the entertainment and adventure options to the region’s varied terrain and diverse local communities. “We can leave Delta on a hot day and be 20 degrees cooler with a jaunt up the Mesa through Cedaredge,” she says. “We can take a short road trip to Hotchkiss or Paonia for all their festivals, music, and art events.”

The options can feel overwhelming for a first-time visitor, so we tapped Barker’s local expertise and insight for the most iconic, must-do Delta County experiences. Here are some of her top picks.

1. Take in Local Art

There are plenty of opportunities to take in the art scene all around Delta County. TADA! Your ART Space in Delta—owned by Barker, Fred Honchell, and David Delo—represents 14 local and regional artists in various mediums. They offer art classes, artists receptions, and host Delta High School Art Exhibitions. Barker says that once per month, TADA! and the KVNF Citizens Advisory Board host “The Listening Room,” which brings local, regional, and national touring musicians to an intimate setting.

In Cedaredge, check out the ImpressionZ Art & Gift Gallery, an artist co-op featuring fine art and hand-crafted items from local artists. Barker also recommends Grand Mesa Art and Events Center, a “gorgeous facility in Cedaredge that just celebrated its first year of operation” and offers art exhibits, classes, and world-renowned musical artists.

The Creamery Arts Center in Hotchkiss regularly hosts large art shows and musical performances. Another unique spot is Azura Cellars, a winery and art gallery in Paonia. Owners Helen and Ty Gillespie are artists/sculptors whose work can be found across the state. Their winery is named after a sailboat, and according to Barker, “they even have ‘The Yacht Club’ at the winery with remote-controlled sailboat races on the pond.”

An excellent resource for finding art events during your visit to Delta County is the North Fork Creative Coalition, which covers Paonia and the surrounding areas. From the Holiday Art Fair to the Art + Ag Tour and Dinner, there’s always something going on with their members.

2. Go for a Bike Ride

With an abundance of trails and diverse terrain, it’s no surprise that mountain biking is becoming more popular in Delta County. Sven Edstrom, a board member of the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association, can often be seen on the Sidewinder Trail or at Smith Mountain. The 22-mile Sidewinder Trail is a fun and technical singletrack for more experienced riders, while the Smith Mountain Loop (starting at Sidewinder’s north trailhead) is a 12.3-mile loop on doubletrack dirt roads.

For an easier introduction to biking in Delta County, the 0.5-mile paved trail to the Land O’ Lakes Overlook offers views of 18 lakes. The Escalante Rim Loop is the best local trail system for options for all skill levels.

If road biking is more your style, Delta County has 24 different routes, ranging from 11.5 miles to more than 40 miles.

3. Explore by Foot

It’s no secret that the Rocky Mountains are home to some of the best hiking trails in the country, if not the world. In Delta County on Colorado’s western slope, you’ll find towering peaks, flower-filled meadows, and rushing rivers. The views are like none other, and whether you’re a novice hiker or experienced backpacker, there’s enough to keep you busy for a lifetime.

There are too many trails to list them all, but some of the best areas to explore by foot include Mount Lamborn, Grand Mesa, and Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. The Mount Lamborn Trail is a strenuous 14 miles, but you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views from the highest point in the county (the summit sits at 11,396 feet!)

Grand Mesa is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike, especially in the summer when the mesa can be up to 20 degrees cooler than the valley below. You’ll find a variety of trails on the largest flattop mountain in the world. The easy 1.25-mile Ward Lake Trail is great for families with kids, and the moderate 10.3-mile Crag Crest National Recreation Trail offers sweeping views of the mesa.

Finally, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park is a remarkable destination, with craggy spires and high cliffs that play host to a variety of activities, from hiking to rock climbing. You can hike several maintained trails around the rim. Experienced and adventurous hikers can also explore the inner canyon where there are no marked trails.

4. Wine and Dine with the Locals

In 2012, there were approximately 1,250 farms in Delta County, and families or individuals own more than 90 percent of them. While some farmers offer workshops, classes, and events, you can taste local flavors in many restaurants throughout the county. The western slope is also known as Colorado’s wine country, so don’t miss out on the ciders, wines, and craft beers available.

Barker frequents dining establishments throughout the county and has quite a few recommendations for anyone visiting the area.

  • Paonia: Barker says there has been “an explosion of new restaurants, brewing companies, and wineries” in Paonia. She says Paonia United Brewing Company is the best locals hangout, noting, “they bring in all kinds of food vendors and exceptional musicians.”

  • Hotchkiss: Top spots include PJ’s Neighborhood Pub (upscale pub dishes), Pat’s Bar & Grill (“best place to catch a Broncos game”), and Farm Runners (farm-to-table fare).

  • Delta: Check out C&J’s Diner (“where all the locals go”), CB’s Tavern for happy hour (“you’ll always run into someone you know”), and Clyde’s Café (“best fish fry in Delta”).

  • Cedaredge: Make your way to Creekside at the Cedaredge Golf Course “for wood-fired pizza and a great view of the golf course.” Also, drop into The Happy Hollow, which just opened outside of town.

Other options include Grand Mesa Lodge on the mesa, which is especially wonderful in the fall. “The owners recently rebuilt the Main Lodge, and the views are fabulous, as is the ride up the Mesa,” adds Barker.

Big B’s Delicious Orchards is “still very popular in Delta County,” says Barker. They have “great music, great food, a U-Pick Orchard, hard cider, and wine.” You can even camp there if you’d like to spend a night or two.

5. Spend a Day on the Water

Whitewater enthusiasts love the rapids on the Gunnison River and the Uncompahgre River (a tributary of the Gunnison). For a relaxing float, try the calmer Lower Gunnison, or head to one of the many lakes in the area. On Grand Mesa, there are 300 lakes and streams to paddle, or you can take your boat or stand-up paddleboard to Crawford Reservoir, Confluence Lake, or Sweitzer Lake. Local Daniel Roman can hook you up with a paddleboard from Western Slope SUP.

Where there’s water, there’s usually fishing, and Delta County is home to some of the best in the state. Cast a line for rainbow or brown trout on the Gunnison River, where there are 40 miles of Gold Medal waters that hold as many as 10,000 fish per river mile. The North Fork at Paonia River Park is a family-friendly fishing spot, while Crawford State Park is home to northern pike, crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, yellow perch, and trout.

6. Other Unique Activities

“Whatever your interest may be, Delta County has much to offer. And there is definitely more on the way!” exclaims Barker.

Get your heart pumping at Ultimate Skydiving Adventures at Blake Field, where former NFL star quarterback Brett Favre has taken the leap. History buffs should catch a movie at the historic Egyptian Theatre on Delta’s Main Street or the Tru Vu Drive-In, open on weekends in the summer.

No matter where you end up in Delta County, there are plenty of lodging options that make relaxing after an action-packed day easy. Visit Delta County’s website or pick up a Visitor’s Guide for more information and to help plan your trip.

Written by Abbie Mood for Matcha in partnership with Delta County Colorado.

Featured image provided by jimsawthat

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